Joe Douglas delivered his mantra the day he was introduced as the Jets’ general manager in June 2019.
“This is a game of wills and we’re going to try to build a team that can impose their will on other teams,” he said that day. “To do that, you have to be strong up front, not just the offensive line, but the defensive line.”
Nearly two years later, though, the Jets offensive line remains a major question mark. Douglas has worked on the defensive line this offseason and strengthened the unit, led by Quinnen Williams, with the additions of Carl Lawson at defensive end and Sheldon Rankins at tackle. On the offensive side, Douglas has added just Dan Feeney to a unit that struggled again last season.
Feeney is a guard/center who will surely get the chance to win a starting job in training camp, but is no sure thing.
Douglas remade the offensive line last offseason, with five different Week 1 starters than the year before. Of that group, only rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton shows long-term promise. The Jets remain high on right tackle George Fant and they feel center Connor McGovern played better toward the end of last season after dealing with a hamstring injury early in the year.
The Jets knew, when the offseason began, that they needed an upgrade at guard after Greg Van Roten and Alex Lewis both disappointed last year. The problem for Douglas is there was only one top guard available, former Patriot Joe Thuney. The Chiefs signed Thuney to a five-year, $80 million contract. The Jets, with questions at quarterback and a 10-year playoff drought, would have had to blow that contract out of the water to lure Thuney away from Patrick Mahomes and a team that has been in the Super Bowl each of the past two seasons.
Once Thuney was off the board, the Jets’ options were limited. Feeney is a low-risk signing (one year, $3.5 million). He could beat out Van Roten or Lewis in training camp or serve as a backup at guard and center.
Douglas has more work to do with the line, and that will come in the draft. It appears the Jets will use their first pick, the second overall, on quarterback Zach Wilson out of BYU. But Douglas could use the team’s second first-round pick (No. 23 overall) or their second-round pick (No. 34) on the line. Some candidates who could be available at those spots are: USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw, Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins, Notre Dame tackle Liam Eichenberg, Michigan tackle Jalen Mayfield and Oklahoma center/guard Creed Humphrey.
If the Jets draft a tackle, they could either play him at guard to start or move Fant inside.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Jets’ line 29th in the league last year. One thing the Jets are counting on is an improvement in coaching at the position. They struggled mightily against twists, stunts and blitzes over the past two years, with a number of different players in there. The front office feels new offensive line coach John Benton can make a difference.
With a new quarterback possibly on the way, the Jets need to improve their line or it won’t matter who is under center.