Offseason Outlook: Interior Offensive Line

This entry will conclude my offseason outlook on the offensive side of the ball. It's been a thrilling journey featuring a lot of dangerous frights and I'm glad it has finally reached its conclusion... except I haven't yet done the defensive side of the ball yet, so this journey will continue for even longer. Yaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy.......

All right, back to the depressing slog through the offseason outlook. After handling the exterior of the offensive line last time around, I'll be covering the interior with regards to the guard and center positions. Like the offensive tackles, they don't need that much here for the 2022 season (and I did kind of already spill the beans about my preference for how they should address the starting RG role in that outlook). Still, this group could still see some changes between now and the start of next season, and the Jets do need to pay some attention to how they handle it considering how the OL as a whole was when the season ended. Like how I reviewed options for tackles, most of the figures I will be using are courtesy of either PFF or OTC, so assume that numbers I use are from the former unless otherwise stated.

Feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions below this post.

The Jets currently have seven players assigned to the interior of the offensive line on the roster for 2022, not including guys who are on futures contracts. With all due respect to Isaiah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher and Parker Ferguson (who are on the 2022 roster), I'm not considering any of them to be valid options. Williams is 29 years old, he's been waived a dozen times since entering the league in 2016 and he played the only three games of his career this past season with the Jets. Pierschbacher has only ever appeared on special teams for Washington and Philadelphia (20 total snaps on field goal attempts in his career, zero regular season snaps since 2020). Ferguson is a rookie who went undrafted out of Air Force and signed with the Jets early on in the post-draft process, only to be waived to injured reserve after a month. If more than one of them are even on the practice squad next season, we're probably not as deep as we need to be on the inside. I will begin my analysis of them in order of 2022 cap hits from highest to lowest.

Connor McGovern, Age 29, 6 Years of Experience

McGovern started 31 games in a row for the Jets (57 consecutive games with the Jets and Broncos) before a knee injury against the Jaguars in Week 16 sidelined him for the final two games of the 2021 season. He's been fairly durable in his six years in this league, with those being the only two missed games due to injury in his career since being drafted out of Missouri. It's probably his best value, his availability, but that's not a reflection on his quality of play, since he absolutely is a starting caliber NFL player.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2018 (after not playing his rookie season and being a backup at RG in 2017), he has been a very good run blocker (all but one season graded over 68.9 in that regard) and a rather inconsistent pass blocker with both a high ceiling and low floor (as high as 82.5 in 2019 and as low as 38.7 in 2018 when he split time between RG and C). He earned the three-year, $27 million he got from the Jets in 2020 for his strong 2019 season and followed it up with a revert to his 2018 standard; serving as a good run blocker (70.2 grade) and a poor pass blocker (42.7 grade), calling into question whether his 2019 season was a fluke. He was one of the two 2020 FA signings the Jets made that I was excited over (along with Brian Poole), so his first season with the team was really disappointing for me.

Fortunately, he rebounded in a big way in 2021, posting a 78.7 RBLK grade and 68.0 PBLK grade. He's not Nick Mangold, but he's certainly better than anything the Jets have had since he retired by a pretty wide margin. His run blocking was fairly consistent throughout the entire season (his only game below 54.5 was the season opener where the entire OL was terrible, and he had 10 games with a RBLK grade above 65.0). He was also pretty consistent as a pass-blocker, allowing 19 pressures (maybe a little high for his 15 games played) and 4 sacks (that's definitely too high) while only allowing 2 QB hits (both on Flacco). He generally graded above 65.0 (8 times), but strangely enough, his worst graded game as a pass blocker was his last against the Jaguars on the fewest snaps. Of all the interior pass rushes he faced, I wouldn't have thought the Jaguars' would be the one to get the best of him, but that's what happened.

