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By: Stefan Stelling
New York Jets GM Joe Douglas needs to pull out a move from five years ago
Douglas’ tenure can only be described as a mixed bag. His greatest successes are matched by massive failures. The stellar 2022 draft class and strong free agent signings like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin are balanced by the failed 2020 draft class and poor signings like Laken Tomlinson and Dalvin Cook.
Because of Douglas’ struggles to solidify the offensive line, the Jets find themselves needing two or three new starters on the unit as he enters his fifth full season with the team.
It starts with poor drafting. Douglas’ first draft pick, Mekhi Becton, has not panned out and is likely leaving in free agency. Outside of Alijah Vera-Tucker, who has had season-ending injuries in two of three seasons, Douglas has not found any long-term offensive line starters in the draft.
Free agency is arguably worse. Douglas signed numerous veterans, including Connor McGovern, Morgan Moses, George Fant, Laken Tomlinson, Greg Van Roten, and Duane Brown, but the majority of them disappointed. There is a chance that none of them will be on the team in 2024.
So, the Jets need multiple starters – as well as depth – but they are 20th in cap space at $7.6 million, per Spotrac, and they also have the 10th-least valuable collection of picks in this year’s draft, per Tankathon. More concerningly, their general manager hasn’t shown he can effectively scout offensive linemen.
What are they to do?
One option could land the Jets a quality starter without breaking the bank or needing a premium draft pick: Make a trade.
It’s a move Douglas made in his very first year with the Jets, and now is the time to pull it back out.
Jets need to revisit the 2019 Alex Lewis trade
When Douglas arrived in 2019, free agency and the draft had already passed and there weren’t many options to improve the team. Douglas did some of his best bargain hunting this year as he would claim defensive end John Franklin-Myers and wide receiver Braxton Berrios off waivers. However, I’m focusing on a different move from Douglas’ first year.
The Jets traded a conditional seventh-round pick for Ravens guard Alex Lewis, who was expected to be cut later that day. Lewis was a fourth-round pick in 2016 who had started 18 games for the Ravens but struggled with injuries. He would quickly enter the Jets’ starting lineup and ended up starting 12 games in 2019, playing fairly well. Lewis earned a respectable contract extension before injuries ended his career.
While injuries prevented this from being a home run, the benefit is still clear. For a non-guaranteed seventh-round pick, the Jets got a starting offensive lineman.
Trades like this have become increasingly common for guards. Shaq Mason was named to PFF’s All-Pro team in 2018 and 2021 but was traded for a Day 3 pick twice, first for a fifth-round pick in 2022 and again in 2023 swapping a seventh for a sixth. This was all before turning 30 and despite playing at least 13 games every season.
Ezra Cleveland was only 25 and had started 45 straight games for the Vikings but was traded for a sixth-round pick at the 2023 trade deadline.
Veteran guards have become increasingly easy to acquire in a league that continues to emphasize tackles and the passing game. And as the Jets’ roster stands now, there is a need at guard.
Few players on the Jets impact the team’s offseason plan more than Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. Currently penciled in as the Jets’ starting guards, both players may end up elsewhere for different reasons.
Tomlinson is a cut candidate after two disappointing seasons in New York. Tomlinson signed a three-year, $40 million contract but hasn’t been close to the player he was with the 49ers. The Jets restructured his contract, increasing his dead cap to almost $11 million in 2024, but they can still recoup $8 million in cap savings if they cut him, which is enough to upgrade at the position.
However, Douglas showed an unwillingness to cut players in 2023 so it’s far from guaranteed. The Jets pushed $11 million of Carl Lawson’s contract into 2024 and beyond only to have him active for six games. Maybe they learned their lesson.
The questions regarding Vera-Tucker are very different. It’s uncertain where Vera-Tucker will be lining up this year, as the 2021 first-round pick has been excellent at both guard and tackle. Vera-Tucker started the season opener at guard in all three of his NFL seasons (LG in 2021, RG in 2022-23), but with both of their starting tackles heading to free agency, the Jets could ask him to switch to tackle full-time.
Which position he’ll play isn’t the only question regarding Vera-Tucker that needs to be answered.
After back-to-back season-ending injuries, there are concerns about his availability. Vera-Tucker started 16 of 17 games as a rookie (with the only missed game due to COVID-19) and didn’t have injury issues in college. But in the two years since, he has missed 10 games in 2022 with a torn triceps and 12 games in 2023 with a torn Achilles. Both injuries are atypical, but it raises concerns about his availability moving forward, especially the Achilles.
Exactly which spots the Jets must address will depend on their decisions with Tomlinson and Vera-Tucker, but no matter how it plays out, there are going to be multiple starting spots open on the offensive line. It’ll be up to Joe Douglas to determine the best course of action to rebuild the unit.
Resources are tight, but winning teams find ways to get the job done. Scanning the market for a trade would be a great way for the Jets to find value despite their lack of cap space and draft capital.
Douglas was able to get a starting lineman for a late-round draft pick in 2019. Ever since then, he hasn’t gone back to the trade market for a veteran starting offensive lineman – not in the offseason, at least. His only other trade for a veteran offensive lineman was his mid-season deal for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in 2021, giving up tight end Daniel Brown.
Now is the perfect time for Douglas to dive back into the trade market and see if he can get another starting lineman for good value.
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Originally posted on Jets XFactor