How improved is Jets’ offensive line after ‘right’ free-agency plan
Joe Douglas wasted no time in free agency starting to rebuild his offensive line.
The Jets general manager signed three potential new starters, re-signed one from last year and added a backup.
It was Extreme Makeover — Offensive Line Edition.
But how much better is the Jets’ line now than it was in December? Douglas, with many holes to fill, searched for bargains and upside rather than spending big. The pantry was empty, so instead of buying one Kobe steak, he bought a whole lot of ground chuck.
“There are still a lot of question marks,” said Steve Palazzolo, a senior analyst for Pro Football Focus.
Douglas signed tackle George Fant from the Seahawks, center Connor McGovern from the Broncos and guard Greg Van Roten from the Panthers as potential new starters. He brought back guard Alex Lewis and signed guard/center Josh Andrews for depth.
Fans dreaming of top tackle Jack Conklin were largely left wondering: Who are these guys?
“I’m not sure what the Jets are doing with their O-Line in free agency,” one NFL talent evaluator said. “Van Roten, Fant and Lewis are all backup-quality players who have not been productive at this point in their careers. McGovern is a solid NFL starter at center.”
The situation was challenging for Douglas, who only had one 2019 Week 1 starter under contract on the offensive line — Brian Winters. The line was atrocious at times last season and clearly needed an upgrade to protect quarterback Sam Darnold.
All of these signings won’t work out, but Douglas is taking a chance enough of the five will work to improve off of last year’s unit.
“I don’t know that they got better,” Palazzolo said. “I know they were in a really tough spot as far as not having many starters signed. The high-volume approach was the right one. I don’t think they are tied long-term to these guys.”
Indeed, no one got more than a three-year contract and only McGovern even seems assured of a second season with the Jets.
Douglas created options for Adam Gase and the coaching staff this season and flexibility after it. The Jets are expected to add another lineman in next month’s NFL draft. They could take a tackle in the first round and enter the 2020 season with four new starters. If they draft a left tackle, Fant will probably compete with Chuma Edoga at right tackle.
The biggest challenge for offensive line coach Frank Pollack may be chemistry. The NFL’s offseason program has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is possible the entire offseason program, including OTAs and minicamp, will be canceled. That will hurt the Jets as they try to build chemistry along the line.
McGovern, 26, stands out as the top player the Jets signed. The Jets signed him to a three-year, $27 million deal with $18 million guaranteed. He started 31 of 32 games for the Broncos over the past two seasons. The Jets need improvement over the duo of Ryan Kalil and Jonotthan Harrison, who played center last season.
“If [McGovern] plays the way he did last year, [the upgrade] is pretty significant,” Palazzolo said. “He graded 71.9 for us. That’s really solid. He had a really good pass-blocking grade, solid run-blocking grade.”
After McGovern, there are questions about the other players the Jets signed. Fant, 27, has the most doubters. A former college basketball player, Fant only played one year of college football and that was as a tight end. The Seahawks converted him to tackle and he made 24 starts for them over three years. The Jets gave Fant a three-year, $30 million with $13.7 million guaranteed.
The Jets believe he will improve their athleticism and help Gase’s outsize zone run schemes and be strong on screens.
“There’s a lot of risk there,” Palazzolo said. “He’s still a young football player, but he hasn’t performed well at tackle, especially from a pass-blocking standpoint. It’s tough to say we have confidence in him going forward, but there is that opportunity for him to be a late bloomer, having the basketball background, and maybe everything coming together.”
Van Roten, 30, became a starter for the Panthers in the past two years after spending time with the Packers and in the Canadian Football League. Winters remains on the team, but may have to take a pay cut to stick around. His current 2020 salary is $7 million. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career and the Jets may move on completely if they feel good about Van Roten and Lewis at guard.
“Winters, by our numbers his best seasons were 2015 and 2016,” Palazzolo said. “He hasn’t played that well the last few years. Van Roten’s best year was last year and that was better than anything we’ve seen from Winters since 2016. I’d say overall it’s close with Winters’ experience, the fact that he has played well at points in the past. It’s probably pretty close between those guys.”
Source : Brian Costello Link