Beyond recorded stats, though, McGovern was also tasked with handling communication over assignments pre-snap, something he struggled with in the early goings of the season. There was a time where the Jets OL was completely incapable of handling stunts, giving a terrible look to both him and the coaching staff for not being able to prepare the team for them. He was good as a blocker, but his handling of the blockers around him was lacking through the first half of the season. While I'm not opposed to moving McGovern back to guard outright and giving a different center the opportunity to handle OL assignments, he was not nearly as good as a guard when he last played at that spot in 2018. I think that the biggest reason he rebounded in 2021 was the switch in offensive systems. LaFleur's offense is much more similar to the one he ran in Denver than the one he joined with Gase, and I don't think I'd want to risk interrupting his transition back to his 2019 self by changing his position without already having a better center to play next to him.

McGovern accounts for $10.3 million on the 2022 cap, but he can be cut for only $1 million dead cap if the Jets decide to go in another direction. His knee injury isn't serious according to Saleh, so there's no reason to suspect that he needs to be cut for injury reasons. It comes down to whether the Jets think they can get better value at the center position in either the draft or free agency, and I don't think that it qualifies as a need for them. At the time of his injury, he was PFF's 7th-highest graded center and playing on 2021's 7th-highest cap hit, so he was probably worth the money he was getting last season. He was definitely not worth it in 2020, so the Jets need to decide whether or not they can count on his production in 2022 will match his contract and whether or not there is a clear upgrade or cheaper substitute they could use.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, Age 23, 1 Year of Experience

Vera-Tucker is perhaps the only member of the current 2022 IOL room that I can guarantee will be on this team next season. After being drafted at 14th overall last year (with the Jets trading up to acquire him), he proved to be perhaps the Jets' best player on offense during his rookie season. He tied with Ty Johnson and Braxton Berrios in games played on offense with 16 (only behind Morgan Moses with 17 games played; he tied Moses in games started), showing good durability in 2021 against the greater competition. He only missed one game due to COVID-19 and missed only one offensive snap in the games he started.

He had an up-and-down rookie season, though there were more ups than downs. PFF assigned him a rookie season grade of 67.2, which is good for 4th among rookie guards (though I'd say he was the 2nd-best rookie guard behind only Trey Smith since Vera-Tucker played the 2nd-most snaps by at least 200 more than Quinn Meinerz and Landon Dickerson). I wish the Jets had managed to swing both Vera-Tucker and Smith, but they still got one.

They shouldn't be content with the quality of play he offered, though; 67.2 is fine for a rookie, but he needs to play much better than that to justify trading up to get him. He was a good-to-great run blocker for half of the season, but he was a average to bad in others (his worst game was against the Texans of all teams, and that was the game where he had his most run-blocking snaps). The same goes for his pass blocking (season grade of 56.9), where he excelled for three games from Week 3-5 and followed it up with 7 games of mediocre to outright horrible performances as a pass-blocker (and I personally think he was worse than his grades show in his first three games after Wilson returned from injury). He himself would tell you that his pass-blocking needs to be better, and hopefully it will be next season, because 42 pressures is simply not acceptable for him in his second season; honestly, even half of his 2021 total might be too high considering where they drafted him.

I don't think the Jets will consider moving him to any other position on the OL. While I think he has the ability to play tackle, the Jets want him to be a guard and shouldn't need him on the outside unless both Mekhi Becton and George Fant suffer season-ending injuries in the summer. I also don't think moving to RG is on the cards; he has much, much more experience playing at LT and LG in his football career than RG (only as a backup in 12 college games in 2018). Vera-Tucker will be this team's starting LG in 2022 for as long as he is available, and hopefully he starts to look like he belongs there for many more years to come.

Vera-Tucker accounts for $3.6 million of the Jets cap in 2022. He cannot be restructured (he's cheap anyway) and it makes no sense to trade him (it would be a stunning reversal if the Jets even took calls for him). Though he carries only the 23rd-highest cap hit in 2022 (pending FA and the draft), he needs to be better than top-20. Hopefully, a year's experience and another offseason training along this OL (possibly with Becton on his left) will benefit his development into a more consistent, dominant guard.

