George Fant is creating a 2022 cap conundrum for Joe Douglas and the New York Jets
Going into the 2021 season – his second with the New York Jets – it did not feel like offensive tackle George Fant had much of a chance to last beyond the second year of the three-year, $27.3 million contract he signed with New York in 2020.
The third year of Fant’s deal has him poised for a hefty $10.65 million cap hit in the 2022 season, but the Jets can escape the deal after 2021 while taking on only $1 million in dead money and saving $9.65 million in cap space.
Considering that Fant was an average starter at best in 2020 (and had never been better than that in his career), it seemed like a no-brainer that Joe Douglas and the Jets would cut Fant after 2021.
Things have changed drastically.
As we enter Week 14, Fant is now one of the best players on the Jets’ entire roster. He has been a brick wall in pass protection since taking over at left tackle for Mekhi Becton during the Jets’ season opener in Carolina.
On the year, Fant has allowed a total of 17 pressures over 502 snaps in protection. That’s a pressure rate of 3.4%, which ranks 10th-best out of 71 qualified tackles (87th percentile).
Among left tackles, Fant has allowed the sixth-lowest pressure rate:
- Tyron Smith (DAL): 1.9%
- Andrew Whitworth (LAR): 2.2%
- Donovan Smith (TB): 3.1%
- Jake Matthews (ATL): 3.3%
- Andrew Thomas (NYG): 3.4%
- George Fant (NYJ): 3.4%
That’s some elite company. Tyron Smith and Andrew Whitworth are likely Hall-of-Famers. Donovan Smith and Jake Matthews are veterans who consistently rank among the best left tackles. Andrew Thomas was a top-five pick in 2020 and has blossomed in his second season.
Fant’s $10.65 million cap number in 2022 is not as large as it seems when compared to other players at the position. It is currently poised to rank 24th among offensive tackles next season, one spot behind San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey and one spot ahead of New England’s Isaiah Wynn.
Looking at his pass protection numbers relative to where his cap hit ranks at the position, Fant isn’t just a no-brainer to retain at slightly under $11 million – he might even be a bargain.
There are three question marks for Fant: his run-game ability, whether he can transfer his production to right tackle, and the possibility that this season is an outlier.
As for the run game, Fant has been decent this season, but nowhere near as dominant as he has been in the passing game. He has a run-blocking grade of 62.0 at Pro Football Focus, ranking 21st out of 29 qualified left tackles. The Jets are averaging 3.9 yards per carry when running into either the left-side C-gap and left-side B-gap, which is unspectacular and dead-even with their average into all other gaps.
We also need to ponder whether Fant can maintain his great pass protection when Becton returns and pushes him back to the right tackle spot that he was chosen to handle at the start of the year. Becton is going to be New York’s left tackle for the foreseeable future when healthy, so it’s at right tackle where Fant’s future lies.
Regardless of position, it is fair to wonder whether this performance is an outlier for Fant. This is quite an enormous leap. Is it for real?
There are strong reasons to believe Fant’s jump is, in fact, for real.
For starters, Fant is exceedingly young in football years. Fant has only been playing the game for six years. He did not begin playing football until his redshirt senior year at Western Kentucky, when he was already 23 years old.
Plus, even though he was 28 years old when he came to the Jets, Fant only had 18 true career starts prior to the 2020 season (games in which he started and finished the game at tackle with no rotating-sixth-lineman gimmicks) – essentially one season of offensive line experience. In terms of cumulative NFL starting experience, he is in the midst of his third season right now.
Fant’s consistency this year is another reason to believe he is for real. Fant has allowed no more than two pressures in 11 of his 12 games. He’s showing up every single week. That is the sign of a truly improved player.
Not to mention, next year will be a contract year for Fant, keeping his motivation up.
Ultimately, while the aforementioned three question marks are worthy concerns in this equation, Fant’s consistently outstanding pass protection outweighs them. To cut bait with a starting tackle who protects the quarterback at this high of a level would be foolish.
As things currently stand, Fant deserves to stay in Gotham Green at his $10.65 million cap number next year.