When attempting to construct a wall to protect their QB, the last general manager used straw and sticks in place of concrete and bricks, especially at the center position, where it’s become common knowledge that weak play could have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the unit. While fixing the offensive line in one offseason may appear overly optimistic, in this week’s Joe Jet 5, I outline solutions to the problems upfront.
Solid prospects will be available throughout the draft, but with Sam Darnold coming into his third year, I encourage Joe Douglas to surround him with proven players as well. It won’t be easy to woo all the targets mentioned, but the Jets will have the cap space available to pursue them, and if Joe Douglas approaches the offseason with the urgency it warrants, he can build the wall Sam Darnold deserves.
Although I covet players like Yannick Ngakoue and I acknowledge the need to upgrade certain defensive positions (edge and CB), protecting Sam is by far the most pressing issue, and fixing the OL should precede everything.
Primary Free Agent Targets:
Jack Conklin (OT) – 5 years, 17m avg/year, and 34 million in guarantees
Conklin (only 25 years old) is my number one target in free agency. While he’s had some setbacks in his career with injuries, he’s rebounded with grace, played a full slate of games in 2019, and put together one of his best seasons to date.
It was a toss-up between Brandon Scherff and Conklin, and while I value Scherff, his recent durability issues give me pause. Plus, I presume he’ll be either franchise tagged or retained by Washington; since the Titans declined Conklin’s 2020 option, I expect he’ll hit the open market.
Conklin is adept at both pass protection and run blocking, but his prowess in the running game (ranked 6th overall OT by PFF) is most intriguing. He has familiarity with power and zone running schemes and would be perfect for the system currently in place. Conklin is relentless at the point of attack and does an excellent job walling off defenders. He would clearly be head and shoulders above all lineman on the squad and a pivotal piece to fixing the woes upfront. This team will only go as far as the OL takes them, and landing a player of this caliber would be a great start to “winning the offseason.”
Joe Thuney (G) – 5 years, 12m avg/year, and 24 million in guarantees
Douglas’ former employer (the Eagles) restructured Lane Johnson’s (OT, 18m avg/year) and Brandon Brooks’ (G, 14m avg/year) contracts this past season, so it wouldn’t shock me if Douglas invested in his own top-notch tackle and guard in free agency.
Thuney is one of the most consistent offensive linemen in the league, and if he’s willing to trade in his former jersey for the green and white, this would be a no-brainer acquisition.
Note: If it takes going to 13-15m avg/year and 30m+ in guarantees, Douglas shouldn’t hesitate.
Graham Glasgow (G) – 4 years, 8m avg/year, and 12.8 million in guarantees
Another guard? Yes, I’m letting Alex Lewis—who earned a dreadful run-blocking grade (48.9) from PFF—walk, and I’m investing a few more dollars into a guard that can clear some lanes. As reported, the Lions will allow Glasgow to test free agency, and the Jets should jump at the opportunity.
Glasgow is a Joe Douglas type of player: he plays hard, is of high character, and does whatever asked of him. He can play multiple positions and spent time at RG, Center, and LG throughout his career. His ability to adapt could prove to be a huge asset to a team like the Jets, who have caught a bit of the injury bug lately. Glasgow also has a bit of nasty streak (in the trenches), but don’t be deterred by his lack of hygiene—voted the messiest locker by his teammates—he does a good job of keeping his QB clean (zero sacks allowed in 2019), which is all that matters.
The Jets will most likely be fielding a rookie at center, and Glasgow’s experience will be invaluable to a young and developing player. Sandwiching the rookie between Glasgow and Thuney can help speed up the process of transforming this OL into one cohesive unit. Bring him in Joe!
Other OL options (if players mentioned above aren’t attainable): Brandon Scherff, D.J. Humphries, Anthony Castonzo, and Bryan Bulaga
Rnd. 1 (pick 11) – Mekhi Becton (OT, Louisville)
Along with Lewis, I’m also letting Kelvin Beachum go. There isn’t a place on the entire team that benefits from continuity more so than the OL. However, Beachum struggles with run blocking, and the Jets need to invest in all-around competent players. The Jets’ rushing attack is not feared across the NFL, and it’s time to make a meaningful change.
My fondness for Becton—a mauler in the run game and technically sound pass protector—has been well documented. I recently wrote a piece predicting he would cement himself as a top 15 prospect. Daniel Jeremiah (of the NFL network) took it a step further when he placed Becton in the top 5 overall of his recent mock draft. Although I foretold his rise, I was hoping he would fly under the radar, but it’s hard to hide when you’re 6’7” and 369 pounds. Regardless, I still have Becton falling to the Jets at 11, and Douglas would be wise to pull the trigger.
If for some reason, the now big 4 (Wirfs, Thomas, Becton, and Wills) are all off the board, trading with the Eagles (who may be interested in moving up for Jeudy or Lamb) could make sense. Grabbing Josh Jones (OT, Houston) at 21, while acquiring another pick in the second round, could be a nice fallback plan. In this scenario, I’d move Conklin back to LT (his original position coming out of college), and I’d have Josh Jones compete with Chuma Edoga for the starting RT spot.
Rnd. 2 (pick 48) – Cesar Ruiz (Center, Michigan)
The Jets need to come out of the 2020 draft with a starting center (preferably Biadasz, Ruiz, or Harris). Daniel Jeremiah recently ranked Ruiz 34th in his top 50. He compared him to Travis Fredrick (of the Dallas Cowboys), which is considered a ringing endorsement coming from a well-respected analyst like Jeremiah.
If this plan appears somewhat familiar, that’s because it is. Back-to-back AFC Championships wouldn’t have been possible without investing heavily in the offensive line. In 2006 the Jets brought in a left tackle (D’Brickashaw Ferguson) and center (Nick Mangold) with their first two picks in the draft. In 2008 they acquired a right tackle (Damien Woody) and guard (Alan Faneca) via free agency. This recipe almost cooked up a trip to the Super Bowl, and a comparable formula could lead to similar success.
Starting offensive line:
Some readers might question the allocation of funds with these signings, but with a QB on his first contract and two rookies starting, the overall payout isn’t as severe as one might think. The Jets’ starting offensive line will average about 8.8m annually per player as a unit. The league’s number one ranked OL (by PFF) this past season, the Philadelphia Eagles, averaged about 10.4 million, and that’s with a QB on a hefty second contract.
Could you imagine the running and passing lanes that could open up with this squad? The starting lineup below has the potential to be a top 5 unit: built around players who are skilled in the art of pass protection and run blocking, filled with competitors who love playing football, and versatile enough to play in various schemes and positions. Get it done, Joe!
LT: Mekhi Becton
LG: Joe Thuney
C: Cesar Ruiz
RG: Graham Glasgow
RT: Jack Conklin