FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The old general manager tried to make it better with a big trade, acquiring former Pro Bowl guard Kelechi Osemele. The new general manager took a swing at it, too, convincing former Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to leave his SoCal beach life and come out of retirement.
The New York Jets now have the third-highest paid offensive line at $45.4 million (including backups), based on 2019 salary-cap charges, according to ESPN Roster Management. They trail only the Dallas Cowboys ($52.9 million) and Green Bay Packers ($45.3 million), a couple of 3-1 teams that can justify the big money. The Jets? They’re 0-3 and their line is underachieving so much that coach Adam Gase put the players on notice this week, threatening a shake up.
“We’re going to work through that this week and kind of figure out what’s best for us to do on Sunday,” Gase said. “I would just say this: All those guys know that we’re coming in this week, we’re competing and we’re going to put the five guys that we think give us our best chance out there. [I’m] not really sure who that’s going to be quite yet.”
No one expected this group to be the second coming of The Hogs, but the organization was confident that Kelvin Beachum, Osemele, Kalil, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell — the starters, from left to right — would be a smart, savvy group that could execute the new zone blocking scheme. In reality, the Jets’ high-priced line has been a stone-cold disappointment. Can’t run block, can’t pass block. Sure, the starters didn’t play together in the preseason, but that doesn’t fly anymore as an excuse.
“There are definitely some things that we have to clean up,” Gase said. “There are some things that we have to clean up from a coaching aspect. There are some things that we’ve got to clean up from a playcaller perspective. I just think that, really, going forward, what we need to do is, take what we’re practicing and the way we’re practicing and the speed we’re practicing with and really transfer that over to Sundays, which we haven’t done yet.”
Gase will take a hard look at potential lineup changes this week in preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The players on the hottest seats, ironically, are the two most accomplished members of the group — Osemele and Kalil, neither of whom has played close to their top form. They also happen to play positions that have experienced backups — Alex Lewis at left guard, Jonotthan Harrison at center. There’s also Tom Compton, who can play any of the interior positions.
Osemele ($10.2 million) and Kalil ($8.4 million) are making serious money. A lot of teams wouldn’t bench a player with a hefty salary because it takes guts and, well, it’s not very cap smart. In Kalil’s case, it would be doubly tough because he’s their guy, acquired by first-year GM Joe Douglas. If Gase sits Kalil, it wouldn’t reflect well on Douglas, who made Kalil his first major player acquisition. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Gase, it’s that he’s not shy about benching money (See: cornerback Trumaine Johnson).
Kalil, 34, is ranked 31st out of 32 centers, according to the analytics-based website Pro Football Focus. In his prime, he was an elite pass-protector with enough agility to make blocks at the second level. The Jets haven’t seen that player. By his own admission, he’s not playing fast, which could be attributed, in part, to a new system. He has allowed two sacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. In 2018, he surrendered only four in 16 games for the Carolina Panthers.
Osemele, coming off a down season with the Oakland Raiders, was a dominant run-blocker during his best years with the Baltimore Ravens. The Jets haven’t seen that player, either. It’s one of the reasons why Le’Veon Bell is getting swallowed up before he can find daylight; half his rushing yards have come after first contact. It might seem like we’re picking on Kalil and Osemele, who has the lowest pass-block win rate on the team, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Truth be told, none of the starters have performed well. The Jets are 27th in pressure percentage, allowing a quarterback pressure one out of every three dropbacks.
“They never got the reps in the offseason and the preseason; that matters,” former NFL lineman and current ESPN analyst Damien Woody said. “That’s one component. Another component is: Individually, are they good enough? When you watch them, there are too many guys losing one-on-one battles. I feel bad for Le’Veon Bell. He’s playing his heart out, but there’s nowhere to run.”
Will a lineup change reverse the trend? Probably not. It’s not like there’s a first-round draft pick on the bench who is ready to blossom. Douglas’ predecessor, Mike Maccagnan, did a terrible job with the offensive line, drafting only three linemen in five years (none higher than the third round). The only so-called prospect on the bench is 2018 third-round pick Chuma Edoga, who has a ways to go before he earns the coaches’ trust. Make no mistake, the line will be overhauled in the offseason.
“They’ve neglected the line for years,” Woody said. “It’s not Joe Douglas’ fault and it’s not Adam Gase’s fault. It’s years of neglect, and now it’s coming home to roost.”