Chaos, potential, and opportunity lingers on the New York Jets’ offensive line
New York Jets offensive linemen:
- Players under contract: T Mekhi Becton, T Chuma Edoga, T George Fant, T Parker Ferguson, G Conor McDermott, C Connor McGovern, G Greg Van Roten, G Alijah Vera-Tucker
- Free agents: G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (UFA), C/G Dan Feeney (UFA), G Alex Lewis (UFA), T Morgan Moses (UFA), T Connor McDermott (UFA), T Greg Senat (ERFA)
- Reserve/future: T Grant Hermanns, G Ross Pierschbacher, G Dru Samia, T Isaiah Williams
Alijah Vera-Tucker absolutely pummeling D-White pic.twitter.com/nsyA8teAGV
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 5, 2022
The Position on the Position
If there’s one thing that the Joe Douglas era has accomplished, it has atoned for the offensive line negligence and inactivity that cursed the offensive line during Mike Maccagnan’s time as general manager.
Douglas’ assets and investments have been put toward blocking help through both rookie and veteran arrivals. First-round picks in each of the last two seasons have been used on linemen and his first free agency splurge in 2020 saw him commit over $27 million in guaranteed money to blocking.
The results of Douglas’ active efforts have been mixed. His first moves in office, for example, were well-intentioned (trading for Alex Lewis, coaxing Ryan Kalil out of retirement) but neither acquisition paid major dividends.
Medical woes shouldn’t be held against Cameron Clark, who was forced into retirement without a single NFL snap (even if it’s part of an increasingly ugly 2020 fourth round that saw him accompanied by fellow snapless quarterback James Morgan and sparingly used rusher La’Mical Perine).
There were high hopes for Greg Van Roten, a Long Island native, but he wound up losing his job to Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a trade deadline acquisition from Kansas City. Van Roten is a prime cap cut candidate, as the Jets would save $3 million upon his release.
That trade with the Chiefs, however, worked in the Jets’ favor, as Duvernay-Tardif’s insertion into the starting lineup coincided with the breakout of rookie rusher Michael Carter.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, last season’s 14th overall pick and one of the indirect yields of the Jamal Adams trade, received positive reviews for his work at left guard.
Connor McGovern has provided decent stability at center after Sam Darnold worked under three different primary men in his three years, though the Jets could be tempted to move on so as to take advantage of nearly $9 million of cap room.
George Fant is part of an interesting double-edged sword at left tackle. The former Seahawks is coming off the best season of his NFL career, one put into motion by Mekhi Becton‘s curious opening day injury. Becton was originally projected to return but wound up missing the rest of the 2022 season.
Some critics and observers have encouraged the Jets to move on, chatter that Becton is apparently fully aware of. The controversy shouldn’t erase the good of his rookie season, but there will be pressure on Becton to perform when he makes his (presumed) return.
Having watched the coaches film, I can confirm that the 17.1 pass blocking grade given to Laurent Duvernay-Tardif by PFF is absolute 💩💩
— David Wyatt-Hupton (@DWyattHupton) November 23, 2021
Duvernay-Tardif is perhaps better known for his game-changing off-the-field endeavors as a licensed physician, notably opting out of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl defense to assist in the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic had on hospitals in his native Canada.
There’s no denying that the Jets’ offense ran more smoothly with him in the lineup. Of the Jets’ six 100-rushing yard games, four came after Duvernay-Tardif’s promotion. Having just turned 31, he would be a veteran voice on a still-developing line which could well welcome in a new name or two this offseason.
The #Jets might not have won without the efforts of Dan Feeney and Greg Van Roten.
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) December 31, 2021
The mulletted Dan Feeney became a metropolitan viral sensation for his beer-accompanied antics during the New York Islanders’ NHL playoff run. While he struggled to find his New York footing in the early going, some solid starting performances toward the end of the year (notably handling himself well against the fearsome Tampa Bay defense in December) could earn him another short-term deal as a depth option though it’s likely he’ll at least test the open market.
Alex Lewis (LG, 71) maintains a nice hole for Bell to burst through with the help of the moving blockers. Opportunities for Bell like this were very few and far in between. Runs on the left side during this game were usually more successful with the help of Lewis #Jets pic.twitter.com/ehhvLIQW2I
— Sam (@samcrnic) July 7, 2020
Lewis filled in well after Kelechi Osemele went down during the 2019 season but injuries partly prevented him from living up to the $18 million extension he received shortly after. Though officially listed as part of the Jets’ 2022 free agent group, Lewis announced his retirement last August.
Here’s a clip of all of Denzel Mims, Connor McDermott and my career td catches spliced together: pic.twitter.com/IjYproE2Qk
— NYJ MIKE (@NyjMike) December 27, 2021
Conor McDermott will likely go down as a Jets cult hero of sorts for his fourth-and-goal tackle-eligible touchdown that set the tone for last December’s win over Jacksonville. He was decent enough as a depth option and is familiar enough with the New York offense (having spent the last three season among it) that he could likewise be considered for a short-term return while flirting with the open market.
