The Jets’ offensive line has been a weakness all season long. Sunday’s game provided a tangible example of the extent the front office’s strategy failed.
The team played without a pair of starters, Brian Winters and Wesley Johnson. Dakota Dozier and Jonotthan Harrison started in their place at right guard and center respectively.
It is difficult to quantify offensive line play. There aren’t many reliable metrics to display quality, and I cannot produce any for this post. I can only offer my opinion as somebody who has watched every play this season from multiple camera angles.
I don’t think Dozier and Harrison played exceptionally well. Both had plays where they struggled a lot, particularly Harrison. The center has received a lot of positive feedback for a block he threw well down the field on a long Bilal Powell run, but his game was characterized by missed blocks and blown assignments.
Here’s the thing. I wouldn’t say Dozier or Harrison were great, but I don’t think they were a downgrade from what the team has received from Winters and Johnson all season.
That’s a big problem. Winters has a cap hit of $8 million this year. That is the sixth highest cost of a right guard in the league this year according to Over the Cap. Johnson has a cap hit of over $2.7 million. That might not sound like much, but you have to consider how little centers are paid in this league. It is the 14th highest hit in the league at the position according to Over the Cap.
Dozier and Harrison combined account for $1.48 million against the cap.
When you are getting roughly the same play from two players who are seven times cheaper, it is a problem. The whole idea is the extra money is a premium to pay for higher quality performance. You don’t want to pay $10.7 million when you can get the same thing for $1.48 million.
The story doesn’t end with Winters and Johnson, though. The Jets are paying Ben Ijalana $4.2 million against the salary cap to provide depth. How much value is Ijalana providing? He wasn’t even active on gameday for the Jets even with multiple starters sitting out. This isn’t an isolated occurrence. He hasn’t been on the injury report since November 24. He has been an inactive four straight weeks without appearing on the injury report. Why did the Jets have to pay $4.2 million to get a guy who isn’t good enough to be active on gameday? There are literally hundreds of players making the league minimum who would sign and provide no value on gameday.
There are bigger questions about why the Jets felt they needed to pay such a premium to retain these players. The Jets have thrown around numerous bad contracts in Mike Maccagnan’s three years, but at least some of the blunders followed some degree of logic. As catastrophic as the Darrelle Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson contracts were, you could at least understand why the Jets signed those deals. Those were players with high end track records in the NFL. You might not have agreed with the money the Jets threw around. You might have questioned whether those players could sustain that level of play. You might have had issues with the contracts. There was at least a clear thought process, even if it was flawed.
The three linemen mentioned above had no track record that warranted the Jets stretching financially to retain them. Winters had three-quarters of a quality season in a career where he was otherwise a major liability.
And he was the success story of the group. Johnson had done little but struggle substituting for Nick Mangold. Ijalana’s case was the most ludicrous of the group. 2016 was the first time in a six year career he had gotten off the bench for any meaningful action, and his play was quite poor. There was nothing in his track record that suggested he was an NFL player worthy of any sort of substantial salary. He had little upside. A player like that is lucky to get a camp invite, and the Jets bid big dollars to keep him around. Their $4.2 million has bought them 15 snaps on offense.
Ijalana’s presence has another negative. The Jets are a rebuilding team that needs to develop young players. His presence means the Jets are not using a roster spot to work each day with a young player with upside in practice in the hopes of developing him into a player. Instead they are using the resource that is this roster spot on a middle aged player with no upside.
Bad process leads to bad results. The Jets have plenty of both on the offensive line.