The New York Jets have quite a few unsettled starting jobs heading towards the 2021 season, but one important battle will be at right guard.
Cohesion is crucial when building an offensive line, and the Jets have not had much over the past five to 10 years. Joe Douglas has made this unit a priority since landing the general manager position but finding a stout front five that sticks together long-term can be challenging.
Even so, he’s off to a great start with Connor McGovern at center, Mekhi Becton at left tackle and Alijah Vera-Tucker at left guard. Free-agent pick-up George Fant has also held his own at right tackle, leaving one glaring weak spot.
The Man to Beat
Six-year NFL professional Greg Van Roten is definitely the man to beat right now, but it kind of feels like the Jets are hoping somebody can get it done.
You see, Van Roten is only making an affordable $3.632 million in 2021, but the guaranteed cap hit is a slim $250,000 if they choose to release him.
The ex-Green Bay Packer and Carolina Panther is no stranger to the roster bubble. He actually spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League from 2014-16, before working his way back to a starting role in Carolina.
Van Roten then signed with New York in 2020, starting 13 games at right guard at a 76% snap share. Now 31-years of age, the veteran plays a clean game, but a lackluster one.
He has only been charged with one penalty since becoming a starter in 2018 according to Pro Football Reference. Van Roten also allowed three sacks in 2020 and was sub-par as a run blocker. Pro Football Focus graded him out at an average mark of 63.0.
For all the criticism he gets, Van Roten was actually an improvement on penalty-machine Brian Winters, who manned the Jets’ right guard slot for five years and shared the left guard position for two. Winters had 33 career penalties with Gang Green, which makes his lengthy tenure remarkable, and not in a good way.
At the same time, Van Roten is a band-aid at best. The Jets’ long-term right guard has yet to be found.
There are two possible replacements on the roster that are actually carrying a higher cap hit than Van Roten, 2020 left guard Alex Lewis and free-agent acquisition Dan Feeney.
Lewis was replaced by Vera-Tucker in the draft, and the guard had to agree to restructure his contract just to keep his job. According to NFL Insider Field Yates, Lewis’ new deal drops him alongside Van Roten on the salary chart at a $3 million base salary, except his comes with more guarantees.
Feeney on the other hand has the highest projected cap hit ($4.22 million), including guaranteed money of $1.5 million and a base salary of another $1.5 million upon making the roster.
In terms of talent, the slightly younger Lewis out graded Van Roten in 2020 but was penalized four times. He also allowed zero sacks according to PFF. Keep in mind that he would have to switch to the right side, something he has not done much throughout his career. Vera-Tucker could also fill in on the right side in a “best five available” scenario.
The former Los Angeles Charger, Feeney, has become better known for his off-field antics at hockey games during OTAs than any on-field prowess. He received horrid grades from PFF the past couple of seasons but he does have versatility, which makes him the more likely to back up as a utility man in a pinch.
That leaves two youngsters, 2020 fourth-round pick Cameron Clark and BYU undrafted free agent Tristen Hoge.
Many predicted Clark might make the jump to starter in 2021, but that’s mostly hopeful speculation. The second-year player has yet to establish himself in practice and he’s struggled with the transition from left tackle to guard. Asking Clark to switch to the right side would be yet another hurdle for him to leap before Week 1.
A teammate of Zach Wilson’s in college, Hoge is another fan favorite to win the job. NFL scouting had the BYU right guard as a drive blocker that’s balanced and strong. His weak spot is his lateral movement and athleticism, however, which could be a problem in this Mike LaFleur outside-run system, or against NFL pass-rushers.
Options in Free Agency
If anyone can find a starter in this group, it’s new offensive line coach John Benton, who had tremendous success in San Francisco and Houston.
Sometimes the talent just isn’t there though. If that’s the case in camp, two big-time options are available in free agency; Morgan Moses and Trai Turner.
Moses has been linked to the Jets for weeks, but a deal has yet to emerge. If he did sign with NYJ, it would be interesting to see how Benton and LaFleur fit the puzzle pieces together.
Fant is the more athletic tackle for this outside-run scheme, but Moses is more reliable in every other aspect. Could one of the two switch to right guard? If so, which one?
Both Moses and Fant would make expensive swing tackles, but the insurance behind Becton would be welcomed considering his injury history.
It’s a fair assumption that a move for either free agent would mean the end of Van Roten as a Jet, even after the recent Jamison Crowder restructuring.
Who would you like to see win the right guard battle in camp, or would you prefer the Jets sign Morgan Moses or Trai Turner to fill the role? Let us know on Facebook @HeavyOnJets, or Twitter @obermuller_nyj and @BoyGreen25.