Right Tackle: A Priority For Jets Receiving Little Attention

TOJ is very happy to announce the addition of TJ Rosenthal to our writing staff. We have worked together previously at Pro Football NYC. TJ runs a Tumblr page called The Jet Report and is also active on Twitter. Welcome aboard! – JC

Scouts Incorporated Matt Williamson broke down all 32 NFL teams needs going into free agency. In doing so, he broke down the categories into groups. Need 1, Need 2, Need 3. By combining all three columns into 96 spots, we found that 14 of 96 in total were offensive linemen. Not a seemingly sought after position you say? Think again.

Offensive lineman are a top four group, which includes defensive linemen, linebackers and the secondary, which lead the list at 20. This brings us to the Jets RT Wayne Hunter and the recently released ex-Jet Damien Woody. Assuming that Williamson’s breakdown is reasonably accurate, then the need for the Jets to address the situation regarding the right tackle position looms larger than many might think. 

Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards have been the headline grabbing Jets free agent names. CB Antonio Cromartie has been one as well. Franchise tagged free agent LB David Harris is a shoe in to return to Florham Park.

The issue of right tackle however, has slipped under the radar. Hunter filled in well for an injured Damien Woody late in 2010 and earned his stripes by helping keep the Jets offense moving during their playoff run, from Williamson’s chart, it is obvious that teams clearly need help up front. 

The Jets must work hard to keep Hunter AND look to bring the experienced Woody back as well. The latter move to insure depth for a unit that sets the tempo for the Jets on offense. If a scenario presents itself where Hunter, 30, leaves for more lucrative pastures then don’t be shocked if Woody, 33, who has been a part of the Ground and Pound for two years and owns two Super Bowl rings, gets his old starting job back.

A lees trustworthy option would be last year’s second round pick Vladimir Ducasee, who would be a fall back option to fill the role, depending on his improvement from 2010 to this training camp. Last year as a rookie, Ducasse looked confused and not quite up to starting speed. His confusion is normal for many first year players whose job it is to protect against the complexities of NFL defenses. 

A plan ought to be in place by the Jets to solidify this position with Hunter AND Woody within the first three days of free agency. A window of time where teams will have the sole right to negotiate with their own.

Hunter’s value will of course play a part in the decision. There is no telling what a player like Hunter, a player with playoff experience and one of the few available at his position, will command on the open market.

Another element involved in the equation will be the current mindset of desperate owners. Ones like Jerry Jones of the line starved Cowboys, who is in need of filling this spot for his own team. This dangerously unknown element can alter the Jets plans that for now, remain on paper.

Recent Jets history proves that a reasonable measure of concern is understandable regarding rogue owners altering market value and salary cap strategies. Look at how Al Davis and his over generous three year, 45.3 million dollar deal with CB Nnamdi Asomugha in 2009 altered the scope of how the Darrelle Revis team handled negotiations during the 2010 offseason. Going back further, former Jets starting RG Randy Thomas, was lost during the Dan Snyder “Jet Skins” purge of 2003. Outbid by an owner willing to do whatever it took to win in 2004.

In Hunter’s case, it is possible that a team in dire need of help at Right Tackle could overpay in their offer, thus forcing the Jets hand. Raising the price to an unrealistic number worth matching. Doing this while knowing that aside from Hunter, the Jets will already have alot on their plate (Besides Holmes, Edwards and the versatile Brad Smith, secondary members Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, Drew Coleman and James Ihedigbo are ALL free agents as well). What teams may NOT take into account though, is that GM Mike Tannenbaum may be willing to call a bluff on a position that MUST continue to remain solidified.

No unit thrives on continuity like the offensive line. Keeping Hunter and Woody in Green and White allows the Jets to keep continuity and familiarity in the trenches. A major key when you consider how much offseason time has been lost in terms of units working together.

The offensive line becomes a back page story when penalties cost games or Quarterbacks like Tony Romo go down as a result of their ineptitude. No team can afford communication problems that lead to mistakes costing yardage. The Jets certainly cannot run the risk of exposing QB Mark Sanchez to any physical danger that results in a season long injury, like the one that the Cowboys Romo fell victim to, due to a lack of quality blocking, in the early part of the 2010 season. Especially when you consider who is behind Sanchez right now on the depth chart. 

Right tackle will be a key position to the Jets free agency strategy in the coming days. It has to be. After the issues of Santonio Holmes and who plays cornerback opposite perennial All-Pro Darrelle Revis are solved, Right tackle should be number three on the Jets soon to be free agent priority list. Bringing both Hunter and Woody back, perhaps in a reversal of roles with Hunter starting out as the starter, would be optimal.

When the lockout ends as reports claim it will over the next few days, talk will quickly turn to what will be a wild and short free agency period. The local media focus for the Jets will start at the glamorous position of wide receiver. Expect it to turn to the trenches, and right tackle shortly thereafter.