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No matter the QB, Jets need to find someone to protect him

INDIANAPOLIS — While the identity of the Jets starting quarterback in 2023 remains a mystery, general manager Joe Douglas needs to figure out who will be protecting that mystery QB.

If the team was not in the market for a quarterback, offensive tackle is the position we’d all be talking about right now. The position is an interesting puzzle for the Jets thanks to free agency, a potential retirement, players returning from injuries and a former first-round pick trying to get his career back on track.

“We have a lot of moving pieces — in season, too,” Douglas said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “That’s definitely a position where we’d like to create more stability and continuity, especially with the injuries we sustained last year.

“As I’ve said before, O line/D line are going to be a high priority for us, always. If there’s an opportunity to upgrade tackle, center, guard, D-tackle, D-end, we’re always going to look at doing that.”

General manager, Joe Douglas of the New York Jets speaks to reporters during the NFL Draft Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on March 2, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas said creating some stability along the offensive line would be a priority for the team this offseason.
Getty Images

But few positions caused more headaches last season than offensive tackle, almost from the start. It was early in training camp when Mekhi Becton, a 2020 first-round pick, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Duane Brown, who was signed after Becton’s injury, then hurt his shoulder in practice before the first game. George Fant, who played both left and right tackle, battled balky knees. Rookie Max Mitchell had a knee injury and then had his season end after a blood clot scare.

The Jets likely will draft another offensive tackle, possibly in the first round. Then, they can go with either Becton or Mitchell on the other side. But that’s on paper. Before any decisions are made, let’s take a look at each of the Jets tackles from last season and where they fit in 2023:

Mekhi Becton

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Jets offensive tackle Mekhi Becton speaks to the media in Florham Park, NJ.
Mekhi Becton has impressed Jets decision-makers with a newfound commitment to being around the team and a slimmer physique.
Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

Becton is a fascinating player. He dominated at times as a rookie when he was healthy. But he has only played one game in the last two years, which makes it hard for the Jets to just pencil him as a starter at this point.

But Becton has impressed the Jets with his commitment of late. He changed agents and it has made a difference. He stayed in New Jersey and has been diligent about his nutrition and workouts, according to sources. Becton has even posted photos to social media that show his slimmed-down physique.

“In terms of Mekhi being able to be a starter, I think for any of you guys that were here in the 2020 season you saw what a healthy Mekhi can do on the football field and how dominant of a player he was early in his rookie year,” Douglas said. “Unfortunately, the last two years have been frustrating from an injury standpoint. But I can tell you that Mekhi’s in as good of a place now as I’ve seen him in a long time. He’s working his tail off and he wants to be the best player he can be for the New York Jets.”

A healthy Becton could be a difference-maker for the Jets.

Max Mitchell

Jets offensive tackle Max Mitchell (61) at practice in Florham Park, NJ.
Max Mitchell showed a lot of promise early in his rookie season before a series fo health issues ended his rookie season early.
Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

Mitchell, a fourth-round pick in 2022, was forced into the starting lineup before the Jets ever expected him to play. He started the first four games of the season at right tackle and impressed the coaches. Mitchell then went down with a knee injury in Week 4. He returned nearly two months later before a blood clot issue ended his season.

Mitchell is doing well, Douglas said on Tuesday, and is expected to make a full recovery before the season.

I foresee the Jets having a competition at tackle that involves Becton and Mitchell and possibly a rookie they draft. It could be three players fighting for two spots.

Duane Brown

Duane Brown #71 of the New York Jets in action during the first half against the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium on December 18, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Duane Brown won the admiration of the Jets’ front office with his willingness to play with an injured shoulder, but at age 37, it’s unclear if he wants to play again.
Getty Images

When the Jets signed the 37-year-old Brown in August to play left tackle, the feeling was it would be a one-year marriage, but the Jets gave him a two-year contract. They can get out of the deal easily, but Douglas indicated Tuesday that they may want Brown back. Brown played with a severe shoulder injury that required surgery after the season. It is possible that Brown may want to retire, but Douglas said the team and Brown have not had any talks about his future.

