2018 Jets free agency preview: Should Demario Davis stay or go?

Demario Davis had a strong comeback season with the New York Jets after spending a year in exile (Cleveland).

Davis brought back a hefty return on investment after being acquired by the Jets in a trade for beleaguered safety Calvin Pryor. It’s a trade general manager Mike Maccagnan won handily, and can use that as a feather in his hat.

But should the Jets keep Davis as their long-term middle linebacker? Was the 2017 resurgence a mere fluke? Let’s break it down:

What he did in 2017

Davis filled the void left behind by David Harris rather seamlessly. His prior experience in Todd Bowles’ defensive system probably helped. Davis led the team with 135 tackles and actually led the team with 5 sacks, something you don’t normally see from an inside linebacker.

Davis also was among the best linebackers in the league last season. He ranked eighth in the league with an 87.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.

Most importantly, Davis added experience and leadership to a young unit that took strides as the season went on and helped mask Darron Lee’s occasionally erratic play.

What would his role be in 2018?

About the same as it is now. Davis would serve as the team’s Mike linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. The Jets probably won’t make many wholesale changes on the inside, meaning Davis and Lee would remain as the starting tandem up the middle. Davis’ five sacks were probably a fluke, as he entered the season with only 8.5 career sacks. Davis is also somewhat of a liability in coverage and shouldn’t be isolated against tailbacks or tight ends often.

However, Davis is as reliable as they come as a run stopper. His 87.7 run defense grade ranked tied for 11th overall on Pro Football Focus, but only Telvin Smith and Bobby Wagner played close to as many snaps as Davis did.

What’s he worth?

Davis is a tricky case. He’s a valuable defender and deserves a raise after inking a 2-year deal worth $8 million with the Browns in 2016. For context, the highest paid inside linebacker in the NFL is Luke Kuechly, who signed a 5-year extension worth $61.7 million with $27 million guaranteed in 2015.

Teams simply don’t handout lucrative contracts to inside defenders these days with so much emphasis put on the edge and rushing the passer. Davis is also 29 years old, so he could be exiting his prime in the next few years.

But Davis is a reliable player for New York’s budding defense and is worth the investment. A 4-year deal worth $6.5 million annually should be enough to ink Davis long term.

Should he stay or should he go?

I might have spoiled it earlier in the article. But Davis should absolutely stay in town. He’s dependable and productive, something the Jets can’t say about most players on the roster. He isn’t a star. But he’s a necessity.

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