New York Jets: Three overreactions from Week 1

zach wilson, jets

The New York Jets’ 2021 opener in Carolina brought familiar pessimism, but the green sky isn’t falling just yet.

In the aftermath of the NFL’s most recent opening weekend, Canton’s sculptors are designing Jameis Winston’s bust while fans in Philadelphia and Cincinnati might be researching flights and hotels in Southern California for the second weekend in February.

Of course, Week 1 should never be used as an exclusive barometer for how an NFL season is going to pan out: in last year’s edition, the Jacksonville Jaguars, future bearers of a 1-15 ledger looked like a sleeper team after earning an upset win over Indianapolis. Tom Brady’s career was declared over for the umpteenth time after a loss to his new divisional rivals in New Orleans.

The New York Jets are used to kickoff weekend calamities as losers of five of their last six openers. Alas for New York, they’ve failed to defy the curse of Week 1, as each of the last six efforts has ended with a losing record. The theory that Gang Green has to pay some sort of “Jets tax”, where their simplest mistakes are held against them as comedy, also hasn’t helped.

Needless to say, the Jets’ 19-14 defeat at the hands of Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and the Carolina Panthers has only exacerbated the feelings of gridiron dread. ESM channels its inner Third Eye Blind and asks Jets fans to step back off that ledge…the season doesn’t end with Week 1.

zach wilson, jets

The Overreaction: Zach Wilson is a bust!!!

Why Cooler Heads Should Prevail: Overreactions manifest most prevalently when it comes to quarterbacks. Nothing draws clicks and views better than a debate over the passer’s spot on the depth chart. Gridrion schadenfreude is perhaps best manifested through the struggles of rookie quarterbacks. Casual and professional observers alike are quick to pounce on any mistake.

Enough has been written about the Jets’ blocking woes on Sunday. Those passers built for the NFL game know how to adapt to uncomfortable situations and Wilson struggled to do so in the first half (6-of-16, 84 yards, and an interception) as the Jets fell behind a 16-point margin. The amateur critics on social media were quick to attack, ready to place Wilson in the same halls as fellow first-round washouts Richard Todd, Mark Sanchez, and Sunday’s opponent Sam Darnold.

But Wilson’s recovery and ability to dodge the defenders allowed through (especially after a stagnant preseason in the pocket) was inspiring to watch. Those traits were best on display through Wilson’s pair of scoring passes to Corey Davis, ones that drew the Jets close in a game that had little business lingering in.

His adaptation and recovery in the latter half-hour 14-of-21, 174 yards, two scores, 123.9 passer rating) drew praise from notable names both domestically and abroad.

“I loved his resilience in the second half,” former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said, per Darryl Slater of NJ.com. “I thought he played terribly in the first half. And then the pieces I saw in the second half, I was really impressed. I’m like: Wow, that takes a lot of resilience for a rookie — to go in at halftime, getting your butt kicked in your first start, and come back out and really settle down and play with structure and timing and make some plays. I was impressed.”

“We want tough guys and dudes who have no quit,” Davis, Wilson’s new favorite target, said in a report from Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “That’s what he exemplifies. He’s going to be great here. I’m excited to have him. We’re going to do great things.”

No one can deny that Wilson endured a roller-coaster debut. But it shouldn’t be defined by its opened half.

The Overreaction: Denzel Mims has to go!!!

Why Cooler Heads Should Prevail: The Jets continue to deal with the curious cause of Mims. He has gone from second-round consolation prize after passing on aerial talents to draft Mekhi Becton and their best potential homegrown deep-ball threat since Santana Moss to the constant source of speculation.

It took only a single 40-yard reception, one that set up the Jets’ final score of the day, for Mims to become the Jets’ third-leading receiver in Charlotte. But Mims partook in only three snaps, stuck behind journeyman Braxton Berrios and former Boston College quarterback Jeff Smith. Blunt comments from head coach Robert Saleh have only raised further red flags, as did the fact that Mims only saw three snaps on an afternoon where the Jets were already missing veterans Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder.

“He’s been doing a good job getting himself a little bit better every day but, he’s got to know, when you’re not one of the main guys, you got to know all three spots and you’ve got to know it at a high level so you can step in and take advantage of all those opportunities,” Saleh said this week, per notes from the Jets. “So, if the Z, the F, or the X needs a break, you’re the first one that goes in because you know all three spots, you can execute at a high level and you can roll.”

The Jets have invested a lot into Mims: Jeremy Chinn and Antonio Gibson were chosen within the immediate ten picks after him. If Cole and Crowder return for Sunday’s home opener against New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS), there’s a chance that Mims could land on the inactive list.

But there’s something to be said about Saleh’s willingness to hold someone who’s projected to be a major part of the offensive revolution accountable. This isn’t to say that Saleh and his staff are infallible…honeymoons end fairly quickly for metropolitan football head coaches…but it’s an early statement, an early gambit that can light a fire under Mims and set him on a good path for the rest of his career.

Mims’ situation should be watched for the rest of the season, but there’s no use in panicking after opening weekend. It’s worth seeing how Saleh’s gambit pays off. Saleh isn’t the only head coach on the staff who has a big opportunity granted to him by the Mims situation: offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur can leave an instant impact on a unit that has struggled for literal years by finding a spot for an embattled big-play threat.

george fant, jets

The Overreaction: The Offensive Line is Going to Make Things Difficult All Year!!!

Why Cooler Heads Should Prevail: Hey, at least “Let’s Find Mehki Becton’s Replacement!!!” hasn’t gained too much traction yet.

Holding Becton’s injury history against him is a mistake…it’s still early in his career and football is a violent game…but there’s no denying his medically induced absence leaves the Jets in a prickly situation. This is a chance for general manager Joe Douglas’ constant tinkering and remodeling of the offensive wall to make their benefactor proud.

At the forefront is the arrival of Morgan Moses, who was added during the doldrums of July. Moses was one of the most impact post-minicamp signings across the league and perfectly fits into what the Jets were trying to accomplish this offseason: he fulfills a dire need (Douglas continues to make up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era) and has the big-game experience the fledgling Jets sought after helping the Washington Football Team capture the NFC East.

Getting the work in this offseason allows the Jets to welcome in an experienced, talented name, rather than scooping a name off the practice squad or the wasteland that is in-season free agency.

Moses will take over at right tackle while George Fant assumes Becton’s role as the left anchor. Fant struggled on Sunday but he believes that working with Moses is going to help him out. Their relationship dates back to offseason workouts and could pay big dividends as the Jets

“I learned a lot from him. It was not one of those competitions where we were not speaking to each other,” Fant said in a report from team writer Randy Lange. “We were coaching each other up (saying) I like this guy, I like this guys’ family. We’ve been close for a while. That was the cool part.”