Greg Van Roten, Age 32, 7 Years of Experience

Van Roten is not a popular player among Jets fans despite being a hometown player who grew up as a Jets fan. He was the clear weak link along the offensive line when he was starting games, grading out as the worst of the starting five at the time of his benching (AVT ultimately graded lower with that dour stretch upon Wilson's return). Given the fact that he was benched for a midseason acquisition, his future with the Jets seems uncertain at best.

Officially, Van Roten had a very good RBLK grade of 74.1 for the Jets in his 12 games (11 at RG) on offense. That honestly shocked me to discover, considering his pass-blocking was well below par with a grade of 53.7 where he had only three games with significant snaps grading above 65.0 as a pass blocker (Falcons, at Patriots and Bengals). This is almost the exact opposite of his 2020 performance, where he was graded 71.5 as a pass blocker and 54.4 as a run blocker with one game's worth of extra snaps that year.

I don't know the cause was of this change; playing next to Morgan Moses and a resurgent Connor McGovern for most of the season should have aided his run-blocking, but it drastically diminished his pass-blocking in a way that I can't explain. Zach Wilson was definitely guilty of holding onto the ball too long early on and it contributed to Van Roten allowing 3 sacks in the first four games of the season, but it shouldn't be the reason why he allowed 37 pressures in 10 starts last season after allowing 24 pressures in 13 starts in 2020. The switch in schemes changed his pre-snap reads and maybe he just couldn't adjust to it properly in the passing game despite how much it helped him in the running game. This was his worst season as a starter at pass blocking by a fairly decent margin (previously wasn't below the 68.8 he received in 2017 with the Panthers).

Also worth noting is that he accounted for 2 penalties in 2021 (a false start and an offensive hold). That's actually unusually high for him; he was penalty-free in 2020, had only one accepted penalty in 2019 and had 2 penalties in a full season starting in 2018. Perhaps the best thing about him is that he's often the most-disciplined OLM on the field.

Van Roten carries a $3.5 million cap hit in 2022, but he can be cut for no dead money. You won't find many Jets fans who would shed a tear if the Jets were to move on from him after this past season; many were clamoring for him to be benched even before they acquired help from the Chiefs. However, I think the Jets would consider keeping him. He's about average in his grading and does still make fine depth. This season notwithstanding, his pass-blocking has always been up to par with close to average run-blocking, meaning that he could serve as a 6th OLM on some plays like how the Jets used Dan Feeney before they were forced to turn to him as a starter after COVID-19 and injuries took their toll. The salary is a bit too high for him to be used as a backup, so the Jets would probably seek to renegotiate his deal down to closer to the minimum if they'd want to keep him, similar to what they did with Alex Lewis last year.

Cameron Clark, Age 24, 2 Years of Experience

There's absolutely nothing we can analyze with Clark; even giving him two years of experience is generous considering that he's never been active for a game and has spent 23 games on IR compared to 10 on the 53-man roster. He missed much of the Jets 2020 offseason program with a shoulder injury, then suffered a knee injury a week before the regular season began that put him on IR. With the Jets falling to 0-6 and with Clark likely not being in game shape until their bye week (thanks to a bout with the flu after being activated from IR) a month later at 0-9, the Jets elected to keep him as a healthy scratch the rest of the season and only let him get reps in practice.

Then, before he could begin his second season, he suffered a neck injury in August that required him to be immediately taken to the hospital via an ambulance. He was placed on IR two weeks later, ruling him out for the entire 2021 season. I hope he makes a full recovery after being diagnosed with a spinal cord contusion, but there's no guarantee he ever returns to playing football. It's possible that him being stretchered into an ambulance in front of his teammates on a practice field will be his final memory as a player.

Clark may have been an interesting tackle prospect coming out of Charlotte that the Jets planned to move to guard in the pros, but you cannot make any evaluation of him; any traits he might have shown in the pre-draft process or in the 2021 offseason cannot be used as a basis for any decision made on his status next year. There is no evidence he is capable of being a real NFL player through two years and not even a preseason snap to his credit. The Jets may choose to hold onto him until the first preseason game to see how he fares, but the Jets can't enter the offseason assuming he can even be depth.

