Source: Adam Gase makes first deal as Jets interim GM, sending LB Darron Lee to Chiefs

·Senior NFL writer

New York Jets head coach Adam Gase didn’t waste much time before making his first move as the team’s interim general manager.

On Wednesday, just hours after it was announced that general manager Mike Maccagnan had been fired, the Jets agreed to send linebacker Darron Lee to the Kansas City Chiefs for a 2020 sixth-round pick, a source told Yahoo Sports.

New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee (58) celebrates a 36-yard interception for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Darron Lee was a 2016 first-round selection made under Mike Maccagnan's reign as New York Jets general manager. Hours after his firing, interim GM Adam Gase dealt Lee to the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP)

When Lee became expendable for the Jets

Lee, 24, was a first-round pick of the Jets in 2016, when the team selected the 6-foot-1, 232-pounder 20th overall out of Ohio State. In three seasons with the Jets, Lee averaged 80 tackles and four pass deflections per year, all while participating in 40 of 48 possible regular-season games (36 starts).

However after the firing of Jets head coach Todd Bowles in late December — a champion of Lee’s — and the team’s decision to hand fellow off-ball linebacker C.J. Mosley a massive five-year, $85 million contract, it became clear the team was nearly done with Lee. The Jets hammered that home earlier this month, when they declined a fifth-year option on his deal that would have paid him close to $10 million in 2020.

Where Lee fits in with Chiefs

From the Chiefs’ perspective, Lee is a low-cost option. His salary-cap charge for 2019, the final year of his original rookie deal, will be $1.8 million. He adds depth to a position the Chiefs couldn’t upgrade in a significant fashion during the offseason.

Though Lee, 24, struggled against the run in the Jets’ 3-4 defense due to his lack of bulk, he has shown upside in coverage, where his athleticism — he tested as an elite athlete at his position and ran a blistering 4.42 40-yard dash during the 2016 pre-draft process — helped him post career highs in pass deflections (five) and interceptions (three) in 2018, when he also logged 74 tackles until he was suspended after the 12th game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Chiefs are hoping Lee is a better fit in their 4-3 defensive scheme. He’ll try to crack a starting group that projects to be Damien Wilson, a free-agent signee from the Dallas Cowboys, and holdovers Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens.

Hitchens, who is in the second year of a five-year, $45 million deal, is the only sure bet to start among the group, as he’ll either wind up outside or in the middle. So Lee — who projects best as a weakside linebacker, says a source — will have an opportunity to earn meaningful snaps in a contract season.

A nice season could make him an attractive option for the Chiefs or another team on the free-agent market, given he bounces back from his season-ending suspension and earns the trust of the coaching staff.

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