Time…namely the next four weeks that Becton will undoubtedly miss…how that previously established relationship plays to the Jets’ benefit. But it’s something that should give them at least a little bit of confidence as they move forward into a landscape rife with uncertainty.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The importance and symbolism of the right tackle battle

As the New York Jets continue to seek clarity on the offensive line, an intriguing battle for snaps has emerged between two veterans.

Addressing the offensive line is the football equivalent of having a salad: no one wants to do it.

Everyone would rather have a tasty cheeseburger with a side of fries, downing it with a cold beverage…i.e. add a flashy skill player, one whose antics can become a staple in the pregame hype videos played on stadium videoboards. But, at the end of the day, the consumer knows deep down that adding a blocker or keeping up on their fruits and vegetables will lead to its long-term survival and prosperity.

The New York Jets indulged themselves for far too long. Prior to taking Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice of the 2020 draft…passing on several elite receiving talents…they had gone nearly a decade without choosing an offensive lineman within the first 64 picks (dating back to second-round tackle Vlad Ducasse in 2010). While the first round was mostly dedicated to defensive washouts (Kyle Wilson, Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Darron Lee), some of their second round choices saw them miss out on future NFL protection staples. Cody Whitehair went to Chicago seven picks pick after the infamous Christian Hackenberg selection in 2016. Aerial busts Stephen Hill and Devin Smith were respectively chosen ahead of Kelechi Osemele and Rob Havenstein.

The Joe Douglas era has seen the general manager attempt to atone for that negligence. Even if his moves haven’t fully panned out (i.e. convincing Ryan Kalil out of retirement, trading for Alex Lewis), the mere action was refreshing from a New York standpoint. Becton’s breakout, a rare silver lining of the woebegone 2020 campaign, was perhaps the first example of Douglas’ blocking blueprint yielding visible, on-field results.

“You guys know how I feel about the offensive line: it’s hard to have a good team without one,” Douglas said of the line during the 2020 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Few would know of the importance of winning a good trench battle better than Douglas, a two-time all-state blocker at Lee-Davis (now Mechanicsville) High School in Virginia before embarking on a lengthy college career at Richmond.

At the time of those comments, the Jets were looking to protect Sam Darnold as he entered his third year as the team’s franchise quarterback. Now, they’re fortifying their wall as the professional debut of last spring’s second overall pick Zach Wilson looms. Bolstering the line could also help awaken a run game that hasn’t finished in the NFL’s upper half since 2016.

The Jets continued their renovations on the blindside when they traded up with Minnesota to take guard Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC with the 14th choice. Vera-Tucker has dealt with a pectoral issue that will keep him out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC), but should be ready for the Jets’ visit to Green Bay next week.

In the meantime, the right side of the unit faces an intriguing battle, one that has only intensified with the release of the Jets’ first depth chart earlier this week. While the opening positions are mostly solidified, one top slot stood out: not one, but two names resided in the right tackle’s role: George Fant and Morgan Moses.

It’s a battle of depth, a war of experience, one that serves as a strong monument to Douglas’ goals in the trenches.

Some assumed that Moses would automatically gain primary right tackle duties when he joined the as a late signing in July. The third-round pick from the 2014 draft (chosen 17 picks after the Jets took star-crossed tight end Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech) had established himself as one of the more reliable outside blockers during a seven-year career in Washington. He is a blocker who has stayed healthy, someone who had made himself a staple (he had been in the team’s starting lineup in each of the last 96 games) on a playoff team (Washington ended a four-year playoff drought with an NFC East division title last season). Such consistency, at least that of a veteran variety, hadn’t been seen in New York since D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold saw their final snaps.

Yet, he wasn’t going into Florham Park assuming anything and that feeling hasn’t subsided as game day approaches. In fact, he welcomes and has appreciated the ongoing battle between him and Fant.

“Competition is everything for me,” Moses said this week, per Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “Nothing is given. Everything that I’ve worked for in this league since I’ve been in the league, I’ve earned. And that’s how I want it to be. I feel like if things are given to you, we take it lightly. I’m here to get myself better and try to make this team and make the offensive line better.”

Training camp has served as a solid reintroduction for Fant, who was part of Douglas’ blocking splurge during the 2020 offseason. The group endured an up-and-down endeavor as a whole but Fant showed he had lasting power in New York. His teammates voted him an offensive captain and appeared on 829 snaps with the group.

The Jets could’ve saved about $7 million if Fant was released this offseason, but they kept him aboard even with Moses in tow. His self-confidence was apparent in a reflection of the 2020 season published by team reporter Ethan Greenberg.

“I proved to myself and I feel like I proved to everybody else that I deserve to be in the league, (that I) deserve to be a starter in this league, and that I could play at a high level consistently,” Fant said in Greenberg’s report. “There are more things I want to work on, but I feel like that’s the number one thing. I needed that for myself, the confidence in myself and hopefully put that confidence in the team as well.”

In team notes, head coach Robert Saleh said that starters would play “a quarter, couple series” in Saturday’s metropolitan showdown. Right tackle reps will likely be split between Moses and Fant. Saleh said after Thursday’s practice that their matchup, equally sprinkled with intensity and professionalism, has been one of the most enjoyable parts of his first metropolitan training camp.

“It’s competitive, they’re two professionals,” Saleh said in further notes from the Jets. “I’m actually enjoying the fact that those two talk all the time about technique and they’re helping one another out, I think it’s pretty cool. They exemplify professionalism and it’s been fun to watch.”

The competitive respect between Fant and Moses has up with Saleh’s theme of respect, one that shockingly drew ire and annoyance on Fox Sports’ Speak For YourselfThe blockers’ battle has served as a perfect counterargument to the idea that the Jets have “no fire”, as analyst and former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley declared.

Instead, the two are making each other better for not only Saturday’s exhibition opener, but for a crucial 2021 season as a whole. Fant, signed one for one more season after 2021 while Moses is on a one-year deal, knows that the competition can also make him a better blocker for the future. If it makes him better immediately, the Jets’ new era of offense, headlined by youngsters like Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter, can get off to a strong start, one full of confidence for the road ahead.

“It’s a great opportunity to add depth to the team,” Fant said at the onset of training camp, per video provided by the Jets. “He’s a really good player, a great veteran to add to our room…That’s what this game’s all about. That’s what the NFL’s all about: you’re competing at all times.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Offensive line

alijah vera-tucker, jets

The continued renovations to the offensive line got off to a slow start, but the New York Jets recovered with a big gain on draft day.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. This next segment centers on the revamped blocking program…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton
Credit: Joe McManus

How It Started

By this point, everyone knows that Jets general manager Joe Douglas is at least trying to make things right on the offensive line after the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. That plan was rather obvious last offseason when the Jets spent a majority of their offseason capital on blocking help.

