NY Jets deserve more criticism for this major offseason blunder

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By: Michael Nania

The New York Jets failed to accomplish their No. 1 non-QB offseason goal

Finding a new quarterback was the New York Jets‘ main priority entering the 2023 offseason. And they got it done.

The next biggest priority (by a mile over anything else) was to upgrade the unit that protects the new quarterback. This was set in stone as soon as the 2022 season concluded, long before the Jets even knew who their quarterback was going to be. The Jets’ offensive line was an injury-riddled mess in 2022. With a pricy investment soon coming in to play quarterback, New York could not afford to make a half-baked effort to upgrade the unit.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Upgrading the OT position was viewed as a necessity

Heading into the 2023 offseason, fans and media members appeared to unanimously agree that it was a necessity for Joe Douglas to spare no expense in his quest to upgrade the offensive line – specifically at the offensive tackle position. It was widely believed that New York needed to add at least one high-quality starting offensive tackle, if not two.

In a thorough review of the Jets’ offensive tackle situation back in January, Jets X-Factor’s Rivka Boord concluded, “The Jets will need to bring in two new tackles this offseason, and both of those should ideally be starter-level.”

In a February article where I discussed the Jets’ potential pursuit of Aaron Rodgers, I wrote, “Outside of the quarterback chase, the Jets’ only other first-tier priority this offseason should be the offensive line. Everything else can take a back seat. They need to find their quarterback and they need to do whatever it takes to surround him with pristine pass protection.”

Even Douglas himself admitted the offensive tackle position was a priority. At the combine in Indianapolis, Douglas said, “Yeah, we have a lot of moving pieces … so that’s [offensive tackle] definitely a position where we’d like to create some more stability and continuity.”

Yet, as we sit here on July 31, there is no more stability or continuity at the offensive tackle position than there was at this point one year ago.

Despite the obvious need to make one or two big additions, the Jets’ only pickups at offensive tackle were Billy Turner and fourth-round pick Carter Warren. If you told Jets fans this was going to happen, they would have been furious.

The Jets released their first unofficial depth chart on Sunday. The starting tackles: Billy Turner (LT) and Max Mitchell (RT). Mekhi Becton is listed as the backup left tackle behind Turner. Duane Brown is on the PUP list as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

How was this allowed to happen when the entire world knew in January that the position was a dire need?

Entering Week 1 with a starting duo of Turner and Mitchell would be a disaster. Neither player is starting material.

Last season, Turner ranked at the 20th percentile among qualified tackles (min. 250 pass-blocking snaps) in allowed pressure rate at 6.60%, and in 2021, he ranked at the 30th percentile with a 6.44% rate.

Perhaps Mitchell can blossom into a starter-quality player in his second season, but he was a fourth-round pick out of the Sun Belt Conference who was considered a long-term project and struggled as a rookie. His odds of being a good starter in 2023 are certainly not great.

Brown will likely return at some point within the next month and be ready to start the season at left tackle. Still, is Brown a player that inspires confidence as a starter? He is going to turn 38 years old in August and is coming off a poor season. Yes, he was playing through a shoulder injury throughout the entire year, but at his age, how likely is it that he does not get injured again in 2023? Brown has missed multiple games in five of the past eight seasons. And even if he does stay healthy, what does he have left in the tank at this stage?

The Jets hoped Becton could stay healthy and win one of the two starting spots. Using the eye-popping talent that made him a first-round pick in 2020, the team’s idealistic vision is for Becton to emerge as the high-quality addition to the starting lineup that was needed. But things do not seem to be progressing as hoped so far.

Becton appears to be having a rough start to camp. Even with Brown sidelined, Becton has been unable to stand out and wrestle first-team reps away from Turner. Reports of him losing reps are frequent. He has already been in and out of practice with knee soreness.

Why are the Jets relying on Becton, though? As soon as Becton went down with his second consecutive season-ending injury last summer, he should have been ruled out as a starting option for 2023. A starting OT spot for the 2023 season immediately opened up the very moment that happened. The Jets were never supposed to count on Becton as a starter again – at least not without a very strong secondary option to have him compete against. Yet here we are.

