When Mike Maccagnan was the New York Jets general manager from 2015-2018, the team focused on star-caliber signings all over the field. That is, except for along the offensive line. Maccagnan turned to band-aid signings rather than focusing on the long-term sustainability of the unit. That being said, the new general manager, Joe Douglas, made it clear his focus was to protect Sam Darnold, both now and in the future. Through depth signings and short-term investments, here is how the line will look in 2020.
2020 New York Jets: Interior Offensive Linemen
The Starters: Connor McGovern (C), Alex Lewis (LG), and Greg Van Roten (RG)
Entering the 2019 season, the Jets interior offensive line consisted of Ryan Kalil at center with Kelechi Osemele and Brian Winters joining him as guards. Kalil and Osemele were both former Pro Bowl linemen, and Winters was a consistent starter for years. Now, the Jets have revamped the entire unit. While Winters remains under contract, Greg Van Roten is set to take the right guard job. Coming off of a career year for the Carolina Panthers, Van Roten signed a three-year deal for $10.5 million. Starting 27 games over the past two seasons, he has made his money’s worth through excellent pass blocking.
Joining Van Roten through free agency is former Denver Broncos center/guard Connor McGovern. One of the better centers in the league this past season, McGovern was the biggest addition to the Jets offense via free agency this past off-season. Finishing last season with the fifth-highest pass-blocking grade among centers (per PFF), he will be a drastic improvement from the duo of Ryan Kalil and Jonotthan Harrison.
Last but not least, Osemele’s replacement Alex Lewis stepped in last season and played very well. Acquired from the Baltimore Ravens last year by Douglas, Lewis finished the season with 12 starts in 15 games. The 28-year-old’s performance earned him a new three-year deal this off-season worth upwards of $18 million.
For these reasons, it is likely the trio of Van Roten, Lewis, and McGovern starts for Gang Green this season. It is interesting to note though that while all are on three-year deals, Lewis and Van Roten have potential outs after 2020, with McGovern’s following the 2021 season. Thus, Douglas structured the contracts to provide cap flexibility. If they perform well, he can keep them. If they don’t, he can replace them with little dead cap.
Nothing is more important along an offensive line than chemistry as a unit. Without chemistry and experience playing alongside each other, any unit will struggle. Last off-season, the Jets were unable to establish chemistry until the regular season as injuries prevented the group from getting on the same page. In 2020, the Jets must work to prevent a similar occurrence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the league, this is an issue teams are facing at every position and will need to overcome.
Outside of group chemistry, the Jets interior trio will need to improve their run blocking. Even with star back Le’Veon Bell being joined by Frank Gore and rookie La’Mical Perine, they alone cannot just “do better.” Both Lewis and Van Roten bring great pass-blocking ability but must fix their run blocking inconsistencies. If they cannot, the Jets backs will be in for a long season.
Lastly, the Jets are taking a bit of a risk with their unit. They have solid depth behind them, but their starters are not long-standing starters. McGovern is coming off his first season as a full-time starter and Van Roten is coming off of a season-ending toe injury. The Jets trio is certainly promising, but there are still various questions to answer to be confident in them.
The Backups: Jonotthan Harrison (C/OG) and Brian Winters (RG)
With the new additions along the offensive line, veterans Jonotthan Harrison and Brian Winters take a step back into reserve roles. Harrison was set to take the starting role out of the gate until Kalil came out of retirement. In the end, Harrison made 10 starts last year, with nine at center. Harrison struggled though, finishing with the worst grade among centers in 2019. However, his already established connection with Darnold is great to have in case of injury.
Joining Harrison is one of the longest-tenured Jets in seven-year veteran Brian Winters. The 29-year old right guard has 79 starts in 89 career games, with the past five at right guard. Grading out as the 39th best guard out of 81 last season, Winters is a starting-caliber guard who provides fantastic depth behind Lewis and Van Roten. Entering the final year of his contract, Winters could be cut with no dead cap, saving over $7 million. At the moment, the Jets seem likely to keep Winters on board as an expensive backup.
The Bubble: Josh Andrews (C/OG), Leo Koloamatangi (C), Brad Lundblade (C), James Murray (C), and Ben Braden (OG)
The Jets bubble competitions begin with Josh Andrews, who has the most experience of the group. Having been in the league since 2014, Andrews has never started a game in 25 career contests. Andrews brings the flexibility that Douglas loves in his ability to play center and guard. The same goes for Jimmy Murray, who enters his third season in the league. He only has two games under his belt from his 2018 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he spent time last season on the Jets practice squad.
Leo Koloamatangi, who despite entering his fourth season, has yet to take a regular-season snap. The Hawaii product hopes to finally stick to the roster, like Brad Lundblade. Another practice squad product, Lundblade joins the center competition after spending 2019 on and off the Panthers roster.
Unlike the others, Ben Braden looks to make the roster at guard, rather than center. Braden has spent time on the Jets and Green Bay Packers practice squads since 2017, finishing last year on the Jets active roster. With the potential of Winters’ release, Braden has a strong case as his replacement.
Last Word on the 2020 New York Jets Interior Offensive Linemen
Gang Green’s front was plagued by poor play, injuries, and chemistry issues last season, and that is something that the Jets certainly cannot afford to be replicated. Joe Douglas invested more capital than Maccagan ever did along the line, and now it is up to head coach Adam Gase to get the unit working efficiently. With plenty of depth and flexibility, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Jets keep guys like Harrison or Winters, or turn to those who are unproven on the bubble.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2020 New York Jets Preview series, featuring the offensive tackles.
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