The New York Jets are poised to spend big on the offensive line in free agency. How should they allocate their money at the position?
Jets’ impending free agents
- 2020 cap hit: $829,500
- Free agent type: Unrestricted
- Age on September 1, 2021: 27.1
- Free agent G ranking: 18th of 20
Elflein was truly abysmal throughout his short stint with the Jets, showing why the Vikings decided to cut him midway through his fourth season after spending the 70th overall pick on him just three years earlier. From Weeks 12-17, Elflein tied for the second-most pressures allowed among guards (19). On the season, Elflein allowed 24 pressures over 239 protection snaps, a rate of 10.0% that was second-worst among all qualified guards (better than only the next player we will break down in this piece).
In the run game, Elflein was also poor, ranking at the 31st percentile among guards with a 56.1 Pro Football Focus run blocking grade. The Jets were very unsuccessful when running in Elflein’s direction. Over Elflein’s six starts, on rush attempts directed “left guard” (according to the play-by-play), the Jets averaged 3.7 yards per rush attempt and picked up a conversion just 14.1% of the time. The league averages on rush attempts directed “left guard” this season: 4.4 yards per rush attempt and a 24.3% conversion rate.
- 2020 cap hit: $732,358
- Free agent type: Unrestricted
- Age on September 1, 2021: 30.2
Andrews played 311 snaps over nine games for the Jets, starting four of those – three at right guard and one at left guard. He was one of the worst offensive linemen in football, earning a 41.2 overall PFF grade that ranked sixth-worst out of 231 qualified linemen. In protection, Andrews coughed up 25 pressures over just 188 protection snaps, an out-of-this-universe pressure rate of 13.3% that was the worst among 82 qualified guards by about ten country miles. The difference in pressure rate between Andrews and 81st-ranked Elflein – 3.3% – is about equal to the difference between Elflein and 70th-ranked Matt Pryor. Yikes.
The Jets’ offensive line struggles in 2020 primarily had to do with the putrid depth. The starting-5 was still below average and is greatly in need of improvement, but it was a noticeably better unit than the one that preceded it in 2019. However, the backups were downright terrible, a problem spearheaded by Andrews and Elflein.
Jets’ players under contract
- George Fant: age 29.1 on 9-1-21, $9.4M cap hit (signed through 2022)
- Connor McGovern: age 28.4, $9.3M cap hit (signed through 2022)
- Alex Lewis: age 29.4, $6.9M cap hit (signed through 2022)
- Mekhi Becton: age 22.4, $4.2M cap hit (signed through 2023 w/option for 2024)
- Greg Van Roten: age 30.5, $3.4M cap hit (signed through 2022)
- Conor McDermott: age 28.9, $1.2M cap hit (signed through 2021)
- Chuma Edoga: age 24.3, $1.1M cap hit (signed through 2022)
- Cameron Clark: age 23.8, $952K cap hit (signed through 2023)
- Leo Koloamatangi: age 27.3, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)
- Jimmy Murray: age 26.3, $850K cap hit (signed through 2021)
The entirety of last year’s starting-5 is back, but the Jets can escape the contracts of Fant, Lewis, and Van Roten, so their futures remain up in the air. Here are the cap implications for those three players if cut:
- Fant: $7.4M savings, $2.0M dead money
- Lewis: $5.2M savings, $1.7M dead money
- Van Roten: $3.4M savings, $0 dead money
Becton is obviously penciled-in for the next few years after being taken in the first round of last year’s draft. McGovern is extremely likely to be back in 2021 as the Jets are on the hook for his entire salary in 2021 and would save nothing by releasing him. They would actually lose $1.3 million in immediate cap room while taking on $10.7 million in dead money, per Spotrac. The Jets could consider cutting McGovern after the 2021 season, at which point they would save $9.0 million by cutting him while eating $1.3 million in dead money.
This unit’s depth is a major problem, lacking any players that seem capable of performing above a league-worst caliber level. At tackle, Chuma Edoga heads into year three after failing to progress in his second season. Edoga allowed a pressure rate of 9.8% in 2020, second-worst among qualified tackles and even worse than his rookie-year mark of 8.1%. Conor McDermott ranked fourth-worst among qualifiers with a 9.3% pressure rate allowed in 2020.
At guard, the only name of note beyond the starting-5 is Cameron Clark. The 2020 fourth-round pick did not appear in a single game during his rookie season. Clark was sidelined throughout the first half of the season, but from Week 9 onward, he was healthy, yet the Jets continued to sit him behind bottom-of-the-barrel guards. A second-year leap from Clark would be massive for the offensive line’s depth and long-term stability.
If the Jets find two new starters at guard, they could improve their depth by keeping Van Roten around as a backup. Van Roten had a hot-and-cold 2020 season, but was ultimately around average overall, posting a 63.0 overall PFF grade that was slightly below the league average for guards (63.8). Van Roten’s $3.4 million cap hit is a fair price for a top-level backup.
On the other hand, Lewis is too expensive to be kept as a backup at $6.9 million, and he is not good enough to be brought back as a starter after allowing a 6.9% pressure rate that ranked 72nd out of 82 qualified guards. From Weeks 1-11 (Lewis’ stint as a starter), Lewis’ total of 24 pressures allowed stood as the third-most among guards.
I love the line “At guard, the Jets need to be highly aggressive. Period” but I don’t think you take it far enough. I encourage signing BOTH and yeah, that could mean $25M. A Becton, Thuney, McGovern, Scherff, Fant OL can move the Jets OL rating from “poor” to “elite”.
If the Jets could sign both Thuney and Scherff… man, that would be one monstrous unit for years to come. Who knows? Maybe as a former O-linemen himself, Joe Douglas will have some sort of magical, alluring pull to O-linemen on the free agent market.
After cuts, the Jets will have $100M to spend. They can sign both and still have $75M to spread around elsewhere. Elite prices for non-QB free agents is around $15M – very doable, especially when few teams have money. The Jets are in position to be free agency bullies.
Elflein is a depth guy, Edoga is a great fit for this Offense, will be key depth. Thuney would be ideal but competition will be fierce. Linsley maybe a very realistic alternative, fits Douglas pricing, once again great fit for this Offense