New York missed out on top names like Jack Conklin and Joe Thuney but dispensed over $34 million guaranteed to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. With their first-round pick, the Jets passed on premier receiving talents to draft Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton instead. It marked the first time the Jets used their opening pick on a blocker since the iconic D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold pairing in 2006.

When the Jets took the field for Week 1 action in Buffalo, it was completely different from the five that opened the prior campaign at the Meadowlands in 2019. But despite Douglas’ financial enthusiasm, the splurge did not have the intended effect. The Jets’ line ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ final unit grades, marred by inconsistency. Advanced stats dictated the Jets averaged only 2.5 seconds before allowing pressure and quarterback Sam Darnold was dropped on 8.3 percent of his dropbacks, the third-worst rate in the league (behind Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones).

The Jets did enjoy a huge silver lining in the form of Becton, who lived up to his first-round billing and then some, offering the Jets serenity in passing on names big box score names like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy.

morgan moses, new york jets

How It’s Going

Gifted with a cap space surplus, many expected the Jets to hit the ground running. But New York got off to another slow start on the free agency front, watching their top targets and revered blocking names like Thuney and Corey Linsley sign elsewhere.

This time around, the Jets instead opted to spend the early portions upgrading their box score weaponry through receiving and rushing help. Depth-based consolation prizes awaited in Dan Feeney and Corey Levin from the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England practice squad respectively. Levin hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2019 while Feeney was an average blocker whose profile was amplified through a lively, larger-than-life personality that quickly won over Jets and Islanders fans alike.

Douglas and the Jets changed the narrative on draft night, boldly sending away draft picks (one of which was obtained in Jamal Adams’ Seattle deal) up north to Minnesota to draft USC blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker. Known primarily as a Trojan guard, Vera-Tucker spent the shortened 2020 season as a tackle, showcasing his versatility. It was a costly endeavor…the Jets had no Friday picks beyond Elijah Moore at 34th overall…but Douglas’ dedication to this renovation can’t be denied. Vera-Tucker is expected to take over the primary left guard role previously occupied by Alex Lewis, who struggled last season in starting duties but is nonetheless back as a depth option.

The Jets enjoyed an extra boost to the line in the late stages of the offseason, negotiating a one-year deal for Morgan Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, shortly after minicamp. Moses has been one of the most effective blockers in the league and is coming off a career-best campaign. He brings the championship feeling desired by the Jets in other acquisitions, having played a strong role in Washington’s run to the division title last season. His reliability, having started every game since 2015, made him an attractive late gem as well.

Along for the ride is newly minted offensive line coach John Benton, who will also serve as the run game coordinator. Benton reprises the former role he held for four seasons alongside Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur in San Francisco.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The New England Patriots and the New York Jets at the line of scrimmage for the snap during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Maybe Jets fans have been so desperate for any semblance of doing the right thing. But Douglas’ dedication to the unit from the minute he took office has been refreshing. The struggles of last year’s haul did nothing to deter his quest to build a wall in front of his new passing and rushing units.

Douglas faced a bit of an uphill battle in luring free agents to New York. Even though players both domestically and abroad were hyped by Robert Saleh’s hiring, asking marquee free agents to join up with a two-win squad was going to be a bit difficult. It was tough, though, for the Jets to watch Thuney sign a long-term deal in Kansas City without much of a fight.

Having said that, Douglas put his draft money where his mouth was in the latter stages of the offseason, trading some of his valuable draft capital to find a mid-first round gem. At the literal last minute, he was able to convince the serviceable Moses to sign up for the year.

The gestures are great. But no it’s about the success translating on the field.

Douglas’ appreciated offensive line makeover began when he traded a late pick to Baltimore for Lewis and convinced Carolina Pro Bowler Matt Kalil to come out of retirement. It was great to see him take initiative…but now it’s time for results. Getting that desired effect may have been a bit easier if Douglas was able to add an elite name.

Final Offseason Grade: B-

How important will a revamped offensive line be to the Jets’ success? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: A player at each position in a make-or-break year (Offense)

This New York Jets season comes with the aura of having nothing to lose. But 2021 could mean everything for these offensive cases.

“When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

Bob Dylan’s line in the final verse of his signature hit “Like A Rolling Stone” might well apply to the 2021 New York Jets as a whole. Burdened with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought and trapped in a division with an apparent Western New York juggernaut, no one would blame the Jets for going through a gap year of sorts in an AFC packed with established contenders.

But for these five green individual cases…one at each offensive position…the 2021 season could be mean everything when it comes to preserving not only their metropolitan careers but their NFL status as a whole…

Jan 18, 2020; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Team East quarterback James Morgan (12) warms up prior to the game between the Team East and the Team West at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback James Morgan

Little more needs to be written about James Morgan’s rookie year…or lack thereof. The fourth-round pick out of Florida International didn’t even get to wear his game jersey last season, as he was not only a healthy scratch for every game last season, but he didn’t even have the luxury of a preseason.

With a shortened exhibition slate on the horizon, it’s likely that Morgan will finally get a chance to show what he’s got. The Jets appear to be sticking with Morgan and Mike White…and their grand total of zero NFL regular season snaps between them…for their backup battle behind Zach Wilson. White, a 2018 fifth-round pick in Dallas, at least has a couple of preseason under his belt from his time with the Cowboys.

Morgan’s season-long benching, even when the Jets had literally nothing to lose, became more puzzling with each passing contest. Gabriel Davis, L’Jarius Sneed, and DeeJay Dallas were all among those who went within the ensuing 20 packers after Morgan went 125th overall. The coming preseason will be anything but irrelevant for Morgan.

Nov 22, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine (22) is congratulated after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back La’Mical Perine

It was silly enough not to at least dress Morgan for the latter portions of the Jets’ season. But if that was negligence, the Jets’ malpractice at running back was downright criminal. By this point, even the most casual Jets fan knows about the Frank Gore farewell tour Adam Gase produced after Le’Veon Bell’s release. That endeavor wiped out free research and development for the Jets’ trio of young rushing projects, a group headed by Perine.

The NFL career of Perine, chosen five picks before Morgan, is slowly falling victim to the faultless crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gase’s uncanny dedication to Gore wasn’t even the start: he missed the start of the season due to a leg injury suffered late in training camp. Just when he looked like he was building a rhythm (opening Week 11’s visit to Los Angeles with 33 yards on eight carries, one of which was a score), he endured another ankle injury that kept him out of the next four games. He returned for the penultimate game of the season but missed the finale due to placement on the COVID-19 list.