Clark accounts for under $1.1 million in 2022, and he can be cut for $345 thousand (cut in half over two years if applied as a post-6/1 cut). I think the Jets will want him on the practice squad at the very least, though it would be a risk to waive him; I don't know how other teams view him, but he was a former 4th round pick that could be claimed and then cut for no dead cap at any time. Again, holding onto him through the middle of August makes sense just to see if he can handle a preseason game, but they need to operate under the assumption that he cannot even be a third-string player when they enter the offseason. Anything more than camp competition he provides is a bonus at this point for roughly an additional $720 thousand (or $895 thousand if he makes it through June).

With the four main IOL out of the way, now let's examine some external options. If you read my outlook on tackles, you'd know that my preference for handling RG in 2022 is to draft Evan Neal at 4th overall and use him there for his rookie season. Still, I wouldn't be doing my unpaid job if I didn't consider other alternatives at the position. I'll analyze some options in the draft, definitely, but I'll be doing a touch more in free agency.

With that, unlike what I did for tackles, I will be looking at guys who could cost a pretty penny to play on the Jets interior in addition to those from the lower tier who likely wouldn't cost as much. I'll be splitting these guys into two tiers, where I consider the upper tier to be guys who are surefire starters and the second tier to be guys who would have to compete for jobs. Still, I am going to be making several assumptions about guys who would not come to the Jets without drastically overpaying for them. Therefore, I consider both of the Buccaneers' impending FA IOL (Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa) and the 49ers' Laken Tomlinson to be off-limits. I also believe that Washington's Brandon Scherff- thought to be a Jets target each of the last two offseasons but franchise tagged both times- will price himself out of New York (and I think the Jaguars and Dolphins will offer to pay more). Finally, I am also assuming that Jason Kelce will either remain in Philadelphia or be traded rather than released (they need cap space and could save some by moving him), and I don't think the Jets should be willing to spend anything more than a 4th for him.

All of those conditions considered, let me first start with the upper tier.

Free Agency 1st Tier

Bradley Bozeman, Age 27, 4 Years of Experience

Bozeman picked just the right time to have his breakout with the Ravens, set to enter free agency for the first time coming off a career season. After spending most of his career at LG, they moved him over to C in 2021 and it looks like his natural position (which it is). He started 16 games (completing 12) and missed one due to injury, the first time since his rookie season he missed a game (and first time since becoming a starter that he didn't complete every game). He's been durable, though as 2021 proved, he couldn't continue his iron man run forever.

He earned a run-blocking grade of 70.8 and a pass-blocking grade of 73.8, both career highs (previously hadn't been above 66 in either category. He was also penalty-free in 2021, down from three penalties committed in 2020. It looks like the move to center was very beneficial for him, so you'd probably not want to have him move to RG, a position he's only played twice at the professional level and not at all since 2018. If you're signing Bozeman, you're either cutting McGovern or moving him to RG, a position he's familiar with, though he's never been anything more than average at that spot.

If Bozeman were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a two-year, $10 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed. Though he was pretty valuable this past season, it's a bit of an outlier, and I don't think there would be too many teams willing to exceed the $5 million AAV I'm offering. I think cutting McGovern is the most likely option should this signing be made, as you'd be getting about $4 million in savings to find a player who had a comparable 2021 season (worse RBLK but better PBLK on more snaps). You'd be banking on him having that same or a better season in 2022 and not that he'd revert to what he was in his years prior, hoping that all he needed was to move to center. That might not be a risk the Jets are comfortable enough with to move on from McGovern though, so they might want to look elsewhere.

Trai Turner, Age 29, 8 Years of Experience

Turner was the guy I wanted the Jets to sign last offseason to become starting guards in replacement of Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten (along with Joe Thuney). Even coming off a down, injury-plagued 2020, I thought the upside was way too high to ignore. Thuney was likely never coming to the Jets with the contract he received from the Chiefs, but I don't think you can say the same for Turner. Thuney's deal was reported within the first few minutes of the legal tampering period while Turner remained unsigned until the end of June, and he only signed for one year at $3 million.

