FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets added another key piece to their defense, agreeing Sunday to a two-year contract with former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, a league source confirmed.
Rankins, a former first-round pick who turns 27 on April 2, can earn as much as $17 million over the two years, the source said.
This gives the Jets another starting-caliber player for the interior of their new 4-3 front. Rankins will join Quinnen Williams and Folorunso Fatukasi as their top defensive tackles.
After 15 years as a 3-4 base defense, the Jets are making the conversion to a 4-3 under new coach Robert Saleh, who likes to rotate his linemen. Previously, the Jets signed former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson to a three-year, $45 million contract. Jarrad Davis, formerly of the Detroit Lions, is projected to start at linebacker after signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal.
Rankins was the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Louisville. He battled a series of injuries throughout his five-year career in New Orleans.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder projects mainly as a three-technique defensive tackle, though he has lined up at multiple positions. He has 17.5 sacks in the regular season, plus two more in the playoffs. He had his best season in 2018 with eight sacks and 40 tackles while starting all 16 games. But he tore his Achilles in the Saints' playoff opener that year and has come off the bench to rotate with starters David Onyemata and Malcom Brown since the injury.
Rankins also missed seven games as a rookie with a fractured fibula, three games in 2019 because of season-ending foot surgery and four games in 2020 with a sprained MCL in his knee. However, he insisted recently that he is as healthy as he has been since 2018 and feels ready to return to peak form.
Despite the injuries, the Saints were still high enough on Rankins to pick up his fifth-year option for 2020 at the rate of $7.69 million.
The news of Rankins' agreement with the Jets was first reported by NFL Network.
ESPN's Mike Triplett contributed to this report.