With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, Breece Hall slated to come back, and new reinforcements at the wide receiver position, NY Jets brass, fans, and media alike have the Jets making a major leap as Super Bowl contenders this year. As we should all know from last year, however, a key piece of a successful puzzle in the NFL is a productive offensive line.
After finishing 11th in the NFL according to PFF in 2021, the Jets' offensive line rankings plummeted last year as they sustained an overwhelming amount of injuries. In fact, more offensive linemen spent multiple weeks on IR last season (7) than every other position on the team combined (4).
Jets general manager Joe Douglas knows the importance of the offensive line and has continuously invested heavy capital in it every single offseason he's been with the Jets.
With a 39-year-old quarterback under center, the importance of this group magnifies exponentially, as ESPN's Rich Cimini outlined the difference in Rodgers' production with and without pressure in his face.
After drafting Joe Tippmann in the second round, Carter Warren in the fourth round, and signing a few veterans, it looks like Joe Douglas's offseason contribution to this group has concluded.
Now it's up to Robert Saleh and his new coaches, Nathaniel Hackett (offensive coordinator) and Keith Carter (offensive line coach), to decide how to get the best 'whole' out of this sum of parts.
When asked about the upcoming offensive line's configuration, Saleh was quoted saying, "We will play our best five." That's quite an intriguing quote since his regime values versatility so much, and there's an enormous amount of pressure to make sure Rodgers remains upright all season without injury.
In other words, that quote tells us that it's possible that players can get moved around along the line depending on performance.
NY Jets offensive linemen by position
At tackle, there is Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton, both coming off recent surgery, and both apparently set on playing left tackle as opposed to being flexible to moving around.
Then there's Max Mitchell, free-agent acquisition Billy Turner, and fourth-round pick Carter Warren, who all are presumably less talented than Brown and Becton but very willing to play on whichever side they're needed.
Another thing we learned last year is that Alijah Vera-Tucker can very easily slide into either tackle spot and perform at an All-Pro level, so he is also an option at tackle even if Saleh explicitly said he'll play guard.
Laken Tomlinson at left guard is truly the only position-player combo that we can probably write in stone, as Tomlinson is only comfortable on the left and isn't a tackle, so there isn't a secondary spot on the line for him.
If you were curious about someone beating him out for the job, Tomlinson's performance is probably graded on a curve since he has the fourth-highest cap hit on the whole team. It's hard to envision a scenario where he's paid eight figures to sit on the bench, even if he plays as poorly as he did last year.
Center is where things get interesting, as Connor McGovern is back and has been the Jets' starting center for the majority of the Joe Douglas era. After not seeing the type of market he was projected to accrue in free agency, McGovern returned to the Jets on a one-year "prove it" deal worth a measly $1.1 million.
Little did he know, the "proving" would actually start in May as the Jets drafted his successor, Joe Tippmann, in the second round of the draft this year. If they do keep Vera-Tucker at right guard, then there's only one spot up for grabs between the two starting-caliber interior linemen who play the same position (McGovern and Tippmann).
So is sophomore Max Mitchell ready to step up and enter Week 1 as the starting right tackle? Is Turner, the only person on the line to have experience starting in Hackett's system (50 times), gearing up to start again for his coach? Is Warren about to become the second consecutive fourth-round Jets tackle to have good games as a starter as a rookie?
Or, do the Jets' coaches opt to just move Vera-Tucker to right tackle and ensure All-Pro quality play out there? That way, McGovern and Tippman would both be able to play in the interior (both of them are able to play center and guard), Tomlinson at left guard, and the absolute best performer of the pure tackles would get the start at left tackle.
Using this philosophy, from left to right the line would look like this: Becton (probably), Tomlinson, Tippmann, McGovern, Vera-Tucker. That's a formidable line! My colleague Kyle McDonald sees it shaping up more like this:
Both suggestions imply that Vera-Tucker is moved, but if he isn't moved, the line would probably look like this from left to right: Becton (probably), Tomlinson, McGovern (or Tippmann), Vera-Tucker, Mitchell. This line is worse on paper than the previous suggestions, but it could probably still get the job done if they stay healthy.
Has Becton's revelation impacted his standing with the team? He seemed to be criticizing a group of coaches that no longer work for the Jets, as last year's offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and offensive line coach John Benton were fired after last season.
With no deal on his contract after this year, there are few people in the league more motivated than him to perform this year, so I'd imagine he'll easily beat 37-year-old Duane Brown in a competition if no feathers have been ruffled with the current coaching staff.
There is no other group on the whole team where so much is up for grabs/in flux in terms of which players will be doing what.
Combine that with the aspirations of this year's Jets and the fragility of the 39-year-old human body, and we have a recipe for the most intriguing storyline of the 2023 offseason outside of Quinnen Williams's contract situation.