That deal proved to be a bargain for the Steelers, as Turner returned to the form that made him a five-time Pro Bowler in his 17 starts (13 complete games: he was ejected from one and missed time in others due to injuries). He earned grades of 67.6 as a run blocker and 72.7 as a pass blocker, better than Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in both categories and just slightly below Greg Van Roten's run-blocking grade on 382 more snaps. He was penalized 6 times and 4 of them were false starts, which is not good, especially with 3 of them coming at home. Still, if you could tell me he would have had the same kind of season (20 pressures with 7 sacks allowed on a statue of a quarterback) with those penalties for only $3 million, I'd have signed on in a heartbeat.

If Turner were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a two-year, $20 million contract with $12 million guaranteed. The Steelers do have money to spend and could offer him the same deal (especially if they're drafting a QB in April), so I'd be willing to add some money in incentives if that's what it takes, but not too much more in base pay. Turner has a lot of upside, but he hasn't made the Pro Bowl since 2019 and I don't view him as a long term option; even if were to have the same season in 2022, there's a world where I might need the cap room and could be willing to sacrifice him for the sake of building a better team. If that's not acceptable for Turner, then the Jets would have to look elsewhere.

Andrew Norwell, Age 30, 8 Years of Experience

Believe it or not, the Jaguars actually have a player on their offensive line that's likely going to be getting a lot of money on his next contract and it isn't Cam Robinson. While I think the Jaguars would like to keep him, he and current general manager Trent Baalke (who is universally loved by DUUUVAL) agreed to a re-worked contract that made 2021 the final year of his deal where he previously would have been under contract through the 2022 season. I believe Norwell wants out of Jacksonville, even if they were to offer him an extension to a dollar amount of his liking.

And he's going to get a lot of offers. In a full 17 games (he missed only 6 snaps the entire season, he posted a RBLK grade of 63.4 (could be better, could be worse) and a PBLK grade of 73.5 (which is the lowest of his career). He allowed 24 pressures (a little high, but serviceable considering the play of the rest of the OL) with 3 sacks in front of a rookie QB in Trevor Lawrence, though his career high 9 penalties (plus 2 declined) are a real concern with him, as he had 5 holding and 4 false start calls.

If he were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a three-year, $36 million contract with $22 million guaranteed. I'd also include some LTBE incentives for playing time (14 games for $1 million each year) and NLTBE incentives for production ($1 million for making the Pro Bowl each year), bringing the total value of the contract to $42 million if he hits each incentive. That would make him the 7th-highest paid guard pending Scherff getting his new contract wherever he signs (assuming it's a long term deal). The downside here is that- with the exception of one game in his 2014 rookie season- he's never played RG before, only playing at LG. The Jets would have to decide between moving him or Vera-Tucker to RG full-time, and I don't know if his pass-blocking would hold up on the other side. Still, if you want to take a chance on a guy making a transition to the other side, you could do worse than betting on Norwell.

Free Agency 2nd Tier

As I said before, my preference for how to handle the RG position in 2022 is to have Neal play there for his rookie season with the intention of moving him to tackle in his second season. Therefore, I'm more likely to look into the second tier for guys to come to the team and serve as backups. Without going into as much detail, here are my three favorite guys from that tier.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Age 31, 7 Years of Experience

Let me first start with the obvious one in Duvernay-Tardif, the RG that the Jets acquired in a trade with the Chiefs for basically nothing; the Chiefs traded him for cap relief and ultimately ended up waiving the special teams standout that they got in return for him, so the Jets only spent extra money they otherwise wouldn't have spent to get a more reliable guard. I think he would be a good locker room presence to keep around- as he indicated his excitement to join the Jets in a statement on his Twitter page after the trade was announced- but the good doctor indicated that he may not be available to play in 2022 should he be needed to return to the medical profession in Canada. It would be a shame to not seem him play next year because of other commitments, but he seemed comfortable either way.

