The New York Jets must go into the offseason with the goal of improving the offensive line and they should have the opportunity to do so in free agency.
Another season is in the books and the 2019 campaign saw the New York Jets finish with a 7-9 record.
While 12 teams fanbases were enjoying watching their teams compete in the playoffs, Jets fans were again on the outside looking in as it has been just about a full decade since the team has made an appearance of any kind in the playoffs.
While not having a full offseason to establish the team in his vision in 2019, Jets general manager Joe Douglas has a great opportunity here to take great strides to re-tool the team how he wants it for 2020.
Kansas City and San Francisco are gearing up to play in the Super Bowl on February 2nd, but for many Jets fans (and you would think team personnel), a look towards the 2020 NFL season has been in full swing and there have been many players on wish lists already catching some eyes.
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If one looks at the names available on Pro Football Focus’ 2020 free agency rankings, you will see plenty of names the Jets can use. As of this writing, the Jets reportedly have just over $50 million to spend in free agency before any potential cuts or trades.
The attractive names available are players like Amari Cooper, Yannick Ngakoue, A.J. Green, Derrick Henry, Jadeveon Clowney, Hunter Henry, Byron Jones, and Shaquil Barrett. There is also that little matter pertaining to whether or not the team is going to re-sign Robby Anderson.
The Jets should not focus this period on any of these (or other) attractive names. What the team should really be doing is using this upcoming period of the offseason to focus on is making a heavy investment in the offensive line.
Many times to his detriment, we have seen quarterback Sam Darnold try to do way too much when he does not have enough time to throw the football.
While there were a few games in the team’s seven wins where they got great protection from the offensive line, there were more glaring moments where it was evident that they needed to make changes to the unit.
Sports Illustrated’s Kristian Dyer points out that changes have had to be made to the offensive line for some time now, and the entire group’s deficiencies can be traced back to at least three years. As such, an overhaul needs to be considered a “priority.”
One scapegoat of the 2019 season has been big money acquisition running back Le’Veon Bell. After a season off, Bell fell significantly below expectations, totaling significant lows of his career in rushing yards and yards per carry.
While it is arguable that Bell was not putting his best foot forward after getting paid, has regressed, or something along those lines, the offensive line in its current state certainly has not helped matters.
Dyer had the following to say about the Jets’ offensive line.
“The Jets had the second worst offensive line in the NFL according to the Adjusted Sack Rate analytic. Injuries, which decimated the line throughout the year, contributed to a unit that was already weak across the two-deep and lacking high-end talent. The line played about as well as expected, especially in the early parts of the year. To their credit, the offensive line came together during the second half of the season, a stretch when the Jets finished out the year 6-2. But changes and upgrades must be made.”
Luckily for the Jets, there are a plethora of names available for the Jets as they can overhaul the offensive line. It would behoove Joe Douglas to have a large veteran presence in the trenches come 2020.
Of course, it would be beneficial to draft one or two rookies on the offensive line in the draft to either continue or develop. Primarily, however, the “meat and potatoes” (so to speak) of this free agency class should be in a large veteran presence that a young QB like Darnold can benefit from.
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There are plenty of offensive linemen in free agency this upcoming offseason who could aid in Darnold’s development. Offensive Tackles Anthony Castonzo and Jack Conklin come to mind, as does offensive guard Brandon Scherff.
Pro Football Focus describes the 31-year-old Castonzo as “one of the most valuable tackles in the league…posting above-average grades between 76.9 and 83.4 in every season dating back to 2012.”
As “the best right tackle on the market,” Jack Conklin finished 2019 with an 80.6 grade through 1,127 snaps, good enough to be the No. 9 ranked OT.
Scherff finished as the 10th overall ranked guard in 2019 (75.0 season grade through 657 snaps). Admittedly, Scherff’s recent injury history is concerning, but Pro Football Focus says “he is a fit for any NFL team looking to upgrade on the interior.”
Outside of these names, there are also offensive linemen like seasoned veterans Andrew Whitworth and Jason Peters, as well as potential breakout players like Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries.
With money invested in a veteran presence in offensive linemen through free agency, the Jets could go into the 2020 NFL Draft with a focus on obtaining young skill position players around Darnold that he can grow with.
Regardless of who the Jets would potentially acquire on the offensive line, it is arguably the biggest concern of anywhere else on the field — save for possibly an edge rusher, which they have not had since John Abraham was traded.
Who knows, maybe there is value in picking up a young dominant edge rusher at some point during the draft if they do not have to spend high capital on the offensive line.
It is paramount that Joe Douglas do a proper fix to shore up this lingering issue.