It was the story of the Jets offseason last year and it looks like it will be a secondary story in the upcoming offseason.
What can Jets general manager Joe Douglas do to fix the offensive line?
After last year, Douglas vowed to rebuild the line and he threw a lot of resources at the problem. The Jets used their first-round draft pick on left tackle Mekhi Becton, signed three free agents to be starters and re-signed one of their own free agents to be a starter.
The results have been mixed.
The line has not been a total disaster, but it also has not shown the jump from last year the Jets hoped it would. The line has actually played better recently with two backups in at guard. The unit had its best game Sunday in the win over the Rams, neutralizing Los Angeles star defensive lineman Aaron Donald for most of the game and limiting the Rams to two sacks while opening holes for Frank Gore to ice the game in the fourth quarter.
“I think guys have done a good job,” coach Adam Gase said. “We’ve had some good games, we’ve had some good rushing games and we’ve had some good games as far as protection goes. I thought last week it was a good example of everybody doing their job. We got open quick, we got the ball out fast, guys protected long enough. We did a good job as a total group of working together.”
The only home run for Douglas along the line has been Becton. The 6-foot-7 monster has lived up to his draft hype. He moves people off the ball and is quick enough to get to the second level of the defense. The only knock on Becton’s rookie year is he did not stay healthy, missing two full games and parts of three others.
Becton is a building block that should be with the Jets for the next decade.
“I think right from the beginning, just how quickly, when we got on the field, how he picked everything up, and then I think once we put pads on and just kind of saw his contact strength of when we would run the football, the movement he would get on the line of scrimmage, I was really impressed with that,” Gase said. “I just think how quickly he could — like if he made a mistake, he’d get it fixed real fast.”
Other than Becton, the only member of the offensive line certain to return is center Connor McGovern. His $8 million salary in 2021 is fully guaranteed. The other free agents Douglas signed — tackle George Fant, guard Greg Van Roten and guard Alex Lewis — have little or no guaranteed money. If Fant is on the roster on March 22, $4.45 million of his salary becomes guaranteed. Van Roten has $250,000 guaranteed. Lewis has no more guaranteed money.
Lewis has been on the non-football injury list since last month after seeking help for a personal problem. His play was inconsistent in his second season with the Jets. Van Roten is currently on injured reserve. After a slow start, he played better later in the year. Fant has been solid. The Jets also have Pat Elflein, who they picked up off waivers at midseason from the Vikings. Elflein replaced Lewis at left guard and has been a solid addition. He is a free agent after this year.
Overall, the line struggled with communication on stunts mostly and at working together rather than just getting beat individually. Their 38 sacks allowed leaves them 26th in the NFL.
A big issue for the line was a lack of a traditional offseason and preseason to work together. The unit have also had continuity issues with eight different starting line combinations this season because of injuries.
Douglas could address the line in free agency with guards such as Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff expected to hit the market. He surely will add to the line in the NFL draft, too. There is some thought that if the Jets end up picking second, Douglas should take Oregon tackle Penei Sewell to bookend with Becton.
Fixing the line won’t be priority No. 1 for Douglas this offseason. He is going to have to hire a coach and make a big decision at quarterback, but Douglas’ ability to fix the offensive line will be critical if the Jets are going to improve next season.