His PFF grades likely won't amaze you; his RBLK grade of 56.9 was the worst on the team among players who started multiple games (yes, even worse than McDermott) and his PBLK grade was 52.5 for the 2021 season. While I can't make any excuses for his run blocking (because with the exception of the Buccaneers game, it was generally poor), his pass blocking was a tale of inconsistency rather than mediocrity (three games graded above 73.0 and three games graded below 50.0). He missed the early part of the season with the Chiefs due to injury (while working his way back from his 2019 injury and his 2020 opt out), but once he arrived with the Jets and became the starting RG, he missed one game due to COVID-19 (the Jaguars game) and most of a second half of another (the Eagles game). If he were to play football next year, hopefully his 2021 experience helps him remain on the field and be more productive should he be playing.

If Duvernay-Tardif were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a two-year, $5.5 million contract with $2 million guaranteed. I think he's probably accepting of the fact that he wouldn't be guaranteed a starting job having only played 7 games on offense in the last 2 seasons, 21 games in the past 3 seasons and 29 games in the past 4 seasons. He's never played a full season in his career (16 games in his rookie season but only 14 starts) and may need to return to his medical profession in the fall even if he decides he wants to play football in the spring. I think this is a reasonable contract considering all of those circumstances.

Austin Corbett, Age 27, 4 Years of Experience

I might be underselling Corbett a bit with my evaluation; I think he's definitely capable of landing a starting job in 2022 if that's what he wants. However, since free agency opens before the draft, he wouldn't know that I'd be planning to bring in Neal to play there. Maybe he could even win the job outright over a rookie (I don't think he would, but it's possible). Having an experienced RG who has missed only eight snaps in the last two years is always a good thing, even if he's not guaranteed to be a starter.

He's been fairly consistent for the Rams, though not exemplary. PFF credits him with a RBLK grade of 68.0 and a PBLK grade of 63.8 in 2021; those grades are somewhat contrastable to Greg Van Roten's 2021 grades, but Corbett's PBLK grade is heavily weighed down by one truly wretched performance in the regular season finale (PBLK grade of 13.1) where he allowed 7 pressures and a sack.

If Corbett were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a one-year, $4.5 million contract, $3.5 million guaranteed. He played the whole season for the Rams and was a good presence up front for them, but they likely won't be able to afford to keep him unless he's willing to take close to the minimum to remain with the likely 2022 contenders. I think he's generally more-polished than Greg Van Roten (probably a worse pass-blocker but better run-blocker in this scheme), so if you cut Van Roten or get him to agree to a pay reduction, you'd have some very good depth behind likely starters in Vera-Tucker and Neal.

Austin Blythe, Age 30, 6 Years of Experience

Another former Rams player, Blythe signed with the Chiefs for the veteran minimum (albeit fully guaranteed) in 2021 in what was a bit of a surprise. He probably could have gotten more money had he signed elsewhere, and he was leaving one expected 2021 contender where he was very familiar with the offense for another contender where he was much less familiar for no extra money. Perhaps he thought he'd have a good chance to start in Kansas City or maybe the Rams simply had no interest in retaining him, but either way, the Chiefs ended up drafting Creed Humphrey to play center and added two new starting guards in Joe Thuney and Trey Smith. Blythe either lost the starting RG job in camp to Smith or was content to be a backup in 2021, as he only played 12 offensive snaps last season.

While we can't evaluate his 2021 season on offense, Blythe was a solid IOLM for the Rams in his three years as a starter with them. Playing RG in 2018 and the first half of 2019 and C the next season and a half, he produced mixed results. His full season at RG in 2018 saw him get a RBLK grade of 71.6 and a PBLK grade of 73.9. His 2019 season split between RG and C was poor with an overall grade of 50.2, but he rebounded with a pretty good 2020 season at C with a RBLK grade of 73.2 and a PBLK grade of 52.5 (brought down by a wretched game against the 0-13 Jets where he's credited with allowing 2 sacks). He was penalized only 5 times in those three seasons as a starter and only missed one game, so he's shown durability and discipline, but he's never been able to mix it with consistency bouncing around the OL.

