Calvin Pace is back where he always wanted to be.
Signed by the Jets in 2008 as part of former general manager Mike Tannenbaum’s highly touted free agent class, Pace came to the team as an outside linebacker with a reputation as a pass rusher. But injuries have slowed him down in recent years and while he played 16 games last year, his sack total dipped to its lowest level since 2006.
The Jets cut Pace in February, then re-signed him last month. He spoke on Thursday for the first time since being brought back. He is one of the few veterans on a team that has seen a drastic overhaul and rebuilding this offseason.
“[I'm] happy to be back, happy to have a job. It’s all good. [There are] a lot of different faces, trying to get acclimated to that,” Pace said. “Nowadays, it is kind of the way of football. It was good while it lasted. It is a lot of new guys, a lot of youth. I guess our task is to try to get to know everyone as quick as possible, everybody get on the same page.”
Pace brings experience to a group of linebackers who are talented but relatively inexperienced. The 32-year-old Pace doesn’t necessarily see himself as a mentor but during organized team activities (OTAs) on Thursday, Pace was all over the field as head coach Rex Ryan joked he even lined up at cornerback on one play.
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For Pace, it didn’t take any convincing for him to want to come back to the Jets as this is where he wanted to be all along. He called the team the “best fit for me.”
“It wasn’t really a pitch. When I got released, people asked me, ‘Where do you want to play?’ I didn’t know,” Pace said. “This thing has been the best for me the past five years so I said ‘New York.’ When they said they wanted me back, it wasn’t hard for me. So I just signed and put it behind me and kept it moving.”
The initial move to cut ties with Pace had as much to do with his salary as it did with his dip in production. Pace’s contract for this year was set to be $11.6 million before he was cut, an astronomical figure for a player whose better days have passed him by. He wasn’t ready to say his salary cap hit was the reason he was cut in February. His focus is more on the fact that he is gainfully employed again.
“I don’t know, you have to ask them. I try not to think about it too much,” Pace said. “It’s not a happy topic, thinking about getting fired. It happens and I’ve moved past it.”
Even with his recent struggles with injuries and the lack of production, Pace was still welcomed back by the Jets. He has his limitations, including subpar pass coverage and his speed isn’t what it used to be, but the coaching staff still wanted him back at the right price.
And the right price seems to have been found.
“That was a big signing for us because he’s kind of like the glue,” Ryan said. “We’re doing a lot of different things with him. We’re moving him all over the place.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.