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NY Jets free agent targets: Ranking every available O-lineman

NY Jets, 2024 NFL Free Agent, Offensive Line, James Hurst, Kevin Zeitler
James Hurst, Kevin Zeitler, New York Jets, NFL Free Agency, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Which offensive linemen should the New York Jets target in free agency?

This offseason, the New York Jets will be looking to fill at least two and possibly up to three starting spots on their offensive line. In addition, they must work on strengthening the second-string unit.

Free agency will be a pivotal tool for filling all of these holes.

To get an idea of what the 2024 free-agent offensive line market looks like, I evaluated the 2023 production of every free agent and neatly sorted them all into one table. This can help us identify which players the Jets should target and understand how many viable options the Jets truly have to choose from.

Explaining the rankings

The free agents are ranked by an overall rating that is calculated by combining two metrics.

1) The player’s percentile ranking at their position in net pressure rate.

This stat shows the player’s allowed pressure rate (percentage of pass-blocking snaps where they were charged with allowing a sack, hit, or hurry) relative to the positional average, after adjusting for the percentage of the player’s pass-blocking snaps that were true pass sets (passing plays that face at least a four-man rush and feature no play action, no screen pass, no quick throw, and no rollout).

The true pass set adjustment helps account for differences in scheme and surroundings, as a true pass set is far more likely to result in allowed pressure than a non-true pass set. The players themselves have no control over how often they are asked to drop into a true pass set, but this variable plays a large role in determining how often they are charged with allowing pressure.

By accounting for this variable, we evaluate all linemen’s ability to prevent pressure on the same plane, regardless of whether they play in a quick-passing offense, in a long-dropback offense, with a smart quarterback, with a quarterback that holds the ball, and so on.

Here’s an example of how this metric works. Jets center Joe Tippmann allowed pressure on 3.5% of his pass-blocking snaps. The league average for centers is 3.9%. However, Tippmann had to drop into a true pass set on 48.1% of his pass-blocking snaps, which is slightly higher than the league average for centers (46.3%). After accounting for this, Tippmann’s “expected” allowed pressure rate jumps from the league average of 3.9% to 4.0%.

With a 3.5% actual pressure rate compared to a 4.0% expected pressure rate, Tippmann’s net pressure rate is -0.5%. This ranked 12th-best among 36 qualified centers.

In all scenarios, the league-average mark in this category is 0.0%. A negative mark indicates the player allows pressure less often than expected while a positive mark indicates the player allows pressure more often than expected.

2) The player’s percentile ranking at their position in PFF’s run-blocking grade.

I’ve been critical of PFF’s grading system, but this is the only statistic available for evaluating run-blocking. While it is prone to some wonky conclusions if you go case by case, it is probably reasonably accurate in the aggregate.

Ranking all 2024 free-agent offensive linemen

I took the average of each free agent’s percentile rankings (among players at their position who played at least 322 offensive snaps) in net pressure rate and PFF’s run-blocking grade to produce an overall rating by which I ranked them.

Here are the 49 free-agent offensive linemen who played at least 322 offensive snaps in 2023. They are ranked from best to worst according to their overall rating (combination of NetPR% percentile and RBLK percentile). You can also see their exact percentile rankings in both of those categories, along with their actual marks.

2024-NFL-Free-Agent-Offensive-Line-Ranked

Let’s get into some takeaways.

Not a good year to need a free agent tackle

If you’re looking for a quality starting tackle in free agency, you’re probably out of luck.

Of the 22 players on the list with a rating above 50.0, only four of them are tackles.

While each of those four free agents has a rating of 75.0 or higher, three of them aren’t actual blockbuster free-agent targets when considering the whole picture.

Trenton Brown (87.2) is a massive injury risk, as he’s played 11 games or fewer in four of the past five seasons. Brown also does not project well to anything except a heavy gap-blocking scheme due to his enormous 370-pound frame and lack of athleticism. That could rule him out for the Jets.

While he is still playing at a high level, Tyron Smith (82.3) is 33 years old and similarly injury-prone to Brown. Smith has missed at least three games in eight consecutive seasons and is averaging 10.3 games played per season over that span.

Jermaine Eluemunor (75.0) is an interesting target, as he is just 29 years old, has a solid track record of durability, and performed well in both phases for the Raiders this season.

The concern with Eluemunor is whether his 2023 production is legitimate. Eluemunor is a career backup with just 45 starts to his name in seven seasons. While he also put up good numbers in the 2022 season as a 17-game starter for the Raiders, the league didn’t seem to buy into those numbers considering Eluemunor only netted a one-year deal for $3 million in the 2023 offseason.

