Laken Tomlinson, NY Jets, Contract, Stats, Film
Laken Tomlinson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Tomlinson was a bust free-agent signing in 2022

One of the biggest disappointments for the New York Jets in 2022 was the play of left guard Laken Tomlinson.

Coming off a Pro Bowl season in San Francisco, Tomlinson seemed like a perfect fit for the Jets’ wide-zone scheme. Instead, he often appeared lost and was routinely bullied off the ball.

When a player regresses so terribly after signing a large free-agent contract, there are always going to be whispers that he mailed it in after earning his money. However, with a stable of young, talented players, potentially an above-average or even elite veteran quarterback, and a desperate fan base, can Tomlinson flip the switch back on in 2023?

Offensive line turnover

The Jets’ offensive line looked poor from Day 1 of training camp and never seemed to improve all that much. That should have been the first alert that something was wrong in Florham Park. Things did not get better when Mekhi Becton went down and Duane Brown had very little time to get acclimated to the rest of the line.

Before you knew it, the regular season started with Max Mitchell as the Jets’ starting right tackle. What many also did not realize at the time was that George Fant‘s knee had never fully recovered from offseason surgery. With that basis at tackle, it was difficult for Tomlinson to gain any sort of rapport with the guy to his left.

Throughout the season, the Jets made multiple switches next to Tomlinson. They went from Fant to Conor McDermott to Alijah Vera-Tucker to Brown. Even when Brown returned, he was playing through a torn rotator cuff, an injury that clearly worsened as the season progressed.

Now, this is not to make excuses for Tomlinson. He often played poorly in his own right. But offensive line play is more interconnected than virtually any other NFL position; with that kind of constant change, it would be difficult for anyone to be at their best, particularly with a new team (even if the scheme was the same).

Not to be discounted is that Connor McGovern, Tomlinson’s linemate to his right, is notoriously poor in pass protection while simultaneously making the protection calls. That could have also accounted for some of Tomlinson’s struggles.

Overrated from the outset

Tomlinson’s Pro Bowl selection in 2021 and his reputation as a top guard was definitely inflated prior to his arrival with the Jets. When Joe Blewett did his film review of Tomlinson, he commented at the time that Tomlinson was certainly not a top-five guard in the league and, at best, was the 10th-to-12th best guard in the NFL.

Still, the Jets would have signed up for that kind of performance any day of the week, even if Tomlinson’s contract (three years, $40 million, $27 million guaranteed) was a bit hefty for that level of play.

Tomlinson’s play in San Francisco was far superior to his 2022 play, so the fact that he was previously overrated does not explain why his performance fell off so precipitously.

By the numbers

Last offseason, when I evaluated Tomlinson, I used Pro Football Focus grades as part of the evidence that he was a strong addition to the Jets. In 2021, PFF ranked Tomlinson the 10th-best guard (out of 73 guards, min. 475 block snaps) in the league overall with a 75.9 grade, tied for 14th with a 75.0 run-block grade, and tied for 11th with a 75.2 pass-block grade.

These numbers coincide with Blewett’s overall assessment of Tomlinson’s play.

However, digging a little deeper, I missed certain numbers that may have pointed to a possible drop-off with the Jets. Tomlinson’s 2021 pressure rate of 4% ranked 25th, and his true pass set pressure rate ranked 27th. Those are above average, but not top-10 metrics. His pass-block efficiency was 19th at 97.7.

Moreover, when it came to just the rate of sacks plus hits allowed, Tomlinson was below average, ranking 45th with a rate of 1.51% (the league average was 1.42%). Most alarmingly, his sack-plus-hit rate ballooned to 3.75% in true pass sets, meaning on throws between two and four seconds not involving play-action or screens. That mark ranked 60th out of 68 guards (min. 300 pass-block snaps) in 2021.

Tomlinson’s overall numbers in 2022 seemed okay. His 4.49% pressure rate allowed was 35th out of 67, which is close to average percentile-wise (47th), although it is somewhat worse than average in pure rate (4.32%). His overall sack-plus-hit rate was 0.70%, which ranked 13th, and his true-pass set rate was 0.60%, which ranked seventh. However, a look at the film explains why these numbers appear far better than his actual blocking performance.

There were many plays on which Tomlinson double-teamed the wrong pass rusher instead of picking up his assignment, resulting in a quick pressure, hit, or sack; however, he was not charged with that blown assignment because he never turned toward that rusher at all. It’s pretty evident on film that it was his error.

ESPN’s pass-block win rates actually hint toward this, though it takes a savvy eye to recognize it. Tomlinson’s listed win rate is middle-of-the-pack among guards, per Seth Walder of ESPN; however, his double-team rate is very high. Having an average win rate even when double-teaming at a high rate indicates that there was some poor blocking going on. This conclusion matches the film.

Considering that Tomlinson also had some underlying poor numbers in his Pro Bowl season with the 49ers, it’s possible that 2022 was not an outlier as much as true flaws unmasked. The 49ers’ quick-rhythm offense is friendly to offensive line pass-blocking. Maybe Tomlinson was just a beneficiary.

Trent Williams effect?

Speaking of the 49ers’ offensive line, it is bookended by the consensus best left tackle in football, Trent Williams. Perhaps Tomlinson benefited just as much from having the hulking Williams to his left as from the quick passing game.

However, the Niners’ 2022 left guard (Aaron Banks) did not fare as well as Tomlinson did in 2021. He ranked 44th in pressure rate and 45th in true-pass set pressure rate in 2022, compared to Tomlinson’s 25th and 27th rankings in those areas in 2021.