If Blythe were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a one-year, $1.5 million contract with half of it guaranteed. After barely playing in 2021, he's not going to get a lot of money on the open market nor many opportunities to start, but I think he can serve as good depth. He might want to stick with the Chiefs or join a different contender for the minimum, and I'm not willing to offer much more in money or guarantees after not seeing him start any games last season, so if he's not willing to join for this contract, it's probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

Minimum Wage Options

I'm not going into too much detail here; I've already given my three favorite options from two different tiers and I don't have that much detail to offer even if I wanted to on these guys. Still, as we saw in 2021, sometimes you need to have plans at the interior for fourth-string guys. I'm not willing to spend too much more than the minimum for these guys and definitely wouldn't want to guarantee more than a workout bonus, but there are some guys I'd like to bring in.

The first I'd choose is Xavier Su'a-Filo (Age 31, 8 Years of Experience), an experienced guard who spent 2021 on the Bengals practice squad (elevated to start the first 2 games of the season). The second is Kyle Fuller (Age 28, 4 Years of Experience), who has played both LG and C in his career for 3 different teams and I don't think he's played well enough for the Seahawks to tender even after he started 9 games for them this season. The third is John Miller (Age 29, 7 Years of Experience), who started 10 games (completing 9) for the Panthers in 2021 to bad results, but can still be good third-string depth for the Jets.

Given all these options, I'd very much like the Jets to get either two guys from the second tier or one guy from the upper tier, but I can understand not wanting to grab a guy from each tier with the resources that they'd have in the draft to potentially find more long term fits for this offense.

Draft Options

Now let's look at the draft options. I'm not looking at any first-tier options since I said I want to take Neal and don't think I'd be comfortable with spending a 1st round pick on Tyler Linderbaum (I might be willing to take him if the Jets trade back in the first and have a great free agency period, maybe) after already drafting Neal to play RG in my hypothetical scenario, so I don't think drafting another IOL in the first three rounds would be a good idea. So, I'm limiting my scope to only look at options that are currently expected to go on day three.

Thayer Munford, Age 22, Ohio State

Munford is a guy that has spent a lot of time along the Ohio State offensive line, which is usually among the best in college football. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore at LT in 2018 and proceeded to play every game in 2019 and 2020 at that spot. After a few games at LT in 2021, though, the Buckeyes moved him to LG (then back to LT for the Rose Bowl), where he had a solid season on the interior (especially as a run blocker).

He only missed one game due to injury (the 2018 Rose Bowl; he missed two games in 2021 due to COVID-19), demonstrating durability as well as quality play against Big Ten opponents. He was not great as a pass-blocker in 2021 (only a 66.1 grade), but he was generally good as a pass-blocker in the years prior and has never been worse than average. Given his relative inexperience as a guard, he probably needs to be developed as a backup for at least one year, which would fit my overall plan for having Neal play RG year one, but there may be teams out there that view him as a tackle and could draft him that way.

The Jets would likely need to spend a 4th round pick to get him, though he could be available later. He apparently declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, so he likely won't be able to do much to boost his stock while others around his current stock have the opportunity to rise up the board. If that happens, maybe the Jets could afford to wait until the 5th round, but right now, a 4th round selection feels about right. He's a player that will likely need some time to acclimate to playing on the interior at the next level, so he might even need to be a third-string guard in his rookie year, but if he develops into a starting guard in year two or year three, it would be worth the 4th round pick.

Cole Strange, Age 24, Chattanooga

Strange has spent the majority of his snaps for the Mocs playing at LG, though he's a guy that hasn't played much in the last few years. He only played in 4 games of the FCS spring season due to COVID-19 and 3 games of the 2019 due to injury. He played full seasons in 2018 and 2017, though that was a long time ago. He played in 10 of 11 games in the 2021 season, spending 2 of those games at LT and the rest at LG.

He's never played on the right side in his collegiate career and has only spent three of his games at another position than LG; it's entirely possible that being a backup LG is his ceiling in the NFL. After all, it's not like he was playing the best of competition in the FCS Southern Conference. However, Strange will have the opportunity at the Senior Bowl (on the Jets' team) to matchup against other NFL prospects; they could choose to test both his abilities as a blocker and his versatility along the line in the same game. If they like what they see from him, they could take a chance on him like they did for Cameron Clark in 2020.