The only legitimately intriguing tackle is Mike Onwenu (79.9). The 26-year-old has extensively played three different positions across his four seasons in New England: right tackle (1,548 snaps), right guard (1,425 snaps), and left guard (402 snaps). He played well at all of them, consistently rating well in both phases of the game no matter where he lined up. Onwenu also offers durability, missing only two games in his career.

Unless the Jets can win what is likely to be a lucrative sweepstakes for Onwenu’s services, they are not finding a stud tackle in free agency. There are plenty of serviceable starters on the market who can offer middling production, such as Andrus Peat (50.0), Chris Hubbard (49.4), and Jonah Williams (42.7), but to find a strong long-term answer, the Jets must look toward the draft.

The Jets have plenty of options at guard

While it’s a brutal year for tackle-needy teams, you’re in luck if you need a guard. Our list features 13 guards with a rating above 50.0, including six with a rating above 60.0.

Miami right guard Robert Hunt (94.8) was banged up this season, missing six games and playing less than one hundred percent of the snaps in four others. He played every snap in just seven games. However, when on the field, the former second-round pick was a star in both phases. In his prime at 27 years old, Hunt figures to receive a hefty payday.

In late August, the Rams acquired Kevin Dotson (93.5) from the Steelers for a swap of Day 3 picks, and it turned out to be one of the NFL’s biggest steals of the 2023 offseason. Pittsburgh’s former fourth-round pick became a star in Hollywood, earning the best run-blocking grade among guards while also thriving in pass protection. Also 27 years old, Dotson will join Hunt as a premier target this March.

Jets fans will be shocked to see Greg Van Roten (86.4) near the top of the list. At 33 years old, Van Roten had a resurgent season in Las Vegas under offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, a Patriots disciple who did outstanding work with the Raiders’ offensive front this year. Suffice it to say, I don’t think either Van Roten or the Jets will be interested in a reunion considering their history.

After Hunt, Dotson, and Van Roten, there is a large collection of 30-plus veterans who played at an above-average level and can likely be had affordably. This may be the sweet spot New York aims for.

Kevin Zeitler (72.1), Jon Feliciano (65.6), James Hurst (63.0), and Graham Glasgow (59.7) all earned solid ratings and are over 31 years old. With plenty of holes to fill and not a lot of cap space, the Jets will probably need to be frugal with their construction of the offensive line rather than chasing big fish. Veteran players of this talent level and age bring an ideal combination of production and affordability for the Jets’ current predicament.

With the same money that could be allocated to one star guard, New York could likely add at least two players from this tier of above-average veterans, potentially filling a starting spot with one player while adding another player to strengthen the second-string unit.

There are intriguing center options if the Jets want to move Joe Tippmann

The Jets seem committed to developing Joe Tippmann as their center of the future. However, if they want to get creative and build the best five-man unit possible, they could consider moving Tippmann back to guard and signing a free-agent center, as the market offers some strong options.

Lloyd Cushenberry (92.9) and Andre James (26.7) offer high-level production in both phases of the game at 26 years old. Each of them also offers a good track record of durability for the most part. Cushenberry has played in 85% of possible career games and James has played in 96%. Connor Williams (81.4) is another 26-year-old stud, but coming off an ACL injury, he probably isn’t on the Jets’ radar.

Tippmann played relatively well at center for a rookie but did have recurring issues with his snap accuracy. If that is something he cannot clean up, it could be worth considering a move back to guard, where the snapping issues would be negated.

I think Tippmann will figure it out at center and become a great player at that position. The Jets probably feel the same way. I don’t think the path of moving Tippmann back to guard and signing a new center is something that will happen, but just to make sure all possibilities are covered, I figured it was worth mentioning as a possibility.

The best path forward

If there were multiple star tackles available in free agency, it could be argued that New York should go all-out for one of them. Since that is not the case, it is clear the Jets should opt for the economical route when utilizing free agency to build their offensive line.

The goal should to be accumulate a high quantity of useful players at affordable costs. If the Jets can maximize the depth, security, and level of competition across the unit by signing a handful of decent-to-good veterans, it will be a successful free agency period.

If we assume the Jets are penciling in Joe Tippmann at center and Alijah Vera-Tucker at right guard while cutting Laken Tomlinson, that leaves left guard and both tackle spots as the holes to fill entering free agency. The Jets should ensure they have at least one decent veteran placeholder at each of these positions before the draft.

At guard, the Jets should target someone like Kevin Zeitler or James Hurst on a short-term deal. Zeitler and Hurst aren’t the best run-blockers at this stage of their careers, but both are still excellent in pass protection, and that is the phase New York should favor by a wide margin. This makes Zeitler and Hurst preferable to players like Feliciano and Glasgow, who lean towards run-blocking.

Durability is also a strength for Zeitler and Hurst, who have played 93% and 92% of possible career games, respectively.

John Simpson, Isaiah Wynn, Jon Runyan, Phil Haynes, and Tyler Shatley are a few mid-tier guards who offer good production in the passing game but may have their costs dragged down to an affordable level due to lackluster production in the run game. This is a trade-off the Jets can deal with in their predicament. Just focus on shoring up the protection in front of Rodgers and let the chips fall where they may in the run game.

After all, as long as Vera-Tucker is healthy, the run-blocking should be fine regardless of who else is out there. Vera-Tucker’s impact is that substantial. The Jets’ run game has been elite whenever Vera-Tucker and Breece Hall share the field.

At tackle, the Jets should look to grab at least two average-ish players who can either provide high-level production for a backup or be trusted to play at a mid-tier level if called upon to start. Getting two of these players is key, as the Jets need both a quality backup and a possible starting option. Plus, it gets the best out of everyone when you have a multitude of players competing for roles.

New York’s ideal situation at tackle is to start a first-round pick on one side and put the winner of a veteran competition on the other, with the loser sliding in as a reliable backup. Maybe someone like Max Mitchell or Carter Warren has a surprise breakout to win a starting spot, which would be fantastic since they each provide more upside than a mediocre veteran, but the Jets cannot rely on that. They need to cover themselves for any possible scenario.

Andrus Peat (50.0) and Chris Hubbard (49.4) are very average starters who finished around the league average in both phases. At 30 and 32 years old, respectively, they should be attainable on affordable one-year deals.

Jonah Williams (42.7) is a big name due to his first-round pedigree but he has not lived up to his draft status. Perhaps someone overpays for his potential considering he is only 26 years old, but if he can be had for a reasonable price, he makes sense for the Jets. While Williams’ run-blocking is considered poor, he is a slightly above-average player in pass protection, which is what the Jets need. Williams is also durable, having missed only two games over the past three seasons.

After those three options, the tackle market is limited to players who performed poorly in both phases. The Jets must be active in their pursuits of Peat, Hubbard, and Williams to avoid being forced into settling for someone who isn’t any good.

Ultimately, this is the bottom line: Considering their cap situation, their number of holes, and the limited options on the market, the Jets will probably not be hunting for stellar offensive linemen in free agency this year, even with their offensive line situation being as dire as it is. The mission is to find bang for their buck.

Non-qualified options

If you’re curious, here’s a look at all of the free-agent offensive linemen who did not qualify for their positional rankings (under 150 pass-blocking snaps played / 322 offensive snaps played), sorted by their number of snaps played.

2024-NFL-Free-Agent-Offensive-Linemen-Backups-Contract

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pat brady
pat brady
5 months ago

Another option is signing two guards and playing Ver-Tucker at RT. He played fairly well there and he can always slide back inside if they have more money next year. He’s such a great player because he gives them so many options.

Jets71
Jets71
5 months ago

Outstanding breakdown as usual. LT’s are just going to be hard to come by since there really aren’t that many good ones. The draft is probably their best bet however I don’t know if Alt will be there at 10 and it’s early but I’m not sold on the Penn St. prospect. That’s a bet on “upside” and we can’t afford another Becton.

Like you I like Tippmann at Center and think he’ll grow there but his versatility is nice to have. Reading the tea leaves on Saleh’s presser he hinted they would like to get AVT settled into a spot. I think they go back to the original plan for LG. I don’t know why but that’s my feeling…unless the player prefers RT, which I believe he may have made public.

Based on early draft reads there seem to be enough OL prospects that taking an OL at 10 won’t be a “must.”

I like Dotson, I also see no reason to not bring back Schweitzer. We are down on Carter Warren but give him an off season, to see if he can be a backup.

Onwenu is interesting, I like him but more at G than T, because of the hatred I watch a lot of NE hoping they will lose. He was a bit banged up this year but solid player. I don’t know about his value vs what they will need to pay. Still, he’s got experience at a couple of spots, and Jets fans know all too well that’s important.

Lastly, I do see a possibility of a trade involving Huff. It would have to be one of those situations a team has someone “in waiting” or a draft position to take an OL, and the Jets using an asset in a position of strength to fill a need.

Last edited 5 months ago by Jets71
Psi
Psi
5 months ago
Reply to  Michael Nania

I do think the Jets zone style on the OLine factors into these player evaluations. As such the additional variable of the subset of the above players who are better suited to that type of OLine may be relevant. There may even be players with lower grades above who played more in primarily a power scheme who would profile better to zone blocking. Choosing Tippmann over the Giants center is possible example of this. That said, I agree that they need 2 Tackles and a guard in this offseason. If there, I think the draft will be Fuaga from Oregon State who I do like. The issue is can he play LT. I think they sign a Guard and maybe even draft another Tackle.

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