That trend appears to be continuing as his sophomore season gets underway. Perine was drafted to be a north-south option, which clashes with the agility preferred in Mike LaFleur’s system. His fellow young projects (Ty Johnson and Josh Adams) are also back while the Jets added North Carolina product Michael Carter in the most recent fourth round. Gase and Gore are gone but Perine nonetheless finds himself in a precarious position.

Denzel Mims of the Jets runs after making a catch as the Buffalo Bills met the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 25, 2020.
The Buffalo Bills Vs The New York Jets At Metlife Stadium In East Rutherford New Jersey On October 25 2020

Wide Receiver Denzel Mims

It’s truly unfortunate that injuries are held against athletes, particularly those on the gridiron, when judging their careers. Entrants like Ki-Jana Carter, Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford, and Steve Emtman are often considered busts if for no reason other than committing the apparently mortal sin of getting hurt while playing football.

Mims is teetering on such an unjust fate. He missed the first six games of his rookie campaign after injuring both of his hamstrings before Week 1 and was thus struggled to sustain freshman momentum. A New York offense in various states of disarray certainly didn’t help his case. Hints of Mims’ big-play potential briefly emerged, but that didn’t stop the Jets from spending big offseason bucks to build their receiving corps. Mims is now suddenly trapped behind the hype of Elijah Moore and Corey Davis.

More struggles awaited Mims as preparation for 2021 got underway, as he missed time with an illness and spent minicamp on the second team. The drafting of Mims (and, of course, the performance of first-rounder Mekhi Becton) was supposed to make up for the fact that the Jets passed on elite receiving talent (including future Rookie of the Year Justin Jefferson) during the 2020 draft’s first round. With the receivers’ room looking vastly different, Mims must separate himself from the pack.

Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) catches a pass in front of Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson (24) during the fourth quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Tight End Chris Herndon

It was a little surprising (yet ultimately financially sensible in the long run) to see that the Jets didn’t break open the bank for some stronger competition at tight end to raise the heat on Herndon. Injuries and a suspension have prevented him from capitalizing on a strong debut season but the Jets passed on expensive names like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry (both newly minted Patriots). Goal-line option Tyler Kroft, the re-signing Daniel Brown, and rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah served as consolation prizes (along with the returning Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco).

But minicamp saw Herndon lose valuable starting reps to Kroft, setting up an intriguing battle once training camp begins. Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon has struggled with his new playbook, causing him to lose valuable ground on the depth chart.

To his credit, Herndon is going the extra mile to rectify his mistakes prior to his vastly important fourth season, as he is reportedly attending the Tight End University summit in Nashville. It will mean nothing, however, unless his work starts to make itself apparent on the field.

New York Jets, George Fant
Nov 20, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant (74) participates in pregame warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Lineman George Fant

Several Jets blockers might be at their New York breaking points in 2021. Potential outs lie in the contracts of Fant, Greg Van Roten, and Connor McGovern, outs that would lead to over $20 million cap savings.

Fant is a late addition to this and is in a particularly prickly situation after the team signed Morgan Moses last week. Moses, coming off a career-best season in Washington, is projected to take over the right tackle spot, which would relegate Fant to the second team. Set to turn 29 this month, that could hinder Fant’s chances of securing another long-term deal.

But a new opportunity awaits: Fant could prove himself to be a reliable depth option and veteran mentor, which could convince the Jets or another team to offer him that presumably desired stability. To do so, Fant could look to pull out all the stops. For example, is it possible we could see him lineup as a tight end, as he did in Seattle? LaFleur’s offense in San Francisco previously used a veteran blocker in such a role, employing the services of Joe Staley.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: 3 aftershocks from the Morgan Moses signing

morgan moses, new york jets

The New York Jets had a late offseason surprise going into the weekend. How does it affect the team moving forward? ESM investigates.

With Independence Day weekend looming, the New York Jets had early fireworks to share.

Per a Friday report from Rich Cimini of ESPN, the Jets are set to sign Morgan Moses to a one-year deal. Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, was released due to salary cap reasons after seven seasons in the nation’s capital.

“Morgan is a fantastic player. He’s played at a very high level,” head coach Robert Saleh said recently, per Cimini. “We’re not going to shy away from adding good football players.”

What does it mean? ESM investigates…

Another Brick in the Wall

General manager Joe Douglas continues to make up for the offensive line negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. While Douglas has earned rave reviews for the relative risk of picking Mekhi Becton at 11th overall and his willingness to use offseason capital on blocking, his veteran acquisitions haven’t exactly panned out. It’s great, for example, that he was able to convince Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement during his first weeks in office, but at some point, these moves have to start paying on-field dividends rather than ones of morale. Douglas has identified the problem. Now he needs the solution.

The 30-year-old Moses only boosts the Jets’ offensive potential as they continue to construct the wall in front of Zach Wilson and his young running backs. This veteran blocking signing, or at least the timing of it, has a different aura to it.

Unlike the aging Kalil or last year’s relatively unproven class developed out of necessity (George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten), Moses appears to still be working through his prime and is someone who serves as an automatic life of the blocking party. There are no Pro Bowl or All-Pro nominations to his name just yet, but Moses’ Pro Football Focus grade (80.6, including an 85.9 in rush protection) was sixth-best amongst right tackles.

Moses has also had little issue staying healthy (having started in every Washington game since 2015) and fulfills the championship feeling trait that the Jets have worked on this offseason (Corey Davis, Tevin Coleman, Sheldon Rankins). To that end, Moses was part of Washington’s unexpected division title effort.

George Fant Becomes a Depth Star

Fant was one of the more prominent arrivals of the Jets’ 2020 free agent class. But he figures to be the odd man out with a player of Moses’ caliber set to join the lineup.

At first glance, Fant could become a late cap casualty or draft capital fodder. The Jets, for example, would save $7.8 million if they trade the former Seattle Seahawk. But if the versatile Fant is a backup right tackle, the Jets are in a relatively decent spot. With experience in several blocking roles, Fant can serviceably step in in case of an emergency. If anyone knows about the value of having a deep squad, it’s Douglas, one of the architects behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ improbable Super Bowl run back in 2017 (which makes the lack of an experienced backup for Wilson all the more puzzling, but that’s another conversation).

Though Fant got off to a slow start, he gradually improved throughout the season. Fant likely endeared himself to new Jets management by expressing his anticipation of working in new coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system toward the end of minicamp proceedings. He’s particularly impressed by LaFleur’s tendencies to focus on outside-zone or wide formations.

“This system is really built for me,” Fant said in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg. “This is the most excited I’ve been going into a season so far. Being in Seattle for all those years, we kind of ran something similar. But seeing the 49ers and how they were running a wide zone when I was in Seattle, I already kind of had an idea of what they were going to do. Very excited to work with them, get in this system and really show what I’m capable of.”