The Jets would likely have to spend a 5th round pick to get Strange, though his stock could rise at the Senior Bowl up to the tail end of the 3rd round. Without much proven versatility or play against NFL prospects, though, it remains a serious risk to take him, no matter where he's projected to go on draft night. He's demonstrated good play against opponents in his conference, but he needs to do more to get that way in the NFL.

James Empey, Age 24-25, BYU

There's some appeal for me in having Zach Wilson's former college snapper possibly get to block for him again in the NFL. Empey has been the Cougars' starting center each of the last three years and has graded at least in the top 25% among centers by PFF's metrics in that time. He likely isn't going to be NFL-ready in year one (and McGovern is still under contract right now, so he wouldn't need to be), but the Jets might be able to turn him into their starting center in the following years.

You do have to factor in injury concerns with him. He missed 4 games in 2020 and 6 games in 2021; I don't know what type of injuries he suffered or their severities, but if his 2021 lower-body injury is enough to cause concern over his 2022 health status, we'll find out about it at the combine. Right now, I'm assuming that he would be able to play in 2022 if needed.

The Jets would likely need to spend one of their 5th round picks to draft Empey, or trade back into the 6th to do it, as he is currently projected to go in the middle of the 6th round. He won't have much of an opportunity to boost his stock (frankly, doing nothing between now and the draft is probably his best bet), so it's just a matter of whether or not you'd be willing to take a chance on him for his prior injuries playing as an FBS independent.

Bonus Options in the 2022 Draft

The Jets should also seek to bring in at least one UDFA guard or center to round out the room and compete for practice squad spots with the guys on futures contracts. Heck, maybe there's a guy who the Jets might draft that could turn into a starter, like how Greg Van Roten became a starter for the Panthers after being undrafted. There are some guys in this class that I would like to explore should they hit UDFA status.

One of the guys I'd like to bring in Brock Hoffman of Virginia Tech, and that makes my one Hokie per list. He's played both center and some guard in his years in college, though since he doesn't play in a comparable scheme, he might project best as a center in the Jets offense. I would also swing on Doug Nester of West Virginia... who transferred there from Virginia Tech (okay, that's like 1.5 Hokies in this outlook). He played guard at both positions in his college career, and he was pretty good once he settled in at C at West Virginia, so I like his positional versatility. Finally, I'd give Ben Petrula from Boston College a chance. He's a local product from Freehold, NJ that has played right tackle, right guard and center in five years in college; chances are he'd be able to play at least one of those positions in the NFL, right?

My Preference

On the guys on the roster, I'd retain McGovern for certain and ask Van Roten to take a pay cut to the veteran minimum $1.1 million with maybe a quarter of it guaranteed. If he refuses, he's a fairly easy cut for no dead cap, given how much of the fanbase has given up on him. I'd hold on to Clark through the start of the preseason but I'd have no qualms about waiving him if he can't make the cut.

Since my plan is to have Neal play RG in his first year, I'm not actively pursuing any of the guys from the first tier. From the second tier, I'd first ask Duvernay-Tardif about his plans for the 2022 season and pursue him first if he's interested in returning on a low-money deal. If he's not going to be playing, I'd thank him for his service to the medical world and pursue Austin Blythe instead.

In the draft, I'd like to bring in one of the guys, though I'm not totally certain that I'd be ready to invest a 4th in either Munford or Strange at this time, so I might lean more toward Empey if he's the only one of the three available in the 5th round. If all three are available in the 5th, though, I'd probably lean Munford pending the Senior Bowl.

The Jets need to get better play out of their guards in 2022 and at least the same from their center, so a lot of these combinations could accomplish that. You can grab new starting components and developmental pieces this offseason that could be here for the long haul.

Okay, now that I'm done with the outlook on offense, I'm going to take a bit of a break from this series and do something different for my next post.

Please retire, Tom. You just lost to Matt Stafford in the playoffs.

Thanks for reading if you've made it this far.

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