The New York Jets need to retool their team in 2024 to become more competitive. No area needs more improving than the offensive line. As of now the only player assured of a roster spot who is a current starter is center Joe Tippmann. Tippman, after a slow start, has begun to turn it around. Tippmann has played snaps at right guard and center while allowing only a single sack.
A player who is going to get a lot of scrutiny is left guard Laken Tomlinson. Tomlinson came to the Jets in 2022 on a 3 year/$40 million contract after a stellar year with the San Francisco 49ers. Tomlinson had a solid year pass blocking in 2022, but his run blocking was awful. This year his run blocking has improved slightly, but his pass blocking has fallen off a cliff. In 2022 Tomlinson allowed just one sack, had just one penalty, and allowed a total of 32 quarterback pressures on 1,110 snaps. This year Tomlinson has allowed 5 sacks, had 2 penalties and allowed 35 quarterback pressures in 514 passing snaps.
Some of this poor play can be attributed to the constant changing of players around him due to injury or poor play. Still, the eye test shows he has struggled. At times his feet seem to be stuck in mud. To his credit Tomlinson has played every offensive snap, which is a far cry from the rest of the line. With the Jets’ carousel at the quarterback position, it is difficult to know how your quarterback will react to blitzes and stunts. If you don’t know where your quarterback likes to move in certain situations, then it’s difficult to understand where to move your opponent to. Defenses are going to pressure quarterbacks, you can’t completely stop that, but you can protect your quarterback better if you understand where your quarterback is going to be.
Still, Tomlinson’s play has slipped. Has it slipped enough to make him expendable? What are the pros and cons of the Tomlinson situation?
1) Tomlinson is a warrior of sorts.
Laken Tomlinson has played over 1,000 NFL snaps every year since 2017, and he is on pace to do the same this year. Some players seem to get injured or have a problem every year. You can call it bad luck or something else, but the old adage “the best ability is availability” rings true more times than not. In a vortex of players in and out of the lineup, Tomlinson has been a rock.
Tomlinson has started to get familiarity with presumed 2024 starting center Joe Tippmann. Offensive lines need cohesion. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes game time plays, in different situations, under stress to forge a bond with the player next to you. Once you develop some consistency you have more confidence. Confident offensive linemen are more likely to attack rather than just brace for the onslaught. A unified offensive line can be the hallmark of an offense, especially without a standout QB. If you want a great running game you need a unified offensive line. Breece Hall has the talent to be a top 3 type running back in the NFL. A great offensive line would allow him to be that. That threat would also do wonders for the passing game, no matter who the quarterback is.
3) Tomlinson’s best years could be just ahead of him
Tomlinson will enter the 2024 season as a seasoned 32 year old offensive guard. Many players his size, at 6’ 3” 330 lbs+, get better with age, especially in their early 30’s. I don’t know what it is but these large men who have been healthy (no major injuries for Tomlinson) tend to reach their peak in those years. I truly believe that the next three years could be the best years in Tomlinson’s career, and he has had some very good years with the 49ers.
4) The Jets have limited assets to change the entire offensive line
The Jets will enter the 2024 off season with only two picks in the first two days of the 2024 NFL draft. They have five total picks, with two 4th round selections and a 6th as well. They may get as many as three compensatory picks, but they are likely to be, at best, a 6th and two 7th round selections. The good news is teams are now allowed to trade compensatory picks, so that does give them some flexibility.
The Jets, as of now, are only $16,706,634 under the projected 2024 salary cap. To make matters worse, that cap space is for the 41 players currently under contract in 2024. The salary cap total in season is for the 53 players on the roster, including the incoming draft class, plus any dead money caused by cutting or trading players, plus the salary needed to field a 16 man practice squad, so the Jets will be adding substantially to their cap figures by the time the 2024 season rolls around. They will, however, be able to increase cap space by be cutting or trading players, as well as by restructuring or extending contracts.