A Master and An Apprentice(s)

Once again, Douglas’ line renovations deserve some praise in the early going. Becton appears to a legitimate lasting force on the line while Douglas boldly traded up with Minnesota to take Alijah Vera-Tucker, sacrificing any day two capital beyond the second pick of the second round.

But, much like the incoming quarterback, it shouldn’t be fully on the shoulders of Becton and Vera-Tucker to completely clean up the Jets’ blocking woes, especially at such a young age. Having a veteran option like Moses in tow should provide some relief and give them a strong mentor to learn from. When Trent Williams left Washington for San Francisco, Moses became the elder statesman in burgundy blocking. Under Moses’ watch, Washington’s line finished sixth in the final PFF rankings, up from 29th in the preseason edition. Moses was even said to take Washington’s then-franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins under his wing before the team moved on to eternal placeholder Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Between his experience, talent, and championship knowledge, Moses arrives at a perfect time from a Jets standpoint. Sure, his green makeover probably doesn’t turn the Jets into playoff contenders, but he’s something a Jets team desperately trying to end a perpetual rebuild desperately needed The hard part…fulfilling the potential brought about by this addition and proving Douglas correct…starts in training camp.

How much an impact will Moses have on the 2021 Jets? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Analyzing the fateful moves of Joe Douglas’ tenure (so far)

Today in 2019, the New York Jets named Joe Douglas their general manager. ESM looks back on his most impactful moves, for better or worse.

Two years ago, a man named Joe opened a campaign that ran on change and reform. Today, he’s at the helm of one of the most renowned, yet volatile, systems in the world and trying to get his constituents back on track in the face of an ongoing crisis.

On this day two years ago, Joe Douglas became general manager of the New York Jets.

Douglas inherited a ghastly gridiron crunch from Mike Maccagnan after the latter’s shocking post-draft firing in 2019. The Jets were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought and hadn’t had a winning record since 2015, the first year of Maccagnan’s star-crossed term.

Two years later, however, much hasn’t changed in terms of on-field numbers. Douglas has overseen a mere nine wins over two seasons (besting only Detroit, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati) and saw the franchise plunge to new single-season lows last season through a 2-14 ledger. Even though they bested the single win of Rich Kotite’s doomed group in 1996, the Jets endured a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak to open the year, leading Douglas to start almost entirely from scratch in 2021. The playoff drought has been extended to a decade, the longest active streak in the NFL after Cleveland and Tampa Bay each earned postseason invites last winter.

In his brief time, Douglas has made several transactions that will affect the Jets’ future fortunes and perhaps his own metropolitan future. ESM looks back at the most impactful moves to date, for better and worse…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Better: The Drafting of Mekhi Becton

For his first draft pick at the helm of the Jets, Douglas opted to select Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice in the 2020 proceedings. There was no shortage of talent in the middle stages of the virtual draft’s opening night, as Henry Ruggs, Tristan Wirfs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson all heard their names called with the next eleven selections after Becton.

Analysis: For the time being, the draft of Becton is Douglas’ magnum opus. He made the selection in a thankless position: for every one fan/analyst/scout who wanted a blocker, there was another likely upset that Douglas passed on the plethora of receiving talent available in the slot. But after Becton served as a rare silver lining in Adam Gase’s dirge, Douglas publicly declared that he would base future decisions around Becton.

“I think he’s a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in November, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you talk about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart. He’s tough as nails and has rare size and athleticism. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be so we’ve made it our mission to bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

The selection of Becton also snapped a dangerous streak in Jets history: he was the first opening-round offensive lineman chosen by the Jets since the legendary pairing of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006, ending a period of blocking negligence exacerbated not only by Maccagnan but by Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik before him. Additionally, shrewd maneuvering by Douglas allowed the Jets to pick up a big-play receiver anyway, using a second-round choice on Baylor’s Denzel Mims.

LANDOVER, MD – NOVEMBER 17: Alex Lewis #71 of the New York Jets looks on prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 17, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Worse: The Veteran Building Block(er)s 

Douglas’ blocking renovations didn’t begin with Becton. In the month before he scribbled Becton’s name onto a draft card, Douglas bestowed over $17 million in 2020 cap space to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. When he took office during the summer of 2019, among his first moves were trading a late pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis and convincing All-Pro Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement.

Analysis: Douglas had the right idea: he wanted to stock up on blockers to help his pre-packaged franchise quarterback Sam Darnold out. Alas, the moves he made only hastened the end of the Darnold era.

Part of the issues stems from Douglas signing the wrong names. Jack Conklin was reportedly interested in coming aboard (and Le’Veon Bell pleaded for the Jets to sign his fellow Michigan State alum on Twitter), but he instead embarked on an All-Pro season in Cleveland. Worse yet, the consolation prizes caused the Jets to neglect other areas of need, namely the weaponry necessary for Darnold to succeed. Luring Amari Cooper over from Dallas was probably always a pipe dream, but they missed out on serviceable parts like Emmanuel Sanders. They also made little effort to retain Robby Anderson, who went on to post career-best numbers in Carolina.

In the absence of marquee blocking signing, the Jets were forced to make do with washouts from first rounds past (Breshad Perriman) as well as former Patriots without the Belichick touch (Chris Hogan). The tough luck created a football situation where no good Douglas deed went unpunished.

New York Jets, Jamal Adams
Dec 29, 2019; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets strong safety Jamal Adams (33) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The Jamal Adams Trade

Once it became clear that Adams, the face of the franchise during the Maccagnan era, wanted out of New York it was on Douglas to somehow salvage the situation. Adams didn’t make things easier by telling metropolitan horror stories any chance he could. Despite Adams’ tales, Douglas eventually worked out a deal with Seattle in August 2020. The deal netted two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and veteran cornerback Bradley McDougald.

Analysis: It’s hard to fully analyze the Adams trade as there are still lingering aftershocks in the 2022 draft; the Jets own Seattle’s first-round choice while the Seahawks own a metropolitan fourth-round pick.

As of this moment, a lot of the Adams fallout has shifted toward the Jets’ favor. While McDougald partook in only seven games and doesn’t appear to be heading back (continuing a disturbingly common trend of Douglas’ veteran acquisitions not panning out), the Jets used the Seattle capital to bolster their offensive line, trading the 2021 first-rounder to Minnesota that led to a move up the draft board for Alijah Vera-Tucker. The fact that Adams’ cantankerousness followed him to the Pacific Northwest…he has yet to sign a long-term deal…only further shifts the current lead in the Jets’ direction.

