How can New York Jets replace Carl Lawson? Not so easily

John Jones/Icon Sportswire

Just the other day, New York Jets defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd was talking about the line's talent and depth, saying, "It kind of reminds me of a Marvel Avengers team. Everyone has their own little special power."

The Jets just lost their version of Captain America.

Defensive end Carl Lawson is out for the season after rupturing his left Achilles tendon in a joint practice Thursday with the Green Bay Packers. It is a crushing blow for the Jets' defense. Lawson, their biggest free-agent signing this offseason, was having the best camp of any player on the team. He was racking up would-be sacks on a daily basis, flashing strong signs of becoming the edge rusher the Jets haven't had in more than a decade.

Because of his talent and the role he was supposed to fill -- the wide rusher in the Jets' new 4-3 front -- Lawson was the player they could least afford to lose. He finished seventh in the NFL last season in sacks created by pass-rush wins (10.5), according to ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen Stats -- and the Jets expected that number to increase.

Lawson's absence will have a trickle-down effect. Without a consistent pass rush, the Jets' young cornerbacks will get exposed. And if the young cornerbacks get exposed ... well, you can probably draw a mental picture. It won't be pretty.

Jets coach Robert Saleh said he wouldn't learn about his team's character until it got hit with adversity. Well, the learning can start now.

How can New York replace Lawson? Here are the options:

Stand pat: Second-year player Bryce Huff is the logical replacement for Lawson at right end -- for now. He has impressed with his pass-rushing skills (two sacks in the first preseason game), but he's largely an unknown. He made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2020 and played 282 defensive snaps (two sacks).

The other options are former San Francisco 49ers veteran Ronnie Blair, who is injury prone and missed last season, and 2020 third-round draft pick Jabari Zuniga, who is injury prone and hasn't shown anything.

Vinny Curry (non-football injury list) and Kyle Phillips (physically unable to perform list) are waiting in the wings, but neither one is ready to play. There's a good chance neither will be activated by the start of the season. Curry, coming off an offseason knee procedure, proved in his years with the Philadelphia Eagles he can get after the quarterback (32.5 sacks), but let's be realistic: He's 33 years old and has had no training camp, so you're talking about a ramp-up period. At best, he's a situational rusher.

If the Jets stay in-house, it probably makes sense to go with a rotation, mixing and matching based on matchups and game situations.

Sign a free agent: That's easier said than done. There are no blue-chip edge players sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring. The top free agents are Olivier Vernon (Achilles surgery in January), Trent Murphy, Everson Griffen and Adrian Clayborn -- all are over 30 with various dings. Griffen is the best of the bunch, but he could be close to rejoining the Minnesota Vikings. Clayborn, who is drawing some interest from teams, is familiar with the Jets' scheme because he played with the Atlanta Falcons under defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

Basically, we're talking about slim pickings.

Make a trade: The Jets should make a call to the Arizona Cardinals to check on the availability of Chandler Jones, 31, who requested a trade in the offseason. The Cardinals reportedly have no interest in dealing Jones, who is entering the final year of his contract, but it can't hurt to try. The Jets have plenty of draft capital (11 picks in 2022) and salary-cap room ($19 million).

The question for general manager Joe Douglas & Co. becomes: How much would the Jets, who are probably at least a year away from contending, be willing to pay for a Band-Aid? If they go the trade route, it probably would be for a younger, cheaper player with scheme familiarity.