Bargain Basement Bigs

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Jets trying to build an offensive line on the cheap?

The 2013 NY Jets did a curious thing with their roster.  The Jets carried ten offensive linemen on the 53 man roster all season long.  This represented the highest number of offensive linemen carried by any NFL team in 2013 (tied with a few other teams); it also represents a significant break from the recent past in terms of the overall structure of the 53 man roster.  During the Rex Ryan era, the Jets, prior to 2013, have carried a relatively lean contingent of seven or eight offensive linemen on the 53 man roster, with all of them ordinarily being active on Sundays.  Typically there would be a backup center, a backup guard and a backup tackle, with more than one backup role sometimes being covered by a single player (i.e, a backup center/guard, or a backup guard/tackle). This allowed the Jets to sometimes carry as few as seven offensive linemen, with the extra roster spots commonly being taken by a surplus of linebackers and/or defensive backs.  In 2013, the Jets carried a full ten offensive linemen, enough for individual backups at every position on the line.  But while they kept ten offensive linemen on the 53 man roster all year, no more than eight ever were active on Sundays, with Oday Aboushi and William Campbell being inactive every game this year.  The question arises: why?  Why the change in roster structure, while never actually suiting up at least two offensive linemen every game this year?

The backup linemen for 2013 were as follows:  Caleb Schlauderaff, Vlad Ducasse, Ben Ijalana, Oday Aboushi and William Campbell.  Schlauderaff was the veteran backup center, the only backup center on the roster, who could also fill in at guard in a pinch.  He was needed in case Mangold went down.  Ducasse was the veteran backup at both guard positions, as well as at tackle.  Not only was he the kind of Swiss Army Knife who could fill any of 4 different holes in a pinch, albeit not very well, but he was also on the last year of his contract, the structure of which made cutting him not particularly cap friendly.  As such, Ducasse was a logical choice for the roster.  That leaves Ijalana, Aboushi and Campbell.  Ijalana was a late pickup after the Colts cut him.  He is a former 2nd round draft choice who, although I have never seen him play, apparently projects as a right tackle or guard, but lacks the foot speed and agility to project as a left tackle.  Aboushi is a very similar player, who also looks like he lacks the talents required for left tackle but may develop into a guard or right tackle.  Campbell is strictly a guard, with the possible ability to backup center in an emergency.

The Jets of the prior four years would have kept Ducasse and Schlauderaff, and maybe the best of the other three guys, then cut the two or three remaining guys and tried to get them onto the practice squad if they really liked their long term potential.  The Jets of 2013 chose to keep all three on the 53 man roster despite none of them ever playing a single snap, and Aboushi and Campbell not even ever being activated.  Why?

The easy answer is, well, these are the Jets. They make dumb and inexplicable decisions all the time, and this is just the latest.   While that may satisfy some, I doubt that really explains anything.  The Jets have reasons for their decisions, even if they are not immediately apparent to us and even if they ultimately prove to be misguided.

So let's look at these decisions one at a time.  Ijalana is the most understandable.  While he was cut by the Colts, it was more for his inability to stay healthy than for his poor performance.  As a former 2nd round draft pick, at one point he was rather highly regarded, before his injuries.  Perhaps the Jets did not think they could get him onto the practice squad without risking losing him to another team.  If so, that suggests the Jets think rather highly of him.

Aboushi and Campbell represent different puzzles.  Neither one was ever active.  One was a 5th round pick who struggled badly in the preseason; the other was a 6th round pick, a converted defensive tackle who also struggled badly.  Neither represented a huge risk of being picked up by another team if cut.  In addition, neither were ready to contribute in 2013. So why keep them on the 53 man roster?  After all, if the services of players of comparable skill levels happened to be required due to a rash of offensive line injuries, it would not be difficult to pick up players of equal or better ability off the street.  There was no apparent need to waste the roster space.  So the only logical reason that presents itself for why the Jets chose to use two roster spots on Aboushi and Campbell (particularly Campbell, who likely would have gone undrafted if not for the Jets picking him) is that the Jets think rather highly of both of them, and not only did not wish to take the rather small risk of losing them to another team if they were cut, but apparently wanted to make sure they would not be subject to poaching off the practice squad either.