There’s no use in grading the trade when several major names from it haven’t played a single regular season down yet. But the fact that Douglas turned a disgruntled superstar into a landmark blocker and a first-round pick to be named later is an inspiring sign. The same philosophy could apply to the trade that sent Darnold to Carolina, a deal that saw Douglas land a second-round choice (in 2022) for a quarterback that has yet to post a passer rating above 85 or throw more than 20 touchdown passes.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Safety Marcus Maye #20 of the New York Jets celebrates a stop against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Better: Franchise Tagging Marcus Maye

Both the SEC and the earlier days of the 2017 draft are still represented in the Jets’ secondary through the prescience of Marcus Maye. The Florida alum was bestowed the franchise tag in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, a move that makes him the 10th-highest-paid safety in the league in 2021 (over $10.6 million guaranteed).

Analysis: After the Adams debacle, Douglas had to carefully navigate the situation with Maye. The Florida alum was close with Adams and was one of the few name-brand talents leftover once Adams and Anderson donned new helmets. For all intents and purposes, things have gone well in the early going. Maye, who at the very least made sure the Jets appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10, earned a sizable new contract while Douglas and Co. bought some time for Maye to further consider New York and set the table for an affordable long-term deal.

While Maye appears to be holding out of offseason activities, possibly until he gets that longer contract, the conversations surround him inspire hope and optimism, unlike last year’s melancholy Adams situation.

“Marcus Maye fits every system and he’ll be just fine,” new head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like he has. Joe and his staff are working relentlessly to get something done. We go with it and we support him all around the organization.”

New York Jets, Adam Gase
Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets head coach Adam Gase looks at a play card during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Worse: Putting Up with Adam Gase

Douglas took over the Jets at an interesting, if not contemptuous, point on the Jets timeline. His immediate predecessor was not Maccagnan, but rather Adam Gase, who more or less won a battle of wills to remain in New York. Gase was granted interim general managing duties after Maccagnan was let go and was maintained as the head coach upon Douglas’ arrival. He would last two seasons at the helm before Douglas dismissed him, paving the way for Saleh’s hire.

Analysis: The Jets were able to mask a 1-7 start in Gase’s first year at the helm by winning six of their final eight games (mostly against competition equally, if not more, doomed). But an even more brutal start in year two…one that saw the Jets lose their first six games by multiple possessions…should’ve been all the evidence that Gase wasn’t going to be the one to lead New York to the promised land.

Sure, it had been a while since the Jets executed an in-season firing (with Charley Winner getting ousted for Ken Shipp in 1975), but early firings have become more common in today’s NFL. A playoff berth in year one couldn’t save Ben McAdoo with New York’s blue squad. Steve Wilks was granted only one year in Arizona once it became clear they could get Kliff Kingsbury. It’s not like Douglas wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on others; the Jets instituted an early-season fire sale that bid farewell to Bell, Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was likewise given the boot after his infamous blitz against Las Vegas cost the Jets their first win of 2020.

To make matters worse, once Gase couldn’t even take advantage of the macabre gift of consequence-free football that could’ve been used as research and development for the future. For example, he chose to give Frank Gore a retirement tour instead of giving young projects like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams a chance. Letting Gase finish out the season helped offseason questions linger and kept the Jets on a path of uncertainty.

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The San Francisco Treats

With the eventual purge of Gase and his coaching staff (save for the apparently immortal Brant Boyer) and the drafting of Zach Wilson, Douglas now officially has his signature on this team. The process will now be overseen on a day-to-day basis by a staff headed by Saleh and fellow former 49er Mike LaFleur, who is tasked with awakening an anemic New York offense.

Analysis: It’s foolhardy to grade any transaction without a single down of evidence, so the jury is obviously still out on Saleh. It’s an interesting approach for the Jets to take, for the Jets to go with a defensive-minded boss in an NFL landscape that increasingly favorites the offense (whether it’s inadvertent or not). It’s also somewhat surprising to see them hire a first-time head coach for a team full of unproven misfit toys. Time will tell how the gambit, similar to the Todd Bowles hire in 2015, plays out.

Having said that, the ultimate difference between the Gase and Saleh hires is who is praising the hire. When Gase arrived, it was praised mostly by the hot take artists like Colin “2020 AFC championship tickets at MetLife Stadium” Cowherd. This time, however, the Jets’ hire has been praised by on-field talent both domestically and abroad.

Much like the hire on this day two days ago…a hire where Douglas was plucked from a Philadelphia squad still celebrating its Super Bowl…Jets fans are filled with hope. But hope can only take you so far…it’s time to perform and find results, through, and in spite of, these moves.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Who’s next? The New York Jets’ potential cap cuts

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

Henry Anderson was the first player let go in the New York Jets’ 2021 roster purge. Who might be next as free agency looms?

When the latest offering a playoff drought reaching double figures is a two-win campaign, changes are inevitable. The New York Jets officially got those changes, at least those made in 2021, underway last week with the release of three-year defensive lineman Henry Anderson. This process more or less began with an in-season fire sale that saw the New York careers of Le’Veon Bell, Avery Williamson, and Steve McLendon come to an end, but the future planning began in earnest with Anderson’s departure.

After a career-best seven sacks in 2018, his debut New York season after a trade with the Indianapolis Colts, Anderson failed to duplicate those numbers over two additional seasons. The $8.2 million added to the Jets’ cap space made him an essential candidate to open their transactions. New York now has over $77 million in cap space to work with, still second-best in the NFL behind Jacksonville. Even so, when you’re coming off a two-win season in a perpetual rebuild one can use all the resources they can get to crawl their way out…especially when you’re a team cursued with as many holes as the Jets. Thus, Anderson might not be the only to see his New York career cut short.

As the NFL’s pre-free agency period winds down, a tumultuous week potentially awaits with teams preparing to adjust their roster to drastically reduced salary cap. Who be next on the Jets’ free agency block? ESM investigates…

(all figures via Over the Cap)

WR Jamison Crowder 

(Cap Savings: $10.375 million; Dead Money: $1 million)

Save for the uncertainty around the quarterback situation, what the Jets do with Crowder will be one of their most intriguing sags of the offseason. Crowder has established himself as one of the most reliable slot receivers in the NFL during his time in New York. He has been the Jets most potent offensive weapon by far over the last two seasons with 1,532 yards on 137 receptions, a dozen of which went for touchdowns. Those numbers are even handicapped by the fact Crowder was listed as a starter in only 19 games, missing four entirely due to injury.

Crowder has been the Jets’ most potent offensive weapon over the last two seasons…but does that say more about the state of the New York offense than it does about Crowder? No matter who the quarterback is next season, he’s going to need weapons. Should the Jets start completely fresh or perhaps take care of a need by keeping Crowder? With the same saving stipulations involved, another avenue for Crowder could be a trade, as potential dealing partners (Houston/Seattle, anyone?) could use a veteran producer for their weaponry.

