With free agency set to begin March 9, we'll examine the New York Jets’ top free agents over the next several days:
Player: Damon Harrison
Position: Nose tackle
Previous contract: One year, $2.35 million (RFA tender)
2015 stats: Harrison started every game for the third straight year, finishing with a career-high 39 solo tackles, 0.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He also had nine tackles-for-loss, tied for second on the team, per the Jets' in-house stats.
The case to keep him: You can't run an effective 3-4 defense without a strong nose tackle, and Harrison is one of the best in the business. He has the size and power to occupy two blockers in a two-gap scheme, but he also has enough quickness to be a one-gap penetrator. It's hard to find guys like that. Todd Bowles made it clear how much he values Big Snacks, and you can bet he'll stand on the table to keep him. From a public-relations standpoint, it makes sense. The Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent and developed him into a terrific player, a real homegrown success story. It would be a shame to see another team reap the benefits over the long term.
The case to let him go: The Jets already have $22.7 million in cap space devoted to Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson (assuming he gets the franchise tag for an estimated $15.5 million), so do they really want to pour more money into the defensive line? The going rate for a top nose tackle is $4.5 million per year, but Harrison also will be attractive to 4-3 teams. Two years ago, Paul Soliai -- similar to Harrison -- landed a five-year, $32 million contract from the Atlanta Falcons, including $11 million guaranteed. That would be a lot of coin for a two-down player; Harrison played 56 percent of the defensive snaps last season.
Crystal ball: This could be the Jets' toughest free-agent decision. They very much want to keep Harrison, but Big Snacks will command a big payday. He'll probably wait until the legal tampering period (March 7-9), when he'll be able to negotiate with other teams, making it even tougher for the Jets to keep him. This is a tough call, but the sense is that it's 60-40 he leaves.