Could the Jets trot out the same offensive line in 2022?
I know a lot of fans are not going to like or agree with this one. But it’s true.
There is a chance that the New York Jets do not make any major additions to their offensive line in the 2022 offseason.
That might sound daunting, but when you think about it, that scenario would not be a catastrophic one. In fact, it would not be bad at all – it would be a good place for the offensive line to be.
Before getting into why that scenario would be a solid one, let’s get into why there is a decent chance it may happen.
The Jets’ current starting offensive line (when everyone is healthy) is as follows:
- LT Mekhi Becton
- LG Alijah Vera-Tucker
- C Connor McGovern
- RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
- RT George Fant
Two of those players are complete locks to return: Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker. Unless one or both is abducted by aliens (although I would not be surprised if Bill Belichick is working on this right now), they will be starting for the Jets next year – provided they are healthy, of course.
George Fant is a near-lock. His stellar play this season has earned him the right to stick around on his $10.7 million cap number in 2022. Perhaps there is a slight chance of a trade, but the odds are high that Fant returns next season and moves back to right tackle with a healthy Becton at left tackle.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will be an unrestricted free agent, but considering his solid play since coming over in a trade from Kansas City and the substantial positive impact he has had on the unit, one would think that he and the Jets will have a mutual interest in quickly striking a deal that benefits both sides.
That’s four out of five spots with a good-to-guaranteed chance of returning.
We are left with center Connor McGovern; the most likely player to be replaced.
In 2022, McGovern will have a cap hit of $10.3 million, which is currently slated to rank fourth-highest among centers. The Jets can release McGovern and save $9 million in cap space while taking on only $1.3 million in dead money.
Surely, the Jets will look for avenues to upgrade over McGovern. He is having an improved 2021 season but is certainly not quite good enough to validate a top-five salary at his position. While his run-blocking is excellent, his pass protection (particularly with blitz and stunt pickups) leaves a little to be desired.
With that being said, McGovern is no lost cause for the Jets. He is a solid overall player who fits well with their offensive vision. Replicating his production may be easier said than done.
Pro Football Focus currently has McGovern ranked eighth-best out of 33 qualified centers with a 75.2 overall grade this season. Plus, his athleticism makes him a perfect fit for the Jets’ outside-zone running scheme and a devastating run-blocking partner alongside the similarly athletic Vera-Tucker.
Additionally, continuity is important on the offensive line, especially with a developing young quarterback under center. Keeping McGovern around to maintain chemistry with his fellow guards and his young quarterback could be beneficial.
So, there are good reasons to bring back McGovern even if it is enticing to cut bait and reap the rewards of the cap space he would open up.
It will take a surefire upgrade to convince Joe Douglas to move on from the man he signed to a three-year, $27 million contract in his first free agency period as a general manager. Are those options out there?
The free agent market for centers is not strong if you are looking for someone in their prime. Tampa Bay’s Ryan Jensen is arguably the only big-name free agent who is playing at a high level and is still in his prime, although at 30 years old his decline could be coming soon. Other notable names include Jason Kelce (34 years old), Ben Jones (32), and Matt Paradis (32).
Do the Jets really want another Ryan Kalil situation? Banking on a previously great center who is well beyond his peak?
The Rams’ Brian Allen (28) is one prime option with a good resume. Allen is PFF’s fifth-ranked center and under 30 years old.
However, Allen is only ranked three spots higher than McGovern on PFF’s overall leaderboard and has worse numbers when it comes to pass protection and penalties – it’s in the run game where he would be an improvement over McGovern, and that is not what the Jets would be looking for in his replacement.
That’s about it for free agency. One other decent option is Baltimore’s Bradley Bozeman, who is only 27 and ranked just one spot beneath McGovern on PFF’s leaderboard. His pass protection numbers are slightly better than McGovern’s, but since he comes from a power-running scheme, he may not be a fit under Mike LaFleur.
Are you confident any of these guys would be substantially better than McGovern? Not to mention, they will all probably end up having a similar cap hit, so the money aspect of this equation would be a wash.
That brings us to the draft.
There, we find the darling of many Jets fans who are already mapping out their mock offseasons: Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum.
Ranked as the eighth-best overall prospect on NFL Mock Draft Database‘s 2022 consensus big board, Linderbaum is more beloved amongst Jets fans than nearly all players on the current roster. Many fans see him as the answer to the Jets’ problems at center; the follow-up to Kevin Mawae and Nick Mangold.
Surely, drafting Linderbaum and proceeding to cut McGovern is an option, and a great one at that. Linderbaum is one of the best center prospects in recent memory and would give the Jets another first-round talent to help push Douglas’ offensive line overhaul towards culmination.
But Linderbaum is about the only man who seems to have a good chance of pushing McGovern out. Free agency does not look intriguing and there are no other center prospects who are as highly regarded as Linderbaum.
So, if the Jets do not select Linderbaum – whether it be because he goes off the board before their selection, they do not see him worthy of a high first-round pick, they like another prospect more, or they just love McGovern – that could very well leave the Jets with the same starting-five that they have right now.
And that would not be a bad thing.
The Jets’ offensive line has been fairly average this year. New York’s offensive front ranks 17th in this composite pass-blocking metric by Ben Baldwin and 14th in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grade.
That’s with no Becton and with the woeful Greg Van Roten playing the majority of the team’s snaps.
Now, swap out Morgan Moses (who has quietly given up the third-most pressures among RT this year) for Becton, swap out a full season of Van Roten for a full season of Duvernay-Tardif, and add in a second-year leap for Vera-Tucker.
Injecting those boosts into an offensive line that is already league-average gives the unit a tremendous ceiling.
Look, I am not saying that this is what will happen, nor am I saying it is the best-case scenario. It would be great if the Jets could draft Linderbaum or find a free-agent/trade option that provides a substantial upgrade over McGovern, who is a non-elite player earning an elite salary.
All I am saying is that this very well could happen, and that if it did, Jets fans should still be ecstatic about the five-man unit in front of Zach Wilson.