By letting the deadline pass without picking up the option, the Jets ensured that Lee would become a free agent during 2020. The 2016 first-round pick will now be playing in a contract season, trying to improve on last year, when he set a new career low in solo tackles with only 43.0.
The news hardly comes as a surprise with reports coming out in March indicating that Lee was a candidate to be cut or traded following the free-agent signings of Avery Williamson and C.J. Mosley during the past two offseasons. Lee also missed the final four games of last season with a suspension for a substance-abuse violation, further hurting his standing with the team. The 24-year-old would carry only a $1.4 million dead-cap penalty if cut by the Jets before the start of the season.
Lee isn't participating in the offseason program, Connor Hughes of The Athletic reports.
Neither team nor player has much incentive to risk an injury when there's a desire to work out a trade. With C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson locked in as their top linebackers, the Jets presumably hope to deal Lee before or during the 2019 NFL Draft. The 2016 first-round pick had three interceptions last season and three sacks the year prior, but he was never known for consistency even before he closed out 2018 with a four-game suspension for a substance abuse violation.
With the Jets having brought in four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley on a five-year, $85 million deal and Avery Williamson under contract with a $10 million dead-cap penalty for 2019, Lee appears to be the odd man out in the team's linebacker corps. It's possible that the Jets elect to retain the 2016 first-round pick in a reduced role, but his talent in coverage and blitzing situations should garner him a solid trade market. Lee carries just a $1.4 million penalty for 2019 if the Jets decide to trade or cut him.
Lee had his suspension lifted Monday according to the NFL's transaction report.
Lee was hit with a four-game suspension to end the year for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. The Jets will now face the decision of whether or not they wish to extend a fifth-year option to the linebacker. If the fifth year option is not exercised by May 3, Lee will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019 league year. The former 2016 first-round selection recorded 74 tackles, five pass breakups, three interceptions and a touchdown through 12 games this season.
|2016||New York Jets||13||73||45.0||28||1||0||0||0.0||0||0||3|
|2017||New York Jets||15||94||67.0||27||3||0||0||0.0||0||0||3|
|2018||New York Jets||12||74||43.0||31||0||3||82||27.3||36||1||5|
|Year||Team||G||Fum||Lost||Fum Forced||Own Rec||Opp Rec||Yds||Tot Rec||TD|
|2016||New York Jets||13||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|2017||New York Jets||15||0||0||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|2018||New York Jets||12||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|