The Jets should have been more aggressive in their pursuit of OT help

Entering the 2023 offseason, the Jets should have declared it a necessity to add two starter-quality offensive tackles.

Becton was not an option to be relied on as a starter. Keeping him around as a high-end backup is perfectly fine, and it would even be okay to have Becton compete against another starter-quality player (perhaps a first-round pick or a veteran starter who is league-average). But the Jets are relying much too heavily on Becton by having Turner and Mitchell as their fallback options. If Becton doesn’t pan out, the Jets are likely in major trouble.

Brown should not have been viewed as a starting option, either. Sure, maybe he can be considered a reasonable stopgap starter for some teams in the NFL, but for a team that knew it would be acquiring an expensive veteran quarterback and looking to make a serious playoff push, Brown is not an ideal player to rely on. Remember, the Jets initially planned to sign him as a backup in 2022. Now he is arguably the most reliable tackle on the team heading into a season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

New York had plenty of options to improve the position. There were four upper-echelon offensive tackles signed in free agency this year: Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, Orlando Brown Jr., and Kaleb McGary, who each signed for eight figures per season. While the price tags were lucrative – McGlinchey at $17.5M per year, Taylor at $20M, Brown at $16M, and McGary at $11.5 – the Jets could have made it work if they wanted to.

The Jets chose not to utilize the majority of the cap space-clearing options they had at their disposal. New York elected not to release Corey Davis ($10.5M potential savings if released), Carl Lawson ($15.4M), Jordan Whitehead ($7.3M), Ashtyn Davis ($2.7M), or Bryce Hall ($2.7M). Duane Brown also could have been designated as a post-June 1 cut to clear $9.7M.

While the Jets did restructure Lawson’s contract to open up $12.7M in 2023 cap space, they still left most of their potential savings on the table. They had the flexibility to give themselves significantly more buying power in free agency but chose not to maximize it.

Even without making many space-clearing moves, the Jets were able to sign Allen Lazard for $11M per year despite the fact he plays a position that was not nearly as dire of a need as offensive tackle. Theoretically, they could have passed on Lazard, kept Elijah Moore, and allocated the savings toward an offensive tackle.

Obviously, these discussions are completely hypothetical, as there are a plethora of factors to consider (What if the Jets wanted to get rid of Moore by any means? What if they had to get Lazard for Rodgers? What if those tackles did not want to play for the Jets?), but it’s just a way of showing that the Jets could have made it work financially.

After the Jets sat out the free agent OT market, they were widely expected to take the best OT available to them with the 13th overall pick in the draft. When they made a seemingly trivial first-round pick swap with the Packers in the Aaron Rodgers trade, moving down to the 15th slot, it ended up affecting them more than they may have expected.

The Patriots traded the No. 14 pick to Pittsburgh, where the Steelers picked Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones one spot ahead of the Jets. Jones was the last available tackle prospect among those who would have been considered viable with the 15th pick, so New York stayed put and selected Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald.

I don’t blame the Jets for how the draft played out. First off, we don’t even know if they liked Jones enough as a prospect to take him with the 15th pick. Jones was no slam-dunk prospect, and he was generally considered more of a long-term projection prospect than an NFL-ready starter, so it’s not as if he would address the Jets’ need for instant help, anyway.

The problem was not the draft itself – it was that the Jets should not have gone into the draft needing an offensive tackle. It’s foolhardy to view the draft as a solution for filling needs. You never know how the board is going to fall. The general idea is to take the best players available and make your roster as talented as possible no matter which positions are getting the talent.

This was another well-known fact in the early portion of the offseason. While many fans and media members viewed the offensive tackle position as a potential target for New York in the first round, it was widely agreed that the Jets should hedge their bets by signing at least one high-quality veteran so they did not have to rely on the draft as their method for fixing the position.

Yes, there could have been factors beyond the Jets’ control that prevented them from making a big move prior to the draft. We do not know how things played out on the free agent market. It’s possible that the Jets pursued the top guys and none of them wanted to come to New York. Maybe the Jets did not view them as scheme fits. There is also the mystery of the trade market. Maybe the Jets have been actively perusing the trade market all offseason and just couldn’t find something that worked for them.

