At a glance, the New York Jets’ offensive line has some holes to address. At a closer look, things aren’t so bad.
The career-stalwarts in left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold are locked into their respective positions entering 2014 for better or worse, but the rest of the unit is somewhat fluid.
Let’s start on the outside.
Right tackle Austin Howard is no longer under contract, but the Jets are reportedly trying their best to prevent him from reaching free agency. Howard has made big strides since taking over for the much-maligned Wayne Hunter two years ago, and New York would be best served keeping him around.
According to Pro Football Focus, Howard gave up just two sacks last season, and ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini projected last week that he’ll land a deal in the ballpark of $5-7 million a year, with or without Gang Green.
Right guard Willie Colon, who signed a one-year deal with the Jets last offseason, is also set to hit the open market next week. The Jets are in less of a hurry to lock up the veteran interior lineman, because despite his serviceable output in 2013, he’s coming off a biceps injury and will be 31 next season.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Mangold stands second-year guard Brian Winters. Winters got off to a rough start in his rookie campaign and didn’t really come into his own until late. His strong finish and obvious improvement should make him the leader in the clubhouse for the starting left interior gig, though he’s far from a lock atop the depth chart.
The Jets should have upwards of $40 million in cap space to work with when free agency begins March 11, and assuming they bring back Howard, could ink a solid replacement for Colon and give Winters some legitimate competition with a frugal depth signing.
The versatile Roger Saffold of the St. Louis Rams, as well as Kansas City Chiefs guard and Denver Broncos interior lineman Zane Beadles highlight the upcoming free agency class at their positions, while Travelle Wharton of the Carolina Panthers and Geoff Schwartz of the Chiefs stand as solid replacements, as well.
Re-siging Colon wouldn’t necessarily be a bad move, either, though the Jets would still need to add at least one startable guard, regardless.
Expect the addition(s) to come via free agency. Doing so would give the Jets freedom to focus on the pass-catching department and outside linebacker early in the draft. Geno Smith needs a proven group up front so he can focus on developing rapport with (ideally) his new young squad of wideouts.
Nick St. Denis is the publisher of AFCEastDaily.com. The SUNY Plattsburgh journalism grad spent four years covering the Jets for Scout.com and five years covering preps and collegiate sports for newspapers in New York and Virginia. Follow him on Twitter at @NickStDenis.