Undrafted free agent center Dalton Freeman only deepens the mystery.  The Jets raved about Freeman's play in training camp before he went down with an injury.  However, given his undrafted status the Jets might have been expected to simply part ways with the young center, an unfortunate victim of an untimely injury.  Instead, they chose to keep Freeman on injured reserve, meaning the Jets would have to pay Freeman, an undrafted free agent with no NFL experience, all year while he rehabbed.  It was an odd choice for a team with a star center who is under contract for years to come, along with a veteran backup who has been with the team for several years now.  It seems unlikely another team would sign the injured, undrafted Freeman, yet the Jets were worried enough about the possibility that they preferred to pay him a year's salary to rehab rather than take a seemingly minor risk of losing him.

All of this suggests a rather intriguing possibility.  Is it possible that the Jets see Ijalana, Aboushi, Campbell and Freeman as important pieces in building the offensive line of the future?  In 2014 Ducasse will be a free agent and will not be re-signed.  It is possible Willie Colon will also not be with the team in 2014.  And in 2015 Nick Mangold will no longer be too cap unfriendly to cut.  So is it possible the Jets are envisioning a future in which any one of Campbell, Aboushi and/or Ijalana replace Colon, Freeman replaces Mangold, and one or both of the two guys not starting battle for primary backup positions at tackle and guard?  Is John Idzik trying to build an offensive line on the cheap?

To try to shed some light on the situation, I looked at the Eagles drafts from 2004 through 2012, the years current Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg served as assistant head coach and/or offensive coordinator for the Eagles.  While Mornhinweg was neither the general manager nor the head coach during these years, as offensive coordinator and/or assistant head coach he likely had considerable input in how the offense was built through the draft.  Consequently, though it is an imperfect and indirect way at getting at how Mornhinweg might prefer to build an offensive line, and Mornhinweg is also not primarily responsible for roster building with the Jets, still it might show us some patterns that will be suggestive of how the Jets might be going about things.

In the chart below the all of the Eagles' offensive line draft choices during the Mornhinweg years are presented.  Take a look; it is something of an eye opener.

Year

Round

Player

Position

.

2004

1

Shawn Andrews

Guard

4

Trey Darilek

Guard

7

Adrien Clarke

Guard

7

Dominic Furio

Center

.

2005

4

Todd Herremans

Tackle

5

Scott Young

Guard

6

Calvin Armstrong

Tackle

.

2006

2

Winston Justice

Tackle

4

Max Jean-Gilles

Guard

.

2007

None

.

2008

4

Mike McGlynn

Tackle

6

Mike Gibson

Tackle

7

King Dunlap

Tackle

.

2009

5

Fenuki Tupou

Tackle

7

Paul Fanaika

Guard

.

2010

None

.

2011

1

Danny Watkins

Guard

5

Julian Vandervelde

Guard

6

Jason Kelce

Center

.

2012

5

Dennis Kelly

Tackle

6

Brandon Washington

Guard

What immediately pops out is the very first Mornhinweg draft with the Eagles, and the similarities with what the Jets did in 2013.  In the four years of the Rex era prior to Mornhinweg coming aboard, the Jets never drafted more than one offensive lineman in any draft, and drafted a total of three offensive linemen over those four years.  Going back further, the Jets had not drafted more than one offensive lineman in any draft since the 2006 draft which brought the Jets Mangold and Ferguson.  Further, the Jets had not drafted more than two offensive linemen in any draft since 1999.

