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Joe Douglas laid out his blueprint for the Jets on the day he was introduced as the team’s new general manager.
“This is a game of wills, and we’re going to try to build a team that can impose their will on other teams,” Douglas said that day. “To do that, you have to be strong up front, not just the offensive line but the defensive line.”
Two years later, Douglas is still searching for the right ingredients on that offensive line. His latest swing came Friday when the Jets agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent tackle Morgan Moses. That move drew praise from most people, as Moses is an upgrade over George Fant, last year’s starting right tackle. But Moses is 30 years old and was just dumped by Washington.
Adding a big-name veteran has not worked in recent years for the Jets along the line. Douglas’ predecessor, Mike Maccagnan, tried it with a trade for Kelechi Osemele that blew up in the Jets’ faces after just three games in 2019 with injuries and an ensuing dispute. That same year, Douglas lured Ryan Kalil out of retirement with a one-year, $8.4 million contract to play center, and that experiment failed miserably.
Fixing the offensive line has been a top priority for Douglas, but it has proven elusive, partly due to talent and partly due to injury. The Jets have had 17 different starting offensive line combinations over the past two seasons.
Douglas inherited a unit of Osemele, Kelvin Beachum, Jonotthan Harrison, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell. All were gone before the 2020 season when Douglas overhauled the group. He signed Fant (three years, $27.3 million), Connor McGovern (three years, $27 million) and Greg Van Roten (three years, $10.5 million) in free agency in 2020 to join Alex Lewis, whom he acquired in a trade from the Ravens in August 2019 then re-signed after the season.
None of those moves worked out particularly well in their first season, and the Moses signing is an admission that signing Fant was a mistake.
Where it appears Douglas may have struck gold was in the 2020 draft when he selected Mekhi Becton with the No. 11-overall pick. Becton had a strong rookie season with plenty of highlight-reel blocks. He was dominant at times in the run game and played well against some top pass rushers.
The biggest question with Becton is durability. He missed two complete games and large portions of four others with injuries as a rookie. This spring he practiced once before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of OTAs and the minicamp. Becton’s weight is clearly an issue with the team and could be a struggle for him throughout his career.
Even with those questions, Becton looks like he will be a long-term star. The Jets hope they added another one next to him with the pick of guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 14 overall this year. They traded a lot to move up to get Vera-Tucker, hoping that he can play alongside Becton on the left side of the line for the next decade.
The Jets are also hopeful that the new coaching staff can pay dividends along the offensive line.
It has been years since the Jets have had a good offensive line. The days of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold have long been over. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked the Jets’ offensive line as the 29th best in the NFL. It allowed 43 sacks, and the rushing attack was nonexistent.
The scars of seeing Sam Darnold’s development stunted as he ran for his life in many games are fresh for the Jets. Douglas knows the organization can’t do to Zach Wilson what it did to Darnold. That was clearly in the GM’s mind this offseason, and he added playmakers and protection for Wilson while pushing off other priorities (cornerback anyone?) into the future.
Douglas showed he remains committed to getting the offensive line fixed again with the Moses signing, an early-summer bargain move that could pay off big.
It is time for the Jets to begin imposing their will on opponents, as Douglas promised, instead of getting pushed around.
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