Watch Zach Wilson hype up his Right Tackle Morgan Moses after giving him time to rifle it for the 1st down
I love it! pic.twitter.com/ZP6JHokfpd
— 𝙅𝙀𝙏𝙎 𝙈𝙀𝘿𝙄𝘼🛫 (@NYJets_Media) August 15, 2021
The Jets pounced on Morgan Moses (set to turn 31 this week) shortly after he was released by Washington and were rewarded with strong run blocking and toughness. His final Pro Football Focus grade of 70.9 was mostly brought down by pass protection and below the average scores he posted in the nation’s capital but he still only allowed three sacks during the season.
Price could be the ultimate factor in bringing back Moses, whose durability makes him especially attractive (his last missed game coming in 2015). The Jets were able to scoop him up for just over $3 million last season thanks to his June departure from D.C. but he’ll likely fetch starter’s money on the open market.
The Wagner alum was signed in January and requires a mere qualifying offer to prevent other teams from negotiating with him. Greg Senat has appeared in 10 NFL games since the Ravens took him in the sixth round of 2018’s draft and was part of the Chiefs’ run to Super Bowl LIV.
Will They Draft?
Why stop now? Prior to Douglas’ arrival, Vlad Ducasse was the last offensive lineman chosen in the first two rounds (2009).
The Jets haven’t drafted an offensive lineman in three consecutive first rounds at any point in franchise history, but now’s the time to break that trend with both a franchise quarterback in tow and big questions on the right side of the line looming.
Evan Neal appears to a consensus top 10 pick, with some even pondering his status as the top choice in Jacksonville. Interior options could include Neal’s SEC brethren Ed Ingram and Jamaree Slayer. If the Jets do opt to move on from McGovern, they’ll undoubtedly be attached to Iowa stud Tyler Linderbaum.
North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu made his name at left tackle but could be a candidate to kick inside to guard. He is gaining traction as a possible candidate to be taken first overall, though he may be available for the Jets in the fourth slot.
Play: 👉 the Jet X Offseason Simulator
Veteran Names to Watch
James Daniels is the perfect FA for Miami to pursue. He’s an extremely talented player who thrives in a zone scheme and can play all 3 spots across the IOL. He’s only 24 years old and we can likely get him for $9M-$10M/yr. This addition would go a long way in solidifying the OL. pic.twitter.com/18M3zIes2U
— King of Phinland🐬👑 (@KingOfPhinland) February 25, 2022
James Daniels, Chicago
Our own Michael Nania recently went to the pros and cons of signing Daniels, who enjoyed a solid return to action (71.0 PFF grade) after a torn pectoral muscle cost him a majority of the 2020 season.
While his pass protection was questionable, Daniels’ success in zone-based run blocking (preferred by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur) could be a solid long-term fit for the 24-year-old Daniels, bringing Michael Carter to new heights.
What a fantastic game Joseph Noteboom @jnoteboom70 had in the divisional playoff round thriller against Tampa Bay. His pass blocking was superb and he seems to be getting better with each start at Left Tackle pic.twitter.com/hODuucbNWp
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) January 24, 2022
Joseph Noteboom, LA Rams
Though most of his NFL career has been situated at left tackle (where the Jets are, again, packed to the brim with volatile potential), where he has mostly served as a backup to potential Hall of Famer Andrew Whitworth, Noteboom has worked on the other side in both collegiate (at TCU) and professional affairs, filling in for Rob Havenstein at one point this season.
Noteboom has been stuck behind Whitworth, Noteboom has been very serviceable when called upon. If the Jets lose both Moses and McDermott and are seeking veteran help, Noteboom could become an intriguing project, especially considering his education under Whitworth.
Another excellent game from Brandon Scherff in week 2. Consistently beat LVE/Jaylon to the spot at the 2nd level & did his thing in the run game. Elite football player. pic.twitter.com/tctpLeqHNd
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 18, 2019
Brandon Scherff, Washington
Another offseason, another linking of Brandon Scherff to the Jets.
The five-time Pro Bowler has played the last two seasons under the Commanders’ franchise tag and will be one of the best, if not the best, interior options in the 2022 free agency market.
While he’d match up well with Vera-Tucker, Scherff’s durability has likely led to his tagging. He hasn’t played a full season since his sophomore year in 2016 and missed six games due to an MCL sprain and a COVID bout, though he still managed to make the NFC’s Pro Bowl team.
Last season undoubtedly produced some progress on the Jets’ offensive line, but more is needed if the team is to finally survive and compete in this offense-dominated era of NFL football.
The potential on the blind side is overwhelming, but they have to know which Becton will show up. Fant also has a high expectation to live up to after filling in admirably, so it’ll be interesting to see if this new responsibility leads to heightened new powers.
Even with the potentially big payday, the Jets are likely better off sticking with McGovern in the middle for one more year, especially if they need to replace bother starting slots on the right side.
Van Roten has proved to be too much trouble than he’s worth and both Moses and McDermott could find new homes.
It’s great to see that Douglas is making up for lost time created by Maccagnan and his predecessors, but all that inactivity created something far beyond an overnight fix.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags