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Could Lloyd Cushenberry be part of NY Jets’ perfect OL plan?

Lloyd Cushenberry
Lloyd Cushenberry

Signing the top free agent center is a move the New York Jets should consider

Recently, we discussed the possibility of the New York Jets moving Joe Tippmann from center to guard. It’s an appealing avenue for numerous reasons.

For one, moving Tippmann to guard would maximize his impact on the game since guards are viewed as more valuable than centers. This is mainly because guards handle significantly more one-on-one pass-blocking reps against elite defensive tackles than centers.

Additionally, Tippmann performed better in his rookie season at guard than he did at center, so it might be his best position.

The final reason would be to open up more potential options for the Jets to consider this offseason. If the Jets are open to playing Tippmann at guard, they could explore free agent options at the center position. This adds a whole new batch of players to their radar.

That brings us to Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry, who is set to headline the free agent center market.

As shown by Jets X-Factor’s ranking of free agent offensive linemen, Cushenberry is arguably the top center on the market. Not only that, but he is one of the top offensive linemen in general.


At just 26 years old, Cushenberry ranks second-best among centers, and the only player above him, Connor Williams, is dealing with an ACL injury that will likely sideline him into the 2024 season. Cushenberry is eighth-best overall among the 49 offensive linemen listed, including fifth-best in pass protection (based on net pressure rate).

If the Jets are comfortable with Tippmann at guard, signing Cushenberry to play center is a highly enticing option. Assuming there is no drop-off in Tippmann’s production with a move from center to guard (or even an improvement in his production), placing an elite center next to Tippmann would give the Jets a better interior combination than leaving Tippmann at center and signing a merely “solid” guard.

Let’s dig deeper into Cushenberry’s profile to figure out whether he is a player the Jets should consider pursuing.

Jets free agent profiles:

Basic info

  • Age: 26.2
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 315 pounds
  • College: LSU
  • Experience: 4 years (Drafted Round 3, Pick 83 overall by Denver in 2020)
  • Teams: Broncos (2020-present)
  • Previous contract: 4 years, $4.58M (Rookie contract)


  • Data from 2020 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time offensive line prospects


  • Height: 6’3″ (14th percentile)
  • Weight: 312 pounds (53rd)
  • Arm length: 34.125in (72nd)
  • Hand size: 10.375in (79th)
  • 40-yard dash: 5.27s (48th)
  • Bench press: 25 reps (51st)

Cushenberry earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 7.36/10.


After being selected in the third round of the 2020 draft, Cushenberry won the Broncos’ starting center job going into Week 1 of his rookie season, and he’s held it down ever since. Cushenberry has started at center in all 57 of his career games. He’s never played a snap at another position.

2023 performance

Elite pass protection

Cushenberry enjoyed a lockdown year in pass protection. On 647 pass-blocking snaps (17 starts), he allowed just one sack, four hits, and nine hurries for a total of 14 pressures. His 2.2% pressure rate ranked fifth-lowest out of 36 qualified centers. He ranked fourth-best in net pressure rate (-1.7%), which compares each player’s pressure rate to the position average after adjusting for their true pass set frequency.

These were the top five centers in net pressure rate:

  1. Ryan Kelly, IND (-2.5%)
  2. Jason Kelce, PHI (-2.2%)
  3. Creed Humphrey, KC (-1.9%)
  4. Lloyd Cushenberry, DEN (-1.7%)
  5. Tyler Linderbaum, BAL (-1.2%)

Fantastic company.

Every metric I could find is in agreement that Cushenberry had an elite season in pass protection. PFF’s pass-blocking grade had him third-best (76.4), Next Gen Stats’ pressure rate had him seventh-best (4.8%), and ESPN’s pass-block win rate had him sixth-best (95%).

Offensive line metrics can be erratic, making it difficult to assess how effective a player truly is. When every metric is telling you the same thing, it makes the player easy to trust. There aren’t a bunch of conflicting signals that make Cushenberry an enigma. He was an elite pass-blocker – period. There is nothing out there suggesting otherwise.

Watch how long Cushenberry holds up on this play, giving Russell Wilson an eternity to find Courtland Sutton for a 46-yard touchdown.

On this play, the left guard gets beat inside by Chris Jones, but Cushenberry is there to help him out, holding Jones in check to keep Wilson clean for a touchdown pass.

Here, Cushenberry slides right for a double-team with his right guard, but the right guard quickly comes off to help out the right tackle, leaving Cushenberry one-on-one. Cushenberry does a great job taking over the one-on-one as he holds the DT outside without getting pushed back into the middle. His block creates space for Wilson to step up and throw a touchdown.

Good run blocking

Cushenberry had a good year in the run game, although he wasn’t considered quite as stellar as he was in pass protection. Pro Football Focus scored Cushenberry with a run-blocking grade of 72.4, which ranked 13th out of 36 qualified centers.

We see an impressive reach block from Cushenberry on this play as he gets across Chris Jones’ face and pins him to the back side.

I saw another impressive reach block from Cushenberry a few players later. Cushenberry’s lateral quickness came up as a negative in his draft scouting report, so this may be among the areas where he’s shown the most progress since his rookie year.

Average with penalties

Cushenberry finished the season with five penalties on 1,070 offensive snaps, placing him 17th out of 36 centers with an average of 4.7 penalties per 1,000 snaps. He had three false starts, one ineligible downfield, and one holding.

For his career, Cushenberry has averaged 5.7 penalties per 1,000 snaps. His best season was actually as a rookie when he only had three penalties on 1,076 snaps (2.8). He proceeded to struggle with penalties over the next two seasons, committing 13 on 1,541 snaps (8.4). The 2023 season represented a midpoint between his highs and lows in the penalty department.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

The 2023 season was a breakout year for Cushenberry. All of the pass-blocking stats we discussed were career-highs, along with his run-blocking grade.

This could be a concern for prospective teams if his breakout came out of the blue. Fortunately for Cushenberry, his breakout was the culmination of gradual progress on a yearly basis throughout his first four years. This makes his breakout seem legitimate and sustainable.

Cushenberry’s pressure rate improved significantly every season: 4.4% as a rookie, 3.9% in year two, 2.8% in year three, and 2.2% in year four. His run-blocking arc wasn’t quite as smooth, although there was still a trend of improvement. After posting a horrendous 37.9 run-blocking grade as a rookie, he went up to 62.5 in his second season. He dropped to 52.7 in an injury-shortened third season before getting back on track in 2023 with a breakout mark of 72.4.

Despite his lack of elite production before 2023, I feel like Cushenberry’s future outlook is trustworthy. He won his team’s starting job as a rookie and then improved each year before enjoying a breakout season at 26 years old. That’s a natural progression arc. This feels like a player who just had the first year of his prime and is about to experience the heart of his prime over the next few seasons.

Scheme fit

For what it’s worth, Cushenberry played under Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in 2022. The results were mixed. Cushenberry had a great year in pass protection, allowing a pressure rate of just 2.9% as he yielded only one sack and nine total pressures in eight games. However, his run-blocking grade declined by nearly 10 points compared to the previous season (from 62.5 to 52.7) and he committed six penalties on just 502 snaps (career-worst 12.0 per 1,000).

In his breakout 2023 season under Sean Payton, Cushenberry played in a Broncos offense that employed a league-average mix of zone and gap concepts. According to PFF, Cushenberry had a 1.29-to-1 ratio of zone-blocking plays to gap-blocking plays, which was nearly identical to the league average of 1.24-to-1.

If the Jets maintain their 2023 run-game tendencies going forward, it would make Cushenberry an ideal fit. The Jets utilized an equally balanced rushing attack to Denver, posting a zone-to-gap ratio of 1.32-to-1.

However, it’s fair to wonder whether the Jets’ balanced rushing attack in 2023 is something that will be maintained. Outside of a 2023 season where Aaron Rodgers’ injury altered his plans, Hackett has been a zone-heavy guy.

In the 2022 season, when Cushenberry experienced a decline in his rushing production, Hackett had the Broncos as a much more zone-heavy team. Cushenberry had a 1.83-to-1 zone-to-gap ratio in 2022. His 58.1% zone rate was the sixth-highest among 39 qualified centers. This was a continuation of Hackett’s run in Green Bay as the offensive coordinator. His starting center with the Packers in 2021, Lucas Patrick, had a 2.32-to-1 ratio and 64% zone rate.

Back in 2021, when Cushenberry posted a better run-blocking grade than he did in 2022 under Hackett, Cushenberry was in a balanced rushing attack. His zone-to-gap ratio in 2021 was 1.23-to-1, close to his 2023 number.

Considering that Cushenberry saw a decline when moving out of a balanced attack and into Hackett’s zone-heavy attack, followed by taking a leap when he moved back into a balanced attack again, it certainly seems like Cushenberry is at his best in a traditional run scheme that utilizes both zone and gap concepts at a fairly league-average rate. Hackett’s history suggests the Jets probably want to be a zone-heavy team in a perfect world (i.e. with a healthy Aaron Rodgers), so I’m not certain the Jets are going to have a balanced run scheme as they did in 2023.

Then again, Cushenberry seems like a much different player now than he was in 2022, as his career trajectory suggests he hit his prime this past season. Perhaps he would do better in a zone-heavy offense with a second crack at it.


Cushenberry has a reliable durability track record. Outside of a groin injury in 2022 that caused him to miss the team’s final nine games, he has only missed one game in his career, which was due to COVID-19 in 2021. The groin injury is the only physical ailment that has caused him to miss a game in his four-year career.

Regarding that groin injury, Cushenberry claimed he was ready to return after a handful of games, but the team chose to keep him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

Projected cost

Spotrac does not currently have a market value listed for Cushenberry. Over The Cap estimates he is worth about $10.1 million per year. That would currently rank seventh among centers. PFF is much more optimistic, pegging him at $14.3 million, which would take the position’s top spot.

Somewhere in the middle seems like a fair estimate. I don’t see Cushenberry getting to PFF’s number, as that territory is usually reserved for the gold standard of the position. The only centers at or above $13 million in average salary are Jason Kelce ($14.25M), Frank Ragnow ($13.5M), and Ryan Jensen ($13M), who each had multiple years of elite production under their belt when signed. Cushenberry isn’t quite there yet.

Still, due to his youth and his production in 2023, Cushenberry remains in line for a large contract. The recent contract extension signed by the Saints’ Erik McCoy is a good starting point. Prior to the 2022 season, McCoy signed a five-year, $60 million extension ($12M/yr, ranked 6th). He had three seasons under his belt at the time, one shy of Cushenberry, and he was a similarly productive player.

However, McCoy’s track record of production was arguably better than Cushenberry’s, especially in terms of consistency across his full career. McCoy was productive from his rookie year, although his ceiling was around the same level as the one Cushenberry displayed in 2023.

Due to consistency, I would give McCoy a slight edge in market value over Cushenberry, which would push Cushenberry close to OTC’s estimation of around $10 million per year. However, with the massive spike in the salary cap since McCoy’s contract was signed, inflation could push Cushenberry up to around McCoy’s $12 million mark.

The safest assumption is that Cushenberry will be in the eight-figure range. Exactly where remains to be seen. He definitely won’t be cheap.

Still, due to the NFL’s low valuation of centers, he will be significantly cheaper than a guard or tackle who is ranked similarly at their respective position. If the Jets want to add at least one high-ranked lineman this offseason, Cushenberry would allow them to do it for much cheaper than a guard or tackle.

Flag Check

I wrote a pair of articles that analyzed what the Jets can learn from their hits and misses in free agency. The idea was to determine which green flags and red flags at the time of the signings turned out to be the best predictors of what would happen.

Let’s take a look at Cushenberry’s profile and see which aspects of it are reminiscent of the Jets’ hits (like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin) and which aspects are concerningly similar to the Jets’ whiffs (like Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah).

Green flags

As we discussed earlier, Cushenberry’s four-year developmental arc is a good sign. Players who experience a sudden breakout are risky. When a player shows a gradual curve of improvement across three-plus seasons, their future is easier to predict.

This reminds me of D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin. While Reed and Conklin both had breakout years in their last seasons before joining the Jets, they both showed signs of progress and development before their breakout year. Plus, they broke out at an age that coincides with the typical start of a player’s prime, just like Cushenberry. This is contrary to Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah, who were mediocre for a long time before randomly seeing a production spike in their late twenties.

Cushenberry is the type of guy that you’d feel good about signing to a lucrative long-term deal: in his prime and trending up. His durability is a nice plus.

Red flags

You would usually consider it a positive when a prospective free agent has played with your team’s offensive coordinator, but I think it’s a concern in this case. When he played under Hackett, Cushenberry saw a significant decline in his run-blocking production and a significant increase in penalties. Maybe he’d do better under Hackett with a second chance after his 2023 improvement, but it’s still a concern.

On top of that, Cushenberry had a mysterious injured reserve situation under Hackett in 2022. Why didn’t Cushenberry come off IR if he says he was healthy for the last two months of the season? Did Hackett think so low of Cushenberry that he didn’t want him back? Regardless of the reasoning for the situation, it’s possible Cushenberry might not view Hackett too highly after what happened. This is purely speculation, though – maybe it’s a complete non-issue. Just something to keep in mind.