“I haven’t had those discussions,” Douglas said. “I don’t think coach has had those discussions with Duane yet. Obviously, for him to do what he did last year, to play with the injury that he played with … I don’t think we can find a documented tackle that played with the injury that he had for an entire year. It’s a special thing. I know we hold him in very high regard as a person and a player. We’ll let him recover a little bit and we’ll have those discussions as the offseason progresses.”

To me, it would be a surprise if Brown is back. As mentioned above, this always felt like a one-year arrangement, and the Jets would save about $5 million in salary cap space if they released Brown.

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George Fant

Jets offensive tackle George Fant (76) at practice in Florham Park, NJ.
Penciled in as the starter at left tackle last season, George Fant was limited to eight games because of an ongoing knee condition.
Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

At this time last year, Fant was the projected starter at left tackle. There were even discussions about an extension. But Fant struggled to stay healthy in 2022 and he has a chronic knee condition that severely hindered him. Fant is a free agent and the Jets will surely let him go.

What’s next

I don’t think the Jets will sign a free-agent tackle, but it should be their top target in the NFL Draft. They could use the 13th overall pick on Ohio State’s Paris Johnson, Georgia’s Broderick Jones, Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski or Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison.

Douglas has drafted offensive linemen in the first round in two of his first three drafts with the Jets. It could happen again this year.

Zach to the future

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson #2, on the sidelines after he was removed from the game in the 4th quarter.
The Jets don’t appear ready to cut ties with Zach Wilson after his lackluster second season.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The quarterback search is fascinating, but so is what the Jets do with their last quarterback savior. The club has been adamant about keeping Zach Wilson. There is no doubt he will be on the roster. But in what capacity? Is he the backup? Do the Jets bump him down to third on the depth chart, basically putting him on ice?

How Wilson reacts to the Jets signing a veteran will be something to watch. In January, he said he was going to make life “hell” for a new quarterback during practice. If it is Aaron Rodgers, his childhood idol, does that change how he feels? If Rodgers bails on OTAs, does Wilson get the first-team reps?

The Wilson story will be a big one. Even with all that happened last season, Douglas praised Wilson on Tuesday.

“I know in talking with Nathaniel [Hackett] and Todd [Downing] and our staff, they’re so excited to get with Zach and start working,” Douglas said. “I know they’ve had some positive discussions.

“Again, our stance on Zach hasn’t changed. We feel like Zach has a very high ceiling. Obviously, the first two years haven’t played out the way anybody hoped, but we still feel like there’s a very high ceiling with Zach. In my time in the league, I’ve found when players love this game and when players work their tails off, they usually hit their ceiling. So, I feel like Zach definitely has those traits. I still feel strongly that Zach’s going to be able to hit his ceiling.”

Stat’s so

Don Maynard #13 of the New York Jets is dragged down by Jim Marsalis #40 of the Kansas City Chiefs during and NFL football game at Shea Stadium circa 1969 in the Queens borough of New York City. Maynard played for the Jets from 1960-72.
Garrett Wilson will need to bank on a long career in green and white if he hopes to pass Don Maynard for the Jets team record in receiving yards.
Getty Images

Garrett Wilson won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award after a brilliant first season for the Jets. Wilson had 1,103 receiving yards, becoming the first Jet since 2015 with 1,000 yards receiving in a season. How high can Wilson climb on the Jets’ all-time receiving list? He still has a long way to go. Here are the top 10 in career receiving yards in Jets history:

1. Don Maynard (1960-72): 11,732 yards, 88 TDs
2. Wesley Walker (1977-89): 8,306 yards, 71 TDs
3. Wayne Chrebet (1995-2005): 7,365 yards, 41 TDs
4. Al Toon (1985-92): 6,605 yards, 31 TDs
5. Laveranues Coles (2000-02, 2005-08): 5,941 yards, 37 TDs
6. George Sauer (1965-70): 4,965 yards, 28 TDs
7. Mickey Shuler (1978-89): 4,819 yards, 37 TDs
8. Jerome Barkum (1972-83): 4,789 yards, 40 TDs
9. Jerricho Cotchery (2004-10): 4,514 yards, 18 TDs
10. Rich Caster (1970-77): 4,434 yards, 36 TDs

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By: Ny Post



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