1) Tomlinson’s salary cap hit
Laken Tomlinson has one of the highest salary cap figures on the team. The highest salaries are usually reserved for quarterbacks, wide receivers, edge rushers, left tackles, and team leaders like C.J. Mosley or other high profile players. Offensive guards are not usually near the top of the list. Tomlinson has a cap hit of $18,880,00 for 2024, and he has three voidable years attached to that for an additional $4,860,000. If the Jets release or trade Tomlinson that voidable years cap hit is due this year.
If the Jets release Tomlinson, that $4,860,000 is added to the 2024 salary cap as dead money. Even if the Jets were to re-sign Tomlinson that same year, the voidable years would all still be due in 2024. If the Jets release or trade Tomlinson by June 1, 2024, the dead money hit is $10,740,00 plus the $4,860,000 for a $15,600,000 cap hit, saving $3,280,000 from the 2024 cap. If he is traded or released after June 1, 2024, his cap hit for 2024 would be $10,740,000. The Jets would save $8,140,000 on the cap in 2024 in this scenario, though that $8,140,000 would not disappear. It would just be deferred to later years.
2) Tomlinson may ask the Jets to trade him
This is a possibility since the Jets signed Tomlinson from the San Francisco 49ers. Tomlinson was used to playing for a quality organization. He knew Robert Saleh and he trusted Robert Saleh, but things have not worked out like Tomlinson might have wished.
Tomlinson is going to be 32 years old this year. He views himself as a top-level player on a team with some stability. He hasn’t had that with the Jets. He may wish to move on to greener pastures. Tomlinson had a chance to win a Super Bowl, but it disappeared in the fourth quarter to a Kansas City Chiefs comeback. He may be looking for a ring, so he may hope to move on while he has some good years left.
3) The Jets may not value him as much as others
The Jets may have a change of heart. They may feel they can get better production from another player. Also, you never know how the locker room is working. Players who seem to be a problem (and there is no evidence I know of to say Tomlinson is a problem) are jettisoned early and often. For whatever reason the Jets could decide to go in another direction and save some salary cap on the way.
4) The Jets trade Tomlinson for draft considerations
The Jets have a single pick in each of the first two days of the 2024 NFL draft, with a first round pick and a third round pick. You can’t make much of a difference with two picks in the first three rounds.
The 2024 NFL draft has more talented offensive line prospects than the last two years combined, and I may be understating that fact. When so much talent is amassed in a single position, some players at that position will typically fall in the draft. If you have the picks you can find gold in the middle rounds.
The Jets need offensive line help. Laken Tomlinson may offer the best way to increase their draft possibilities while lowering a substantial problem with the salary cap.
I have been too critical of Laken Tomlinson’s play this season. He’s had a troubling year, but some of it is not his fault. I think this just shows how a quality player can be dragged down by a losing team. All of us have no idea what these men are put through on a weekly basis during a grueling 17 game season.
I think the money factor has something to do with the disdain we have for players. Many of us would crawl on broken glass for miles to help our families achieve financial independence. Yet when you have a contract that pays you very well, you don’t think about it when you are working as hard as you can to win, without much success. It can wear a person down mentally, especially when other teams and players are doing so well. In addition, every year you make big money makes you less inclined to work to your highest level when your team is losing every week.
I think Tomlinson is a professional who wants success for his team as well as himself. You could replace him with someone cheaper, but the cap savings are not going to be all that large when all is said and done.
My guess, and I would probably do the same thing, is that Joe Douglas will give Tomlinson a new contract this year. He may restructure Tomlinson’s contract for maybe $15 million a year for the next 3 years with $25 million Guaranteed, which should get it done. By doing so he can save cap space in 2024 while at the same time cementing Tomlinson and Tippmann as starters in 2024.
This would leave only three open spots on the offensive line for 2024.
What would you do?
What to do with Laken Tomlinson?
This poll is closed
1) cut him after June 1st and save the cap space
2) Trade him for a draft pick
3) keep him at his current salary
4) Keep him but restructure the contract
5) I have no idea