Over the next month, we're going to take a brief and early look at some of the potential solutions that could provide offseason upgrades for the Jets in each position. Today, we begin with a look at the offensive tackle position:
The Jets probably need to bring in a youngster that they can develop into a future starter, but are probably set for next year with Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell the favorites to retain their starting roles.
Beachum has a $9.5 million cap number in 2018, almost half of which is guaranteed. He did a good job in pass protection last year, so that's probably enough to keep him in the role. Shell has shown progress since being drafted last year and represents good value as he is still on his rookie deal.
Beyond that, though, there's not much depth. Ben Ijalana is a probable cap casualty, Brent Qvale is a restricted free agent and Korren Kirven is a long term project at best.
While the Jets clearly need to upgrade on the offensive line, the need is probably greater on the interior and especially at center.
Bearing in mind that some of the pending free agents won't even hit the open market because they'll just re-up with their current team, there doesn't seem to be many attractive propositions out there.
There's several 2017 starters whose contracts are set to expire, including guys like Greg Robinson, Andre Smith and Donald Stephenson. However, virtually all of these guys graded out even worse than Beachum, Shell and Qvale did in 2017.
It seems unlikely, therefore, that the Jets will target any of these guys, as they'd end up being forced to pay starter money for someone who might not even earn a role.
An alternative might be to raid their divisional rivals, as New England has a trio of tackles whose contracts expire at the end of the season.
Nate Solder, who recently turned 30, is at the sort of age where Bill Belichick might cast him aside rather than giving him a big money deal and being stuck with him for any length of time after he has peaked. Based on this season, he's already trending that way, as he's given up pressure at almost double the rate that he has in the past.
Part of that may be down to the fact that Tom Brady has been holding the ball for longer this year with the added downfield threat that Brandin Cooks has brought to the team. However, there's always a concern that an offensive lineman's pass protection numbers might look artificially better than they otherwise would if they're protecting an experienced veteran who anticipates pressure well and gets rid of the ball or steps up to avoid it at the key moments.
If Solder ends up blocking for a youngster with undeveloped pocket presence next year, his pass protection numbers could get dramatically worse. The same applies to his younger teammates - Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle - each of whom started games this year, but are probably more likely to be targets for teams who need to add depth, not starters. Of the two, Fleming was easily the more effective in his limited action.
One of the more attractive pending free agents that does seem likely to hit the market is Chris Hubbard of the Steelers. He was their third tackle but had to fill in at both tackle spots this year, mostly at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert. In all, he started 10 games and held up well for the most part. He'll be looking for a big payday and starter money in March.
Looking across-town, the Giants' woeful offensive line isn't the most obvious place to find some upgrades, but Justin Pugh will feature on many lists of the top free agent tackles. However, he's been playing mostly at guard and a review of his splits reveals that he grades out much better when on the inside.
One Giant to keep an eye on is beleaguered former first round pick Ereck Flowers. While he's had an awful career so far, he showed some marginal improvements last season. The current buzz is that he'll be back for 2018 but his situation is reminiscent of Wayne Hunter in 2012. Hunter unexpectedly returned to the Jets after a torrid 2011 campaign, but immediately struggled in camp and preseason and was ultimately traded.
Flowers seems to fit the profile of the sort of player Mike Maccagnan has targeted in the past, so if the price drops it could be the sort of reclamation project he would take a low-cost flyer on. You'd imagine that would have to be for depth and upside rather than relied upon to start, though.
Finally, a couple of potential cap casualties could be Donald Penn or Ju'wuan James. Penn signed an extension last year, but came in for a lot of criticism despite grading out well for the most part. Only $3 million of his $17.5 million over the next two years is guaranteed and there are roster bonuses coming due. James is more of a long-term solution who had a good 2017 season, but the Dolphins might be tempted to pocket a cap saving of over $9 million by letting him go before his fifth-year option kicks in.
Based on their need for depth and a long-term starting option, but not an immediate fill-in, drafting a tackle would seem to be a good idea. However, Mike Maccagnan's philosophy in the past has been to wait until the later round to address the offensive line.
Having said that, the team did reportedly seek to trade up for Laremy Tunsil in the draft a few years ago, suggesting they would have interest in a top end tackle prospect.
Whether there's one in the draft is questionable though. Connor Williams has the best film, but might turn a few teams off with his less-than-ideal length. The versatile Isaiah Wynn's stock is rising after some impressive performances, but he too suffers from a lack of length. Orlando Brown and Mike McGlinchey come with big reputations but there are concerns about how well they'll deal with NFL-level speed rushers.
Maybe the team will look to select a tackle with high upside later on and try to groom them for a role in 2018.
How would you approach this position? Is there anyone out there you'd target who we didn't mention? Let's have your thoughts in the comments.