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The NY Jets plan to upgrade the offensive line this offseason after another year of subpar play. While the line was improved, it’s clear that there is still plenty of work to be done.
Mekhi Becton is locked into the starting left tackle role for the foreseeable future. George Fant is also expected to return and fill the other starting tackle spot. And one way or another, Connor McGovern will likely be in the starting lineup.
But as for the other two spots, filled in 2020 by veteran guards Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten, it’s highly likely that the Jets look to upgrade.
General manager Joe Douglas will surely have his eyes on the top names on the market. New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney and Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley represent the cream of the crop when it comes to free-agent offensive linemen.
It’s rare that even one lineman of their caliber hits free agency, let alone two top-five interior offensive linemen at their respective positions.
The Jets are expected to be very aggressive in their pursuit of both Thuney and Linsley and the hope is that they’ll be able to come away with at least one of them. But with more than half the league expected to target them, there’s no guarantee the Jets will win the bidding war.
So what happens if they miss out on both Lewis and Van Roten? It’s unlikely that either will be relied upon as a starter in 2021. That means the Jets will have to explore other options to upgrade.
Let’s take a look at three second-tier offensive line targets the Jets could add if they miss out on Thuney and Linsley.
Next: 3. Austin Blythe
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3. NY Jets free-agent target: Austin Blythe, C, Los Angeles Rams
If the Jets miss out on Linsley, there are fortunately a few other more-than-capable centers set to hit the open market. One of those players is Austin Blythe.
Blythe has been the Los Angeles Rams’ starting center for the past three seasons and he’s developed into a quality starter at his position.
Originally a seventh-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2016 NFL Draft, Blythe lasted just one year in Indianapolis before being released in May, just over a year after he was drafted.
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The Rams scooped him up off waivers and after a year as a backup, he took over the starting center job in 2018. In three seasons as a starter, he’s earned a Pro Football Focus grade north of 70.0 in two of them.
In two of his three seasons as the Rams’ starting center, Blythe has ranked in the top-11 at his position including last season where he finished as PFF’s ninth-highest rated center.
Blythe did struggle a bit in pass-protection as his 52.8 pass-block grade ranked just 25th at his position. Combine that with a disastrous 2019 campaign that saw him ranked as the worst center in football and there is a bit of risk associated with him.
But at just 28-years-old, Blythe has been a rock-solid center for two of his three years as a starter. And he excelled as a pass-blocker in 2018, his first year as a starter.
Blythe has experience playing both center and guard meaning that the Jets could move either him or McGovern to guard if they were to make this move.
He wouldn’t break the bank and would likely be an upgrade over Lewis/Van Roten making Blythe a worthy target to consider if they miss out on the top guys on the market.
Next: 2. David Andrews
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2. NY Jets free-agent target: David Andrews, C, New England Patriots
Even if the Jets can’t land Joe Thuney in free agency, they might still be able to sign another longtime Patriots’ offensive lineman in David Andrews.
Andrews has long been one of the more underrated linemen in football having ranked in the top-15 at his position, per PFF, in each of the last three years. Now set to hit the open market, there’s a good chance New England doesn’t re-sign him.
The 28-year-old has started 69 games over the last five years for the Patriots since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015. And he’s been pretty durable over that time.
Before a thumb injury forced him to miss four games in 2020, Andrews had missed just two games over the past three years. He’s a high-character locker room leader, durable, and an impressive on-field performer.
Somewhat like a Joe Thuney-lite, if you will.
Andrews finished as PFF’s fourth-highest ranked center in 2018 with an elite 83.5 grade. He followed that up with impressive grades of 75.4 and 67.7 that ranked eighth and 14th at his position, respectively.
And unlike his teammate, Thuney, and Linsley, he’s not expected to command a significant payday. Spotrac projects Andrews’ market value at around $7 million per season on a three-year deal.
Given the shrinking salary cap, second-tier free agents like Andrews could suffer the most. But the Jets could take advantage by swooping in and grabbing an above-average center on a discounted deal.
If Thuney doesn’t come to New York, Andrews would be a very solid consolation prize.
Next: 1. Austin Reiter
NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
1. NY Jets free-agent target: Austin Reiter, C, Kansas City Chiefs
One of the most underrated players on the free-agent market this offseason is Kansas City Chiefs’ center Austin Reiter. He may be undervalued, but some team is going to be very happy to land him at his expected price point.
A seventh-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Reiter never suited up in a game for Washington before he was signed off the team’s practice squad by the Cleveland Browns a year later.
Reiter made sporadic appearances with the Browns before being waived once again. This time, he was claimed by the Chiefs and was finally given the chance at a starting role.
The USF product started four games in 2018 before taking over as the full-time starting center in 2019. He was around league-average in his first season as a starter, but he elevated his play this past year.
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Reiter started 12 games and finished as Pro Football Focus‘ 12th-highest ranked center with a 69.2 overall grade. Notably, his 77.7 pass-block grade ranked fifth at his position as he was one of the best pass-blocking centers in the NFL in 2020.
The 29-year-old didn’t surrender a single sack and wasn’t tagged for a penalty all year long. Reiter was a reliable, integral part of a Chiefs’ offensive line that was hit hard with injuries throughout the season.
And next to Linsley, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the second-best center on the market this offseason.
Don’t expect him to command the same type of money that Thuney or Linsley do, but if the Jets can’t sign one of the top guys, there’s no doubt that Reiter would upgrade the team’s interior offensive line.
Starting Reiter at center and moving McGovern to guard in 2021 makes the most sense and could be a realistic possibility if the Jets can’t make the free-agent splash they hope to make.