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Why Jets offensive line overhaul may not come until 2019

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: James Carpenter #77 and Kelvin Beachum #68 of the New York Jets walk out of the tunnel prior to an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: James Carpenter #77 and Kelvin Beachum #68 of the New York Jets walk out of the tunnel prior to an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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It’s a crucial free agency period for the New York Jets as they sit with $90 million in cap space. Despite their fat wallet, here’s why they might wait until next year to fix the leaky offensive line.

The New York Jets are entering the offseason with pressing needs, one of which is the offensive line. The group allowed the seventh-most sacks (47) in 2017 and is switching to a new play caller in Jeremy Bates. With different zone blocking schemes in store as well as appealing replacement options, it seems logical for general manager Mike Maccagnan to change gears up front. Let’s take a closer look at why that may not happen.

James Carpenter is still on the roster. That in itself should be a sign of why there may be minimal overturn. The veteran turns 29 this month and has a cap number of $6.805 million (Over The Cap). It makes sense to release him and save $4.7 million, but Maccagnan has opted to play out the final year of his deal. It’s more than just the money that makes this decision puzzling.

Carpenter has been a poor fit in the West Coast offense dating back to his stint in Seattle. The Alabama product notched Pro Football Focus overall grades of 42.9, 45.4, 56.7 and 65.4 in those four seasons. In Chan Gailey’s spread offense, he had 78.9 and 81.3 grades. He logged a 41.1 last year under John Morton. Bates uses a system similar to Morton’s, making another bad season from Carpenter a strong possibility. Regardless of what occurs, he’ll be off the roster in 2019.

The contracts of Kelvin Beachum and Brian Winters also have an impact on the line’s long-term future. Beachum signed a three-year deal worth $24 million last offseason and is the team’s highest 2018 cap hit at $9.5 million, according to OTC.

The issue is $7 million is guaranteed, so cutting him would save just $2.5 million. For the production he supplies at left tackle, it’d be ridiculous to part ways with him for the sake of $2.5 million. Releasing him in 2019 would clear a whopping $8 million since only $1.5 million of his salary is guaranteed. Should he underachieve this upcoming season, the latter is the more probable path.

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Winters is in a similar scenario. His $7 million cap hit in 2018 is Gang Green’s third-highest number, per OTC. His salary differs from Beachum’s in that it’s fully guaranteed this year, so the Jets would save nothing with a cut. In 2019, they can save $6.5 million by releasing him. The bottom line is that these two are in prove-it seasons. Unless they perform to the level of their cap hits, they’ll be gone in 2019.

Brandon Shell is in a prove-it year as well but to a lesser extent. He’ll need a solid 2018 to secure the right tackle job once and for all. PFF gave the 2016 fifth-round pick 79.4 and 65.3 overall grades in his first two campaigns respectively. If he fails to make the transition to Bates’ offense, he’ll find himself in the same boat as Beachum, Carpenter, and Winters should they additionally underwhelm.

Center is the one position on the line currently under construction. Maccagnan looks to be moving on from Wesley Johnson and turning his attention to impending free agent Ryan Jensen to fill the void. He could also resort to the pool of talent declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, there will probably be a new face snapping the football this upcoming season.

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The Jets have holes at quarterback, outside linebacker and cornerback, all areas that cost a pretty penny to address. Combine that with the in-house free agents that need to be retained and you have a busy few months ahead. Maccagnan might ultimately be okay with leaving some stones unturned. Fans have a reason to be upset, however, at the same time they should understand 11 units can’t be upgraded in one offseason.

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