I would also be at least somewhat concerned that Cushenberry might revert to his pre-2023 production. It was a contract year, after all, and players often step up their game when there is money on the line. Still, as we’ve discussed, I lean toward the reliability of his four-year developmental trajectory.

The verdict

I’m all in on this one.

Based on his resume, I am comfortable with projecting Cushenberry as a long-term top-10 center who is particularly excellent in pass protection. Coupled with his age and durability, he is a player I would feel safe about signing to a top-end contract at the center position.

Perhaps more importantly, I see him as the perfect kickstarter for the Jets’ offensive line rebuild. I think signing Cushenberry early in the legal-tampering window would be the Jets’ best-case scenario to begin the offseason. Everything would flow smoothly from there.

I like Tippmann at guard more than center, as I detailed in the recent breakdown. So, just by moving Tippmann, the offensive line has already improved. Then, after moving Tippmann, the Jets can add a center in Cushenberry who is higher-ranked at his position than the mid-level guard they would likely sign to play beside Tippmann at center. It’s a win-win. Tippmann improves and the Jets get a better player next to him.

This is how I see it: Give me Cushenberry at center and Tippmann at guard over Tippmann at center and whoever they’d sign at guard.

Even if you don’t think Tippmann would be better at guard, it’s hard to argue he’d be worse based on how well he played there in 2023, so at the very least, Tippmann’s production remains equal while the Jets pair him up with a better player.

After kicking off free agency with Cushenberry, the Jets would buy themselves the luxury of having multiple paths forward depending on how the market plays out. This would be afforded to them by Alijah Vera-Tucker‘s versatility.

For the sake of making this exercise simple, let’s just assume the Jets will eventually draft one of their starting tackles in the first round. So, after getting Cushenberry, the Jets would hypothetically have center, right guard (Tippmann), and one tackle spot (rookie) accounted for. That leaves left guard and one tackle spot.

If the Jets can couple Cushenberry with a quality signing at left tackle such as Tyron Smith or (if he’s cut) Cam Robinson – or perhaps they pair David Bakhtiari with a starter-level fallback such as George Fant – they can go ahead and place Vera-Tucker at left guard to complete the unit. Signing both Cushenberry and a quality tackle may have seemed inconceivable a few days ago, but after the NFL’s recent salary-cap spike, it seems more feasible.

If the Jets cannot find a tackle solution they are happy with, they can place Vera-Tucker at left tackle (or right tackle, depending on the rookie’s preferred side) and complete the offensive line with a free agent left guard, of which there are many solid options to choose from.

Here are a couple of possibilities that can go with the signing of Cushenberry.

Option 1: Sign Cushenberry + LT

Option 2: Sign Cushenberry + LG

I think adding Cushenberry would make a ton of sense for the Jets. It gives the offense an elite pass protector in his prime, puts Tippmann at (in my opinion) his best position, and reaps the benefits of Vera-Tucker’s versatility.

If I were in Joe Douglas’ shoes, I would make an aggressive bid for Cushenberry. With that being said, I’ll leave it up to Douglas and his staff to determine the key variables of this situation that require a knowledge of the Jets’ specific schematic preferences, particularly Tippmann’s fit at guard and Cushenberry’s fit in the offense.

At the very least, though, I would implore the Jets to at least remain open to the idea of signing Cushenberry. By ignoring the option, they’d be constricting themselves to a much smaller number of possible solutions.

The versatility afforded by Tippmann and Vera-Tucker is a unique luxury. It allows the Jets to consider every combination they can potentially craft using the players available on the market. No player would be off-limits. New York could focus on building the best possible combination of five players.

Count me in on Cushenberry. I don’t think the Jets will make the pursuit, as I think they view Tippmann as their penciled-in center, but that isn’t necessarily set in stone yet, so we’ll see what happens.

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2 months ago

Interesting evaluation. I like the analysis of finding “the right FA” in terms of the Conklin and Reed ascending player hypothesis. I also like the idea of more upside to Tippmann at Guard. What I don’t prefer is Vera Tucker at Tackle. Seems to me he played best at Guard on balance. Question is a) how does JD view both players and their ideal spots and b) how does he view the rookie options at Tackle? I’m starting to feel more comfortable with Latham at RT than the rest. This assumes some FA solution at LT.