T George Fant

(Cap Savings: $7.85 million; Dead Money: $2 million) 

General manager Joe Douglas has made efforts to revamp the Jets’ blocking, an admirable cause after the previous regime took a neglectful approach that has proven costly. But another renovation could well underway, as Douglas’ first full-time free agency haul mostly underwhelmed, and that included the former Seahawk Fant.

Last season probably showed that Fant’s long-term future is probably better suited for the role of a reliable backup. While it’s great to have depth, as well as Fant’s veteran leadership, is this worth resisting the additional funds that can be used to plug holes on the offensive line and beyond?

G Alex Lewis

(Cap Savings: $5.1 million; Dead Money: $1.6 million)

Lewis is a bit symbolic of Douglas’ admirable yet fruitless efforts to improve the blocking. When he took the general manager position in the latter stages of the 2019 offseason, one of his first moves was a trading a late pick to Baltimore to obtain Lewis, who inked a three-year last March after taking on a larger role in the offense in the Kelechi Osemele aftermath.

But Lewis failed to build on his debut season and spent the latter portions of the season on the reserve/non-football injury list. The Jets have appeared committed to Lewis as a bit of a blocking project of sorts, but his tantalizing cap savings make him a prime option for release.

G Greg Van Roten

(Cap Savings: $3.4 million; Dead Money: $250,000)

Another yield from the 2020 free agency haul, the Long Island native Van Roten was at least passable, earning a decent pass blocking grade (71.5) on Pro Football Focus and partaking in every offensive snap over the Jets’ first 11 games. It’s possible he could survive another season of the Jets’ rebuild, if only to erase a box on the offseason checklist. There’s also no dead money left on his deal if the Jets were to cut him loose this time next year.

TE Ryan Griffin

(Cap Savings: $1.8 million; Dead Money: $1.4 million)

Time will tell how the Jets’ tight end situation works out, but the top two options, Griffin and Chris Herndon (over $2 million in savings) would provide extra offseason funds. With Herndon starting to show flashes of reverting to his rookie form in the late stages of the last season, not to mention his youth and and potential upside, the Jets would probably be more likely to end the Griffin experiment after he struggled to stay on the field after inking a three-year extension in 2019.

DE Foley Fatukasi

(Cap Savings: $2.1 million; Dead Money: $43,564) 

The Jets’ front four, which will take on greater importance in Robert Saleh’s new systems, is an area that, surprisingly, needs little refurbishment. Keeping Fatukasi, who rose to the occasion when granted an extended opportunity after injuries and moves, would be a nice show of faith to a day three draft pick that has made a home for himself in the New York area in more ways than one. Fatukasi was born in Far Rockaway and his brother each star on Rutgers’ football team in Piscataway. After the eldest Fatukasi posted career-best numbers with the Jets, no use in breaking this family reunion.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Offensive line

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

No matter who plays quarterback for the New York Jets in 2021, they’re going to need someone blocking for them.

The Position: Offensive Line
On the Roster: Greg Van Roten, Conor McDermott, Connor McGovern, Jimmy Murray, Mekhi Becton, Cameron Clark, Chuma Edoga, George Fant, Alex Lewis
Free Agents: Pat Elflein, Josh Andrews
Reserve/Future: N/A

If Joe Douglas made one thing clear upon taking the New York Jets’ general manager spot, it was that he was going to work on an offensive line that Mike Maccagnan mostly neglected.

Save for choosing Chuma Edoga with what became the final day two pick of his tenure, Maccagan avoided building the line with his early selections. Prior to Maccagan using one of his final picks on Chuma Edoga in 2019’s third round, Brian Winters was the last blocker chosen within the draft’s first three sessions in 2013. The last premiere choices were the legendary D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold haul during the 2006 selections.

Once Douglas got to work in the late stages of summer 2019, he quickly let everyone know that the Jets were under management by getting to work on the line. He sent a late draft pick to Baltimore to bring in Alex Lewis and convinced Carolina mainstay Ryan Kalil to delay his retirement. While the results have been mixed…the Kalil experiment blew up and Lewis has been in and out of the starting lineup…Douglas had a plan to build the offense up.

He kept things up last season, as Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant joined the team through free agency. During his first draft, Douglas bypassed name-brand receivers like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson to take Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton. The veterans struggled, but Douglas appears to have chosen a keeper in Becton, who served as a rare silver lining during his debut campaign. Douglas didn’t stop there, taking Charlotte football’s longest-tenured player Cameron Clarke with the last of three fourth-round picks.

Becton appears to be a long-term asset in New York, but many of the deals have opt-outs after a single year. In fact, the only free agent in the entire 2020 free agency class with a dedication beyond last season is Connor McGovern. Some cap saving moves…the release of George Fant would save the team over $5 million, for example…may lead the Jets to a complete retooling of their blocking for the second straight season…with the exception of Becton at the blind side, of course.

Questions plague the Jets’ quarterback situation, as many question whether Sam Darnold will get a fourth year in the franchise thrower role. But no matter who’s throwing, the quarterback’s endeavors will be meaningless if he has no protection. There’s a long way to go to finish building the wall.

Free Agents-to-be 

G Josh Andrews

Andrews was a career-long depth man who earned a Super Bowl ring with Douglas while serving on Philadelphia’s practice squad. He was initially part of the final training camp cuts, but he returned to partake in all but one game. He even started four, including the final three when Van Roten went down, the first starts of his career.

G Pat Elflein 

Bid farewell from Minnesota in November, Elflein was a bit of a peace offering for Adam Gase when the departed head coach Adam Gase butted heads. Since Lewis has been a rare consistent prescience in the Jets’ blocking corps, it’s likely that Elflein will likely ship off in search of new opportunities.

Will They Draft?

It’s a very strong possibility. Douglas knows the importance of picking a lineman and likely won’t hesitate to use an early pick to find either an immediate contributor or a depth option that could raise the heat on any returnees. If the Jets resolve their quarterback situation prior to the draft, many have pegged Oregon standout Penei Sewell to at No. 2. Sewell skipped the entire 2020 campaign but his breakthrough sophomore showing a season prior will not be soon forgotten. But with Sewell lining in the same blindspot as Becton, the Jets will likely seek help on the right side. Thus, choosing Texas’ Sam Cosmi or the versatile Rashawn Slater of Northwestern with the Seattle pick at No. 23 or their regularly scheduled second-round choice at No. 34 seems a lot more realistic.

Veteran Possibilities

G Joe Thuney, New England

Lewis has been serviceable at left guard, but if Thuney presents himself, the Jets would likely be in the running. The Jets targeted Thuney during the last free agency period, but the Patriots put the franchise tag on him. It’s likely that Thuney is going to look for some long-term stability this time around, and the Jets certainly have the cap space to afford such a premier blocking talent.

G Brandon Scherff, Washington

Over the past few tumultuous seasons of Washington football, Scherff has been a rare consistent silver lining…when he plays, that is. The four-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played a full season since his sophomore season back in 2016 but has been a dominant prescience in the nation’s capital. Bringing him in would be the true definition of a high-risk/high-reward situation.

T Daryl Williams, Buffalo

Signed to a relatively cheap one-year deal as a depth option, Williams came up big for the Bills when injuries hit their blocking corps, namely Cody Ford. He partook in over 95 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps and became a generally reliable piece alongside fellow free agent Jon Feliciano on the right side. A former All-Pro, Williams will likely seek a bigger contract this time around, but he can be looked upon as not only a solid contributor but as a provider of veteran guidance the Jets desperately need.

Outlook

A poor offensive line can sink even the most potent of offenses. Look no further than what happened to the Kansas City Chiefs during Sunday’s Super Bowl festivities. With Eric Fisher out, Patrick Mahomes was left running for his life constantly thanks to a relentless Tampa Bay rush ordered by Todd Bowles. The onslaught undoubtedly played a factor in the Chiefs’ eventual 31-9 defeat. New York, of course, is miles further from returning to the Super Bowl, so far away that the journey is probably going to take several years. The process should with building up the blocking. Draft Becton was a good start, and it certainly seems like the Louisville product is here to stay. But there’s a long, long way to go when it comes to protecting the quarterback on a reliable basis. Not matter who’s under center, the Jets need to bolster the wall in front of him. Douglas has gotten off to a good start in filling this dire need. Further change is undoubtedly coming, but whether it’s through the draft or free agency remains to be seen.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Offensive Line

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each position group within the organization and grade each group. This offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas devoted both financial resources and draft capital towards improving one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Now, the Jets enter 2020 with a diverse group of both young talent, productive starters, and vets looking to establish themselves. With a lot of high potential guys, stable vets, and some key talent, let’s take a closer look at how this line grades out.

LT: Mekhi Becton

The mountain of a man joined the Jets as the 11th pick in this year’s draft. As part of the core group of top linemen, Becton is already considered to be a potential star. His unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a weapon in the run game. Not only that, but he’s a solid pass blocker. His lack of advancement in terms of detecting pass rush moves is worrisome, but it remains to be seen how ready he is to handle the top pass rushers in the game.

LG: Alex Lewis

Lewis was an aggressive and vocal leader in that offensive line room last year. Now he’s carved out a role on the roster and as a starter. Right now, his health for Sunday is questionable. In the short term, Lewis is classified as an average starter, but a strong season could earn him a long term role in the green and white.

C: Connor McGovern

The prized signing of the offensive line and my favorite new addition is the key man up front. McGovern is one of the most underrated centers in the game. McGovern is one of the least penalized linemen in football and one of the highest quality centers. His veteran presence and skill will add stability at the center of the line and contribute to the cohesiveness of the entire unit.

RG: Greg VanRoten

A lifelong Jet fan will be a starter from day one. VanRoten is just like Lewis. Both want to be here. Are fighting for a job next year and are quality linemen, but not superb. VanRoten is a poor pass blocker and a solid run blocker. If he can just hold his own as a pass blocker and provide stability, that will be a big asset. In the end, my hopes are mid-level for VanRoten this season.

RT: George Fant

Fant is not a crazy talented right tackle. He’s not going to be the reason this unit takes a big step up. However, Fant is built more like a tight end than a lineman. His athleticism is the best of any lineman on this team. His ability to fit into Adam Gase’s scheme and be a lead blocker is something that is a plus for the team. Still, Fant is unproven and the most worrisome of all the starting linemen, and I’m intrigued to see if he develops throughout the season or if the Jets turn elsewhere.

Bench: Josh Andrews, Cam Clark, Connor McDermott, Chuma Edoga & Leo Koloamatangi

This bench is not one that is loaded with talent. Instead, it’s loaded with guys who have the potential to come in and be an average filler if need be. They’re cheap and young linemen who provide a lot of versatility. Two guys to watch in this bunch are Clark and Edoga. Edoga was a starter in the past and could slot in for Fant if he struggles. The rookie, Clark has the potential to be a long term fixture on this line if given a shot.

Grade: B-

This line is still not proven or where it needs to be yet. The lack of in-game reps together is worrisome. Still, the talent is there and the competitive fire. This is a group that could outperform this grade. If they can be improved, they could be the reason this offense takes a massive jump. If they don’t, they could once again be the detriment of the team.

New York Jets unveil captains for the 2020 season

With takeoff scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, the New York Jets revealed their 2020 captains on Wednesday.

The New York Jets unveiled their 2020 captains on Wednesday. Two men will each represent the offense and defense, while one more will lead the special teams unit.

Offense: QB Sam Darnold

Year three of Darnold’s Jets tenure will be his second year with the “C” patch. The 23-year-old previously held such honors in college at USC. Darnold has tallied an 11-16 record as an NFL starter thus far (including 7-6 last season) and has thrown for 5,889 yards and 36 touchdowns since his fateful New York entry in the 2018 Draft.

Offense: T George Fant

The veteran newcomer Fant is expected to be part of the Jets’ offensive line revolution. He’s the only fresh arrival to earn a patch, having spent the last four years in Seattle. Fant’s NFL journey is perhaps the perfect story for a young squad like the Jets. He entered the league undrafted out of Western Kentucky and his since transformed into a reliable blocking prescience.

Defense: S Marcus Maye

It’s about to be a big year for a certain New York safety that emerged from an SEC school and was drafted in 2017. Yes, Jamal Adams has (very publicly) moved onto Seattle, but Maye now takes over as the leader in the secondary in a contract year. It’s quite a comeback for Maye, who worked through a full season after missing ten games in 2018 due to injury. His Jets career has seen 178 tackles and four interceptions so far.

Defense: DL Steve McLendon

McLendon’s mere experience alone perhaps made him a shoo-in for captaincy honors. At 11 NFL seasons and counting (free agent arrivals Frank Gore and Joe Flacco are the only Jets with more tenure), McLendon, 34, is by far the most experienced green returnee. He has likewise risen from the ranks of the undrafted, spending seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers before changing addresses in 2016. This will be McLendon’s third year as a defensive captain.

Special Teams: S Matthias Farley

Yet another player who didn’t hear his name called at his respective draft, Farley has become a favorite of coordinator Brant Boyer for his special teams prowess. The 28-year-old Notre Dame alum played 13 games in New York last season after three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, picking up 188 tackles with a horseshoe on his helmet.

The Jets open their 2020 season on Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags