George Fant, Mekhi Becton, New York Jets
George Fant, Mekhi Becton, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Examining the potential outcomes of the New York Jets’ 2022 left tackle competition

The difference between the 2021 and 2022 New York Jets figures to be night and day.

They’ve added important new pieces in free agency. They’ve got Carl Lawson finally set to make his debut in green. They drafted one of the best corner prospects of the last five years in Sauce Gardner, as well as potential stars in Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson and Breece Hall. They’ve got promising second-year talent on both sides of the ball. I could go on and on, but you get it.

Despite all of that, we’ve all still heard one thing said ad nauseam: the health of Mekhi Becton is going to be the X-factor for this Jets team.

Over the last year or so, the 23-year-old tackle has gotten the full blast of the intense New York media market that so many people warn athletes about. From questions on his work ethic, to attacks on his weight, it’s been a lot for any one man to take. Whether the Becton slander is warranted or not, one thing is for sure: his ceiling is that of a perennial All-Pro — it’s just a matter of whether he reaches it.

The presence of George Fant is both a tremendous blessing and a bit of a curse all rolled up into one. On the one hand, he’s improved drastically every year he’s been on the Jets, he stepped in following Becton’s injury and anchored the left side of the line for the entire 2021 season, and he’s a good pass-protector with nice athleticism.

But on the other hand, not only does Fant want a contract extension following his impressive season, he quite frankly deserves one — and that poses potential issues for Joe Douglas.

The 30-year-old Fant presents significantly less upside than Becton, but at the same time, a player’s best ability is his availability, and Fant has shown far more consistency there than Becton.

So do you invest in the guy who’s shown durability and consistency, and done everything right during his time with the team, or do you opt for the guy who, if things work out, could be one of the best at his position in the entire NFL?

It’s not necessarily a “one or the other” type of situation, but paying Fant what he wants would essentially mean he’s the left tackle. That may or may not sit well with Becton, who would be “demoted” to the right side.

Regardless, there are a multitude of ways this saga can play out — some good and some bad.

If Becton wins the left tackle job and Fant plays right tackle

What if Becton gets his weight down by training camp, puts on a clinic and wins the starting left tackle job?

In that scenario, Fant would obviously be manning the right, which he’s already said publicly isn’t his preferred side. The fact of the matter, though, is that if Becton were to convincingly win the left tackle job, there isn’t really much Fant could say to argue. Becton is, quite simply, the player with more upside, and winning games is the top priority.

But keep in mind, Fant’s contract situation would still be something of a question mark here. It’s probable that Joe Douglas intends on extending him, but playing right tackle would likely come with a slightly lower paycheck than left.

Fant is entering the final year of his three-year, $27.3 million deal with the Jets. If he loses the left tackle job, it’s safe to assume he decides to test the waters of free agency in 2023 instead of signing an extension to play on the right side with the Jets. Someone will pay him to play left tackle.

In this scenario, Becton would be set up to silence the doubters and establish himself as being at least on the level as the other tackles drafted around him. A true emergence from the third-year tackle would supercharge the potential of the Jets offensive line, which now features players across all five positions with legitimate talent.

Losing Fant to free agency would sting, but it would be hard for the Jets to be too upset about it if it means Becton emerges as a rock-solid franchise tackle.

The one thing lacking from the 2022 offensive line unit in this scenario is depth, and with the questions surrounding Becton’s durability, the season really does seem to rest upon his shoulders and his ability to stay healthy. That becomes especially true if he wins the left tackle job.

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If Fant wins the left tackle job and Becton plays right tackle

The signs have pointed all offseason to the left tackle job being Fant’s to lose, from comments by head coach Robert Saleh, to Becton still being limited in minicamp, to rumors of the coaching staff being disappointed with the shape Becton is in.

If this is indeed the case, there are several different scenarios in which Becton plays right tackle.

The first is if Becton shows up to training camp in good-to-excellent shape and performs well, but Fant’s past production at left tackle compared to right tackle winds up being just enough to keep him on the left with Becton on the right.

From an overall efficiency standpoint in assigning positions to talent on the offensive line, this would probably be the best-case scenario for Zach Wilson’s short-term protection. Fant would be playing the side he’s more comfortable on, Wilson would have a (hopefully) safe blindside, and Becton’s versatility from college forecasts well for his projection to either tackle spot.

The only con to this scenario is that Becton gets experience on the right side instead of the left, giving valuable years of his development to that side. How would Becton feel about that?

Tristan Wirfs mans the right tackle spot for Tampa Bay, though, and he’s considered among the best in the league, so would it be that bad? It only matters what Becton thinks, but the potential for early signs of bad blood with the team is clearly there, albeit not guaranteed.

The other scenario is if Becton shows up to training camp in merely “okay” shape. The decision to keep Fant on the left side would be pretty easy for Robert Saleh and his staff in that case, and Fant would again be playing the position he’s more comfortable with.

But this would only further raise concerns about Becton and his commitment to the team, and this time, it would be warranted. We aren’t quite sure how Becton would perform on the right side in just okay shape, or if he’d even be healthy in that scenario, but it’s safe to say it would be better to have him in good shape.

We know Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas covet players who buy into the culture and are 100 percent committed, and if Becton stopped showing those qualities, his future with the team would be murky indeed.

Of all the scenarios discussed, there may be differing opinions over what the best one is. But either way, how the situation unfolds is really in the hands of one man: Mekhi Becton.

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Ian Roddy is a football writer currently working towards his masters at USC. He brings a versatile journalistic skill set to Jets X-Factor with both writing and audio. Email: roddy.ian66@gmail.com

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