Excuses can be made all day long as to why the Jets could not get this guy, that guy, or the other guy. He’s too expensive, he’s not a zone-scheme fit, and so on. Sure. That’s fine. But is hard to fathom that New York had no possible way to build a tackle unit better than Duane Brown, Mekhi Becton, Billy Turner, and Max Mitchell. It’s impossible. There is no way you could make an all-out push to improve a position and come up with this result. It’s clear the Jets didn’t try hard enough.

Some sort of avenue had to be out there. It just might have required New York to get aggressive to make it happen – and that may have been the dilemma.

If the Jets stuck to their line in the sand with every free agent negotiation and every potential trade discussion, then yes, maybe they had no options. But this need was important enough to justify going overboard. The lineup we see on New York’s depth chart today is the one they should have feared all along and ensured never transpired. If it required overpaying for a free agent or getting a little crazy with a trade offer, so be it. No price is too high in the quest to protect your franchise quarterback.

A good OL is important for getting the most out of Aaron Rodgers

Some contend that Rodgers’ presence will significantly improve the play of the offensive line, which may have caused the Jets to feel less desperate about their need to improve the unit. This is true to an extent. Rodgers will certainly be a massive upgrade over previous Jets quarterbacks when it comes to setting protections, getting the ball out quickly, and avoiding unnecessary sacks.

While Rodgers will do his best to create clean pockets for himself through his pre-snap adjustments, quick decision-making, and poise, there is only so much a quarterback can do to protect himself. It’s ultimately on the offensive line to step up and create a comfortable environment for the quarterback to succeed – which is essential for success no matter how elite the quarterback is. And for this particular elite quarterback, clean pockets are vital.

Rodgers is a quarterback who consistently ranks much higher as a clean-pocket passer than as an under-pressure passer. Because of this, good pass protection is key to Rodgers’ success. In Green Bay, Rodgers had excellent offensive lines for much of his career. That allowed Rodgers to emphasize his dominance as a clean-pocket passer and minimize his relatively underwhelming production when pressured.

Look no further than Rodgers’ two MVP seasons under Nathaniel Hackett. In 2020, Rodgers ranked second-best out of 34 qualified quarterbacks with an 84.6% adjusted completion percentage when kept clean, but when pressured, he ranked 20th with a 64.6% adjusted completion percentage. In 2021, Rodgers again ranked second-best when kept clean at 82.5%, but when pressured, he was all the way down at 32nd out of 33 qualifiers with a measly 54.5%.

Adjusted completion percentage is a metric via Pro Football Focus that accounts for drops, throwaways, batted passes, etc.

In both 2020 and 2021, Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating when kept clean, posting a 129.7 rating in 2020 and a 123.7 rating in 2021. Rodgers ranked third-best in passer rating when pressured in 2020 (89.3), and in 2021, he was 20th (67.9).

Over the past three seasons, Rodgers’ average under-pressure passer rating was 73.3 and his average clean-pocket passer rating was 117.4. That’s a 44.1-point drop-off when pressured versus when kept clean. It’s nearly six points higher than the league-average drop-off in the 2022 season, which was 38.3 points (103.8 when clean, 65.5 when pressured). Essentially, this shows that when Rodgers is pressured, he sees a larger decline in his effectiveness than the average quarterback.

When he’s at his best, Rodgers is shredding defenses at a near-perfect level from a clean pocket. Mitigating pressure is not the strength of his game at this point in his career. He’s still better at it than most quarterbacks, but he is much further ahead of his peers in clean-pocket situations.

The Jets cannot be complacent with shoddy pass protection and just expect Rodgers to bail them out. That’s not who he is. He needs a solid offensive line to be the best version of himself.

It feels like the Jets should be getting more criticism for completely ignoring an issue that was unanimously viewed as a necessity to address. Of course, I understand it is an exciting time for the franchise and the vibes are optimistic right now. I’m an optimistic guy myself and I certainly don’t expect fans to be seeking out negatives when there is so much to be positive about.

Still, this feels like too severe of a mistake to merely brush aside. If the Jets fall short of expectations this year, it’s hard to imagine their neglect of the offensive tackle position will not be one of the main reasons why.

Next Article: Aaron Rodgers’ pressure stats emphasize Jets’ need for OL help 

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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor

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