The NY Jets have reportedly signed their first free-agent of the offseason in offensive tackle George Fant. But the move is a puzzling one, to say the least.
ESPN’s Adem Schefter reported late on Tuesday night that the Jets had agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal with Fant. Of the many offensive linemen linked to the Jets this offseason, Fant wasn’t a name that popped up too often.
So what gives? Did general manager Joe Douglas just find a diamond in the rough or was this a desperation heave with the top options flying off the table?
The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Fant was a star in college at Western Kentucky earning All-Conference honors — only he wasn’t doing so on the gridiron. Instead, Fant excelled as a basketball player before turning to football in his fifth year of eligibility.
That season — his first year of playing football since his Pee Wee League days — he played just two games for the Hilltoppers. But he didn’t play the position he would go on to start 24 games and counting at in the NFL.
He was a tight end.
As expected, the fifth-year senior who played just two games in college went undrafted, but the Seattle Seahawks saw potential in him as an offensive lineman and converted his position upon signing him.
There, he would develop into a quality backup swing tackle who also doubled as an in-line blocking tight end on multiple occasions. Despite missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, Fant has started 24 games since entering the league in 2016.
His ability to transition from a player who had realistically speaking never played football before to a college tight end to a starting offensive tackle in the NFL has been amazing to watch. And just how quickly he’s picked things up is remarkable, to say the least.
But for the Jets, you can’t help but feel disappointed with this signing.
Despite his incredible story, Fant is a below-average starting option as evidenced by his 62.2 Pro Football Focus grade in 2019. That ranked 62nd out of offensive tackles and, just as a reminder, there are only 64 starting tackles in the NFL.
His athleticism and basketball background are undoubtedly intriguing to the Jets who emphasize leaner, more athletic linemen in Adam Gase’s scheme. But we need to face facts here.
Fant is a downgrade from Kelvin Beachum.
The only position on the offensive line that the Jets had an average starter at in 2019 was left tackle where Beachum did a fine job holding down the fort. Not only have the Jets failed to address any of the other positions, but they’ve downgraded at the only spot they had a reliable starter.
Sure, the team could and likely will still address the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. But Fant is being paid $30 million over three years.
That’s starter money.
With less than $14 million guaranteed, one would hope that it’s a deal the Jets could get out of early on. But even so, this isn’t the way to attack your biggest positional need.
The remaining options on the open market seem slim and it makes you wonder why the Jets didn’t match the reasonable offers that both Conklin and Glasgow received.
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Douglas is clearly playing it safe here. He’s never been tabbed as a guy who’s going to build a team through free agency. That’s perfectly fine and in most cases the right approach.
But the Jets are on a ticking clock with Sam Darnold. Not only must they capitalize while he’s on his rookie contract, but they must surround him with adequate pieces to ensure that he actually develops how they hope.
They can’t afford to play the long game and with two young offensive line targets available for reasonable deals, you can’t walk away paying George Fant $30 million. And even if there is an out — which there likely is — this isn’t an upgrade.
At best, it’s a lateral move. At worst, it’s a downgrade.
It’s too early to rule the Fant signing as a bust. It’s too early to say that Douglas made a mistake with his offensive line plan. After all, free agency hasn’t even technically begun.
But signing George Fant is definitely a puzzling move and the patience of the Jets’ fanbase is quickly running out.