That would indicate, at the very least, that Tomlinson’s 2021 performance was better than Banks’s 2022 marks. However, with no other indications of Banks’s effectiveness away from Williams (this was his first season as a starter), there’s no way to know whether or not both players benefited from the Williams effect, each relative to their abilities.

If that is the case, getting a strong left tackle must be a priority for the Jets in 2023 for more reasons than one.


There appeared to be coaching issues across the Jets’ offensive line throughout 2022. The number of mental errors was staggering. Part of it could definitely be blamed on the constant shuffling of players and positions, but still, those mistakes were inexcusable for the veterans on the line.

Furthermore, an underrated aspect of the Jets’ coaching issues appeared to be putting their blockers in a position to succeed. This was most noticeable with the tight ends, who were frequently asked to block a defensive end while coming all the way across the formation in both the run and pass games.

Similarly, it seemed that Tomlinson and others struggled with communication and knowing who was supposed to block whom before getting to the second level. There were times that Tomlinson actually did make good blocks upfield to spring runners, but those were negated by how often he simply did not account for his initial assignment. The same thing happened in the passing game, where he’d have an arm out to feel for a rusher coming outside but let a different one blow by him inside.

Gone are both Mike LaFleur and John Benton. In are Nathaniel Hackett and Keith Carter. The Jets hope that Carter, in particular, can clean up those mental mistakes and coaching issues. Although Titans tackle Taylor Lewan complained about Carter’s grueling and disciplinarian approach, a player like Tomlinson appears to need that kind of tough coaching style. Maybe Carter can whip him back into shape.

What is his true character?

One of the reasons the Jets brought Tomlinson in was to add to their team culture. He was supposed to be a veteran locker-room presence.

However, after witnessing Tomlinson play this season, it’s difficult for fans not to wonder what happened. The team thought they were getting an above-average guard, at the very least. How does a player fall off a cliff so quickly without even seeming to care?

Fans were further infuriated when Tomlinson appealed to them to help him get to the Pro Bowl, which was completely tone-deaf given his poor showing on the field.

As stated earlier, when this happens immediately following a big contract, the suspicion is always going to arise that the player is mailing it in. There was no report of an injury of any sort, but Tomlinson’s play never really improved. While you can give many offensive players somewhat of a free pass due to the tumult at quarterback, it’s still difficult to understand why Tomlinson was this bad.

Either way, in 2023, Tomlinson will be playing for a contract once more. The Jets can cut him after the season with $13 million in cap savings and a manageable $4.26 million in dead cap. If Tomlinson performs up to his 2021 standards, there’s still the possibility that the Jets would restructure the final year of his deal to make his $17 million cap hit more manageable but keep him around. If not, though, he’ll be hitting the market again.

It’s not the most pleasant thing for an organization to think about a player being that mercenary, and there are enough mitigating circumstances to hope that this was not the case. Still, it bears monitoring for any free-agent bust of this magnitude.

2023 OL improvements

The Jets are stuck with Tomlinson for 2023. They save almost no money by cutting him, whether before or after June 1, while eating over $15 million in dead cap. As bad as he was, that’s not the kind of money you swallow for a player who, at the very least, was extremely durable in 2022, something the Jets had precious little of along the line.

However, that still leaves them with many other question marks. Right now, even with the return of Alijah Vera-Tucker, there are holes at both tackle positions and center.

Do the Jets re-sign McGovern? Is Brown going to return, and will the Jets keep him on or cut him post-June 1 to save some money? Can one of Becton or Mitchell be relied upon to start next season? Will the team even have the 13th pick still available, and if so, will they be able to draft a Day 1 starter?

As the team answers these questions, they should keep Tomlinson in mind. As much as they like McGovern’s athleticism in the wide-zone system, his poor pass-blocking seemingly had a negative effect on Tomlinson. Signing or drafting a center whose strength is pass-blocking could help get the guard back up to par, which would kill two birds with one stone.

The same calculation should be made when considering who the left tackle will be. Maybe Brown can still be serviceable at his age once his rotator cuff heals. Perhaps Becton can battle it out with Brown for the left tackle position while a rookie also competes. Maybe the team signs a veteran stopgap. Tomlinson should be taken into consideration, though.

Laken Tomlinson was one of the Jets’ most disappointing free-agent signings in the Joe Douglas era. Getting at least average play out of him in 2023 will be critical for the Jets to field a consistent offense.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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7 months ago

Don’t know if I can handle another Salah/49er retread signing. We’re stuck with Tomlinson and McGovern is the worst pass blocker on the line. So losing our No 1 (Rodgers signing) selection is out of the question. Pray for Carr, even Tannehill. We need to get additional pics by trading down 4/5 spots to 16/17. Then trade down again 3/4 spots to No. 22 where there will be plenty of available OL talent.

7 months ago

He was so bad, I’d like to believe he’ll be better thinking it can’t get worse. You made a point about McGovern calling the pass protection. I always thought McGovern lacked as the “QB of the OL” I could be wrong but I’m almost certain some of those calls were “on him.” I think the OL needs a real center, a leader, and someone smart. I think it would help them all. I’m not making excuses for Tominson, and I do think he’ll bounce back.

7 months ago

I’m not sure what the numbers say but Laken was atrocious last year and we need a big bounce back. I was a bigger fan of going after James Daniels but nothing to be done now. Hopefully he can have a bounce back to be a serviceable if not good starting guard.