As the new league year looms, the Jets are positioned to make a splash in free agency. With twenty-three unrestricted free agents on expiring contracts and ~$100,000,000 in cap space, the team has a lot of holes to fill and a lot of money to make it happen. This is old news. As we’ve seen in years past, cash doesn’t fill holes, players do. It is up to Mike Maccagnan and his staff to properly utilize their plentiful resources and stock the roster with talent. This group’s success in free agency has been middling at best. That being said, there is an abundance of talent available in the areas of the Jets’ biggest needs. We will be taking a look at these areas of need over the next few weeks and the players available at those positions. Today: the offensive line.
The Current Situation:
Setting Sam Darnold up for success needs to be priority number one for this front office. That starts with the big guys up front. As it stands the Jets have two starting caliber offensive lineman: Brandon Shell and Kelvin Beachum. Shell is already 27-years-old and coming off a devastating season-ending injury. Beachum has been above average protecting the blind side but he’s getting up there in age. Carpenter and Winters were downright awful at times last year and average at best. At the moment, the Jets don’t have a center on the roster. The rest of the group is made up of career backups and camp fodder. This is not how you protect your most important asset.
Luckily for the Jets, there are some above average starters available in free agency. As with all free agents, there is a reason these players are hitting the open market: age, injury questions, consistency issues, etc. That being said, the Jets have a chance to upgrade arguably the weakest unit on the team that has suffered from years of neglect in the draft.
Best Available Players:
There is an argument for Matt Paradis to be the Jets top priority in free agency. The former Broncos center was playing at an All-Pro level last season before fracturing his fibula in week 9. In fact, Pro Football Focus had him ranked second among qualifying centers before going down. Don’t let his injury scare you off though. Paradis has had injuries in the past but started all 16 games in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
One question about Paradis is his fit in the Jets offensive scheme. Paradis only earned the starting job in Denver after Adam Gase (then-offensive coordinator) left town. Paradis was the perfect fit for Rick Dennison’s zone-blocking scheme. Gase, on the other hand, only sprinkles zone concepts in every now and then. Did Paradis not get the starting job because of scheme fit? Probably not. Paradis was a sixth-round pick and journeyman Will Montgomery anchored the 8th best rushing attack that year.
Since Nick Mangold retired, Jets fans have witnessed just how important the center position is. What did the Jets get from Wesley Johnson and Spencer Long? – blown assignments, poor communication, and balls snapped over the head of the passer. The center is the anchor of the offensive line and his relationship with the quarterback is vital to a well-functioning offense. The Jets cannot afford to pass on Paradis.
While center may be the most important hole to fill on the offensive line, the Jets guard play has left much to be desired. Luckily for the green and white, arguably the top offensive lineman available plays to the left of center. Roger Saffold was PFF’s 8th ranked guard in 2018 and a Second Team All-Pro in 2017. He helped pave the way for Todd Gurley’s Offensive Player of the Year and All-Pro seasons. Oh, and did I mention he has spoken to/touched/shared a locker room with Sean McVay?
Saffold has gone through multiple schemes in his nine-year Rams tenure and he has been effective in all of them. Being scheme diverse will be a huge boon to his fit in Gase’s offense.
Yes, Saffold will be 31 when the 2019 season starts. But the Jets have the money and the need. They will need to start drafting o-line and drafting well, but Saffold can still provide 2-3 more solid years and would be a major upgrade over either Winters or Carpenter. Think of this as Alan Faneca 2.0.
Here is all you need to know about Mitch Morse: he allowed only four pressures on 443 pass-blocking snaps this past season. That is stunning and exactly the kind of production you want when protecting your franchise passer. Morse’s run blocking leaves much to be desired but that should come second to protecting Sam Darnold. Furthermore, after Paradis and Morse the center market all but evaporates.
Morse has a strong pedigree as a former second-round pick and a starter on the all-rookie team. Morse is versatile too and could easily shift over to play guard. There is a world where the Jets look into signing both Paradis and Morse to provide insurance at center and elevate the guard play.
Daryl Williams was an All-Pro in 2017 and was one of the most consistent right tackles in the NFL over his 10 games as a starter in 2016. Before he reaggravated a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2018 season, Williams looked on the way to becoming one of the NFL’s best right tackles.
Now, the Jets have a right tackle of their own coming off a major injury. Is it smart to double down on players with the same condition at the same position? Perhaps. There is a dearth of quality offensive lineman in the NFL and a GM shouldn’t balk when one becomes available, even if the position is redundant. Nobody knows how either will return to the game, so put them both in a room and have Shell and Williams duke it out for the starting gig. Not to mention, there are four other spots on the offensive line and less talented players have made the transition before.
Trent Brown is the only “left tackle” on the list. He was drafted as a right tackle in San Francisco where he quickly flamed out. Then, after being acquired by the Patriots, he was pushed to the left out of necessity. Brown had a great year with the Pats. However, whatever team Brown joins next won’t have Tom Brady or Dante Scarnecchia (Pats OL coach) to make him look good.
Brown would be a massive risk with a very low floor. Like, sub-basement level risk. However, left tackles are hard to come by so he may be worth a flier. A deal with the Jets would need a literal ejector seat after one year and tons of incentives to make a contract worth it.