Then, in 2013, Mornhinweg's first year with the Jets, the Jets drafted three offensive linemen - two guards and a tackle/guard.  This is eerily similar to what the Eagles did in the first year Mornhinweg was promoted to assistant head coach, 2004, when the Eagles drafted three guards and a center.  The Jets used a third, a fifth and a sixth rounder for their three offensive line picks; the Eagles used a first, a fourth and two sevenths.  Over the nine years Mornhinweg was with the Eagles the team used an extraordinary 19 picks on offensive linemen, an average of  more than two per year.  In four of the nine years the Eagles chose three or more offensive linemen, just like the Jets did in 2013.

And just like the Jets in 2013, nearly all the picks were non-premium picks, with only three of the nineteen coming before the fourth round.  The Eagles' strategy was fairly clear: use overwhelming quantity and constant competition, rather than a few carefully chosen premium picks, to build an offensive line.  Acquire, try out, discard the failures, find the occasional gem, repeat.  Most of those picks washed out, but at least seven proved to be anywhere from decent to very good starting offensive linemen.

The Eagles chose to build their offensive line on the cheap, keeping every starter on his toes with constant new arrivals challenging for their jobs.  Whether this was a wise strategy is an open question.  For the purposes of the Jets, what is striking is how similar the preliminary roster and draft strategies of the Jets regarding offensive linemen with Mornhinweg aboard appear to be.  Perhaps Marty Mornhinweg is exerting considerably more influence in the draft room than we might have imagined, and it is showing up in how the Jets are viewing the future offensive line.

The evidence to this effect is nothing  more than suggestive.  It is far too early to come to any definitive conclusions.  Still, it is an interesting coincidence.  The Jets will have 11 or 12 draft choices in the 2014 draft.  If they should use another two or three on low round offensive linemen the evidence would grow considerably stronger that Mornhinweg was indeed one of the primary architects of the Eagle's offensive line draft and roster strategy.  It would also begin to more strongly suggest that the Jets intend to follow a similar strategy.  If so, then it would appear likely that Campbell, Ijalana, Aboushi and Freeman are very real prospects for starting jobs on the Jets offensive line in the near future.  That would explain why they were all kept with the team this year, despite the fact that keeping them created a somewhat offensive line heavy roster, as well as required the Jets to pay an undrafted free agent a full year's salary for rehabbing.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the 2014 draft.  If the Jets again choose multiple offensive linemen with mid to lower round picks, it probably means the Jets can be expected to adopt the Eagles' strategy of very many low round draft picks duking it out every year for roster spots, in the process hopefully producing over time several high quality, low priced offensive linemen.

If this is how things develop, it also has interesting implications for Rex's relative power in the organization.  Since, if things develop this way, we can probably safely attribute the rather drastic change in approach to Mornhinweg's arrival, it suggests that Mornhinweg may be highly influential, and in fact perhaps more influential even than Rex, in developing the team's draft strategy and roster with regards to the offense.  Combine that with the rumor that Idzik reportedly is requesting coaching changes on the defensive side, and perhaps Rex's power within the organization is being systematically reduced.

Of course, all of this is highly speculative.  As previously mentioned, Mornhinweg is not the general manager, not the head coach, and he was never the general manager nor the head coach of the Eagles.  As such, it is highly uncertain as to just how much of the past draft history can reasonably be attributed to him.  Still, absent any contrary evidence, if the Jets continue to follow the Eagles' past draft strategy with respect to the offensive line, it would not be completely unjustified to attribute the sea change to the presence of Mornhinweg in similar situations for both organizations.   Something appears to have changed in 2013 regarding the Jets' approach to offensive linemen, both in the draft and in the roster structure.  If those changes prove persistent, it will likely signal a new approach, largely driven by Mornhinweg, to the way the offensive line is built.  Perhaps we are on the verge of building a line with a boatload of bargain basement bigs.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Gang Green Nation

You must be a member of Gang Green Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Gang Green Nation. You should read them.

Join Gang Green Nation

You must be a member of Gang Green Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Gang Green Nation. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker