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Jets Need to Turn Around Systemic Offensive Line Failure

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Even with the acquisition of Ryan Clady, the current long-term prognosis of the Jets' offensive line does not look great. Clady might well prove to be a short-term stopgap. Nick Mangold was D'Brickashaw Ferguson's Draft classmate. He is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. After that? James Carpenter had a solid first year in green and white, but the starters at the other two positions are not even known at this point. The Jets still will need to make some maneuvers to clear cap space before the regular season starts. Will Breno Giacomini's cap hit be cleared out? At right guard, the starter is anybody's guess.

How did the Jets get here?

Lack of Investment

The offensive line came to the front and center this past week when Ferguson retired. The news was somewhat surprising. If you take the longer view, though, what is more surprising is how the Jets lacked any sort of viable in-house option to replace him. It is not like Ferguson's departure came overnight. His level of play had been in decline for around five years, and he was an aging player. The restructures on his contract made it likely he would depart one way or another around this time.

The Jets simply failed to plan for Ferguson's eventual replacement. Do you know how many offensive linemen the Jets have drafted in the first round since they took D'Brickashaw and Nick Mangold in 2006? The answer is zero. Let me repeat that.  In the last decade, the Jets have drafted zero first round offensive linemen.

That might not be such a big deal, but they have not drafted many linemen in the second or third rounds either. Vladimir Ducasse was the only second round pick since 2006. Brian Winters was the only third round pick. If you were wondering why the offensive line was so old, expensive, and ineffective, that would be a good place to start.

When looking at Mike Tannenbaum's tenure, it is a bizarre legacy. Ferguson and Mangold were his first two Draft choices as general manager. It was as though he was sending a message that he prioritized the offensive line by using a pair of first rounders to fortify it. After that, he only used a premium pick on Ducasse in his final six Drafts. That pick did not pan out at all.

Lack of Evaluation

Mike Maccagnan noted last year that many successful franchises are able to draft and develop quality offensive linemen later in the Draft. The team has used a number of late round picks on linemen over the last decade, but few have panned out. Here are the linemen the Jets have drafted in the fourth round or later in the last ten years.

Player Year Round
Jacob Bender 2007 6
Nate Garner 2008 7
Matt Slauson 2009 6
Robert Griffin 2012 6
Oday Aboushi 2013 5
William Campbell 2013 6
Dakota Dozier 2014 4
Jarvis Harrison 2015 5

At this point, Matt Slauson is the only real success story. Jarvis Harrison might look better in a year. It is too early to say on him. Ultimately, the Jets have not found many sleepers. During John Idzik's brief tenure, he used three picks on linemen in the fourth round or later, but he appears to have thrown a gutterball.

Of course, the team's failure to find quality players in the middle to late rounds over the past decade has hardly been limited to the offensive line.

Lack of Coaching

Of course an important part of developing gems comes with coaching. Good coaches get players to improve, even those who seemingly are not great prospects. From 2008 through 2011 the Jets had one of the top offensive line coaches in the business, Bill Callahan.

Under Callahan, D'Brickashaw Ferguson blossomed into a Pro Bowler. It is easy to forget the rocky start Brick had to his career. Brandon Moore improved into a high-functioning left guard. Again, it is easy to forget the skepticism that came with his 2007 contract extension. Damien Woody had barely played right tackle in the NFL, but under Callahan he was one of the best. Slauson seamlessly entered the starting lineup in 2010.

Callahan departed the team after 2011.It isn't clear what happened behind the scenes. For all we know, he might have been part of some of the curious decisions the team made that backfired. What we do know is the Jets have not gotten the same level of coaching on the offensive line since. I just named four examples of players who showed appreciable growth under Callahan. In the four years since he left, there is only one offensive lineman who has developed into a quality starter with the Jets, Austin Howard.

Callahan went on to work for the Cowboys. Their offensive line became one of the league's best under his watch.

Lack of Quality Personnel Decisions

For all of the inability to develop players, the offensive line could have been in a much better condition had the team simply retained the few players it had developed. Idzik's two offseasons saw the Jets let Slauson and Howard go at prices the Jets easily could have afforded. Slauson was replaced by Ducasse in the short run and Winters in the long run. The Jets gave Giacomini a contract similar to the one Howard ultimately got from Oakland.

If anything, Slauson and Howard have faired pretty well well in their new homes. Howard admittedly did have a rough first season in Oakland after a puzzling decision to move him to guard, but he looked much better at tackle in 2015.

A scenario where the Jets keep Slauson and Howard puts us into the Twilight Zone. Is the offensive line in such a bad position that the team still signs Carpenter last year? It is tough to say. Imagine a line of Clady-Slauson-Mangold-Carpenter-Howard, though. Yes, the Jets still would need to invest in young lineman, but that group sounds solid in the short run.

Unfortunately, the Jets were not even able to keep the few gems they did find.

The Challenge

Mike Maccagnan did not create the problems on the offensive line. They were handed to him by Tannenbaum's and Idzik's missteps. His ability to have a successful tenure, however, partially depends on fixing the mess. It isn't an easy task. We can talk about first round picks, but building a team is more art than science. Does anybody think the Jets would have been better served drafting Erick Flowers over Leonard Williams a year ago? I didn't think so.

At some point, though, value will meet need for the Jets. It is up to Maccagnan to bring in the right linemen, or he might suffer the fate of his two predecessors.