Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t succeed as a Jet without this
Yesterday, I highlighted some of the main reasons the New York Jets are an attractive destination for Aaron Rodgers. With a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Garrett Wilson, a deep unit of pass-catchers that does not drop many passes, and a familiar offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett, the Jets have the right pieces to help Rodgers get back to producing like a superstar quarterback.
But it’s not all peachy in Jersey. There is one thing Rodgers always had in Green Bay that the Jets simply do not have at the moment: a great offensive line.
While Rodgers’ supporting cast had a lot of issues in 2022, the offensive line was not one of them. Rodgers received excellent protection. He was pressured on just 26.7% of his dropbacks, ranking fourth-lowest out of 33 qualifiers.
This was nothing new for Rodgers. It marked his third consecutive season ranking top-four in lowest pressure rate taken and his seventh consecutive season ranking top-16. Rodgers has not been outside of the top-16 since 2015.
The Jets cannot assure Rodgers that he will receive the quality of pass protection that he did in Green Bay. It has been a long time since New York has given its quarterback even just competent pass protection, let alone good pass protection.
Here is where the Jets’ recent primary starting quarterbacks have ranked in pressure rate taken:
- Zach Wilson, 2022: 29th of 33 (39.8%)
- Zach Wilson, 2021: 29th of 32 (38.5%)
- Sam Darnold, 2020: 33rd of 33 (42.1%)
- Sam Darnold, 2019: 32nd of 32 (42.1%)
- Sam Darnold, 2018: 23rd of 33 (35.9%)
- Josh McCown, 2017: 26th of 34 (38.9%)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2016: 16th of 32 (32.1%)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2015: 11th of 34 (34.8%)
New York has not had a starting quarterback rank in the top-16 of lowest pressure rate taken since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2016. For seven consecutive seasons, their starter ranked no better than 23rd. In each of the past four seasons, their starter was one of the top five most pressured quarterbacks in the league.
It’s worth noting that quarterbacks deserve partial responsibility for their pressure rate, as they can be pressured on plays where they should have gotten the ball out earlier. Zach Wilson and Sam Darnold surely created a lot of their own pressure while Rodgers is a master at getting the ball out on time to keep himself protected.
With this in mind, Rodgers probably would have absorbed a lower pressure rate if he played behind the same lines Wilson and Darnold played behind in New York. Still, the difference wouldn’t be drastic. Rodgers still would have taken a much higher pressure rate than he ever has in Green Bay. Anybody who has watched the Jets in recent years can tell you how poorly the offensive line has performed, regardless of the quarterback’s actions.
Rodgers has gotten used to playing behind strong pass-blocking on a yearly basis for a very long time. If he comes to the Jets, he would be joining a team that has been dealing with severe offensive line woes for over a half-decade. That would be an extremely jarring change of scenery for him. Overcoming atrocious pass protection is not something he is accustomed to.
Of course, every new NFL season presents teams with a chance to eliminate their previous issues. The Jets will have another opportunity to turn things around and end their long-standing offensive line problem.
If Rodgers is coming to town, they must ensure the offensive line is mightily improved.
The Jets have the pieces in place to field an offensive line that can be considered at least average. They just need everyone to stay healthy and play up to their peak talent level. (Easy, right?)
New York has two homegrown first-round picks in Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker who have shown star-level talent when healthy. Unfortunately, they combined for only seven games played in 2022. The health of these two players is paramount for New York’s fortunes.
Laken Tomlinson was a big-fish free agent signing in 2022 who bombed in his first season as a Jet. Tomlinson was a Pro Bowler in 2021 and played like a top-10 left guard for the 49ers across the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but he did not look like the same player in New York. The Jets will be hoping that Tomlinson can bounce back in 2023 while fueled by the motivation to avoid being cut, as his contract becomes realistically escapable in the 2024 offseason. Getting the 2020-21 version of Tomlinson would be an enormous boon for the Jets.
Outside of those three players, the Jets have two starting spots to fill – potentially three if they don’t trust Becton enough to pencil him in as a starter.
Their previous starting center, Connor McGovern, is a free agent. He is a somewhat league-average starter and a good fit for Nathaniel Hackett’s wide-zone run scheme. The Jets could certainly bring him back, but the catch (as it pertains to the topic of this particular article) is that McGovern’s skill set leans toward run-blocking over pass-blocking. If the Jets are focused on improving their pass protection rather than their run-blocking, they could look for a replacement whose skill set leans toward pass-blocking.
Then, the Jets have a couple of options when looking for the final starter. They can either search for another tackle while sliding Vera-Tucker back inside at right guard (where he began the 2022 season) or they could put Vera-Tucker outside at tackle while searching for a new guard. Vera-Tucker’s guard/tackle versatility gives the team some useful flexibility. Either way, the Jets need to prioritize making a premium investment in a new starter to fill out the line.
Adding security at the tackle position is also a must. Becton simply cannot be trusted. He’s played one game over the past two years and has played 100% of the offensive snaps in just eight games over three seasons. New York needs a strong backup plan if Becton cannot stay healthy. Duane Brown is under contract, but he is not the solution as he nears 38 years old and is coming off a season where he struggled while playing through injuries.
Overall, the bottom line is simple: Outside of the quarterback chase, the Jets’ only other first-tier priority this offseason should be the offensive line. Everything else can take a back seat. They need to find their quarterback and they need to do whatever it takes to surround him with pristine pass protection. Those are the goals to focus on.
Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but he has enjoyed solid pass protection for the majority of his career. The Jets need to keep it that way if they bring him in. Suddenly asking Rodgers to start working around a bottom-five offensive line in his age-40 season would be a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps the fear of being asked to do such a thing will drive Rodgers away from entertaining the Jets as an option.
The SB did not help me forget that the Jets could have had Creed Humphries at center without having to trade up as they did for AVT, and then maybe could have used the rd 2 pick they traded for a guard or tackle. Creed has been a tremendous force in the middle for the Chiefs and was one of the top reasons they won the super bowl against a monster D-line. You just don’t get any better than that. Douglas did well with his AVT move, but he has got to fix the OLine.
I would sing Andre Dillard from Philly to play RT. Then I would trade back to later in the 1st round and take John Michael Schmitz while add more picks.
You mentioned in your article that Rodgers would have brought down the pressure rate, I can’t help but think you’re overlooking how much the QB affects the overall pressure rate. Historically, Rodgers has been among the fastest in the league at getting the ball out. That alone would mask a ton of patchy OL play. (Not to say GB pass blocking was not solid for years, it was)