There are two thought processes for the New York Jets at the center position in 2023.
Obviously, general manager Joe Douglas could target a veteran to pair with presumed quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He could also spend a higher draft pick on a center prospect that could start on day one.
There’s also a scenario where you do both — and a recent trade proposal could make sense from that standpoint. During an article on March 19, Bleacher Report analyst Maurice Moton called Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly a player that “must be traded” before the draft. He also argued that the Jets were the “best team fit” for the long-term NFL starter.
“If Indianapolis is a seller with its starting center on the hook, the New York Jets should bite with an aggressive offer,” Moton urged within the suggestion, although he did not specify what type of draft capital that type of deal would send in return.
Colts Regime Change Could Send Ryan Kelly to Jets
Moton’s main source regarding a Kelly trade was ESPN NFL insider Jeremy Fowler, who revealed the following on March 12:
“Teams that went all-in to contend for a championship [in 2022] now must shed salary. Some of those teams will stay very active on the phones, feeling out potential suitors. The Colts are believed to be one. Sources with several NFL teams say three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly is available for a potential trade or release.”
According to Over the Cap, it would behoove Indy to trade Kelly after June 1 — freeing up over $10.1 million in cap space. Having said that, they could want the draft return to come in 2023, which would mean a pre-June 1 trade or cut.
Either decision would provide the Colts with the same cap relief and dead money — $20.25 million relief and $6.75 million dead over the next two seasons. Obviously, a trade would net something in return, however, making that route more appealing if there are bidders.
“Every year between 2019 and 2021, Kelly earned Pro Bowl honors,” Moton detailed. “In 2020, he made the second-team All-Pro list.” The former first-round pick and Alabama product has also started all 97 of his NFL appearances since 2016 according to Pro Football Reference and has proven to be a well-rounded blocker throughout his career.
“Despite those accolades, the Colts center may be on the trade block with a new offensive coaching staff in place,” Moton reiterated. “Perhaps head coach Shane Steichen and his staff prefer a less costly player at center. Kelly signed a four-year, $49.7 million extension in 2020.”
Should the Jets Trade for Colts Center Ryan Kelly?
The deciding factor on a Kelly trade would likely be return and whether or not the Jets view him as an upgrade in their new system. Considering he’s a candidate to be released, he probably wouldn’t cost more than a mid-to-late round pick in the four-to-six range.
Then there’s the question of form. According to Pro Football Focus, Kelly had very similar numbers to 2022 starter Connor McGovern — with five sacks allowed in pass protection, as well as 25 quarterback pressures. McGovern was charged with five sacks and 24 QB pressures. The pair also received similar grades as run blockers with McGovern about five points higher than Kelly.
Now, this was considered a down year for Kelly inside an injury-ridden offense and it was also a bounce back campaign for McGovern, so don’t take these numbers as the end-all be-all. It would be on Douglas’ staff to determine how much the soon-to-be 30-year-old has left in the tank, and whether or not he fits into offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s new scheme.
Ryan Kelly Trade Could Mesh Well With Draft Pick at Center
Either in 2023 or 2024, a center draft pick could pair well with this Kelly trade — harping back on the scenario where Gang Green hedges their bets and does both.
If Douglas gets Kelly before the draft and on the cheap, a mid-to-late round center could do the trick as a developmental piece behind the veteran. The three-time Pro Bowler is currently under contract for two more seasons, so he could act as the perfect bridge for a youngster during Rodgers’ run as the starting quarterback.
You could also cut Kelly after the 2023 campaign if the prospect appears ready next season. A few candidates that fit the mold in this year’s draft class include Luke Wypler (Ohio State), Steve Avila (TCU), Olusegun Oluwatimi (Michigan), Joe Tippmann (Wisconsin) and Jarrett Patterson (Notre Dame) among others.
Popular center prospect John Michael Schmitz would most likely go too high in this scenario.
Along with Kelly, the Jets have also been linked to former Tennessee Titans veteran Ben Jones, who was released earlier in the offseason and has coaching ties to NYJ newcomers Keith Carter (OL/run game coordinator) and Todd Downing (passing game coordinator). They have already signed G/C Wes Schweitzer and C/G Trystan Colon, replacing free agent departures Nate Herbig (G) and Dan Feeney (C/G).