Last summer, Thomas Dimitroff extended one of the focal points of the Falcons’ roster, signing Grady Jarrett to a four-year contract worth $68 million ($17 million per year). When he agreed to the extension instead of playing under the franchise tag, he became one of the highest-paid interior defensive linemen behind only Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox. But this summer has seen other notable interior defensive linemen get paid, such as Kenny Clark, DeForest Buckner, and Chris Jones, which in hindsight, is excellent for the Falcons. Had they held off on signing Jarrett to a long-term deal, his price tag would have skyrocketed after playing last season under the franchise tag.
Kenny Clark received a comparable extension to Jarrett, inking a four-year, $70 million deal. Though they play differing positions, they both use their hands exceptionally well and are effective against the pass and run. Clark is one of the best at stopping the run, which is a given considering the size advantage. To counter, Jarrett is more effective in his pass rush.
Both can move along the defensive front. Clark can play nose tackle and a three-technique, and Jarrett began his career in the one-technique but has proved to be more disruptive in a three-technique. Jarrett could push for ten sacks with Dante Fowler Jr. in the cards, who will draw double teams away from him. I would say he is currently the better player but is two years older than Clark, who is only 25 and just now entering his prime. Aside from Aaron Donald and Chris Jones, I think these two will be the best interior defensive linemen in the league.
After being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, DeForest Buckner signed a deal, paying him $21 million a season for the next five years. The contract is second only to Aaron Donald’s that pays him $22.5 million a year.
Buckner is the exact opposite — physique-wise — in comparison to Grady Jarrett. His explosiveness at 6’7″ and 300 lbs is incomprehensible and linked to his success. Since being drafted, he has grown exponentially but was surrounded by Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford. Now, he is being paid big to perform dominantly without nearly as much help. Considering it cost the Colts a first-round pick to acquire Buckner, and now they are paying him $21 million per season, only one could imagine what Grady Jarrett could have asked for this offseason.
Chris Jones also signed an extension this summer worth $20 million per year. Like Buckner, Jones is only 26 and currently in his prime. He showed what he is capable of in the Super Bowl, where he dominated up front and batted a couple of balls down. His size and quickness allow him to move along the front, playing a similar style to Grady Jarrett. However, Jones stands at 6’6″ and uses brute strength and hand technique more than leverage as shorter defensive linemen like Donald and Jarrett do. Jones is coming off a career year and probably worth a few million a year more than Jarrett, but it is close.
Grady Jarrett is cheaper than the three interior defensive linemen mentioned above and can match up with anyone at his position, not named Aaron Donald. Buckner and Jones may have had more production over the last couple of years, but the lack of defensive line help Jarrett has had compared to the other three should be noted.
Buckner played along a line that featured four first-round picks and was the best in football in terms of pressure. Jones had less help but still benefited from Frank Clark, an elite pass rusher in his own right. And Kenny Clark is surrounded by the Smith bros (Preston and Za’Darius Smith), who combined to have the most pressures in the NFL last year by two players on the same team.
Jarrett’s situation is entirely speculative. I feel confident in saying he will be as useful, if not more effective, than the three interior defensive linemen in this article and is being paid the least amount. Hopefully, with Dante Fowler Jr. in the fold, and Takk McKinley playing for a new contract, Jarrett will finally have the breakout campaign that puts him the conversation as one of the best defensive tackles in the game.
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