Jets' O-line makeover: $40 million, 1,536 pounds and a giant challenge

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In less than a week, the New York Jets remade most of their offensive line through NFL free agency. They added three projected starters, re-signed another and acquired a versatile backup. Talk about a quickie rebuild. This went up faster than a pop-up store.

It had to be done. By any measure (stats, eye test, you name it), the Jets' line was one of the league's worst last season, prompting general manager Joe Douglas to make it an offseason priority.

"It's a tough puzzle to put together," Jets coach Adam Gase said at last month's scouting combine. "That's the toughest part of being a GM. Joe has to figure out how to put those puzzles together the right way to where we can hit the ground running and have success doing it."

It would be a massive challenge under normal circumstances, but there's nothing normal about our current world.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL offseason is clouded by uncertainty. If practice time is lost, either in the spring and/or training camp, it will impact the position groups -- by extension, their teams -- that experience large-scale turnover. No unit relies on chemistry more than the offensive line, and it would hamper the Jets' ability to develop cohesion if they're forced to operate on a truncated schedule.

It's nobody's fault. It's just reality.

The Jets could have four new starters if they draft a tackle with the No. 11 pick, and building chemistry is an absolute must because this has to be an offensive line whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It has no Pro Bowl players. In fact, it's the only line in the NFL that doesn't include a first- or second-round pick. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"My theory on the offensive line is, I don't need a bunch of great players," a longtime personnel executive said. "I just want five guys who work well together and have a special offensive line coach. Do I want to pay a left tackle like a quarterback? No. You can win with solid. Look at New England."

The Jets made five moves for the relatively modest cost of $40 million in guarantees, re-signing left guard Alex Lewis and adding left tackle George Fant (Seattle Seahawks), center Connor McGovern (Denver Broncos), guard Greg Van Roten (Carolina Panthers) and center/guard Josh Andrews (Indianapolis Colts).

Let's take a closer look at the 1,536-pound haul:

-- Douglas has assembled a cast of overachievers. Andrews, Fant and Van Roten broke into the league as undrafted free agents. Andrews and Van Roten have played for three and four teams, respectively. Lewis (fourth round) and McGovern (fifth) were Day 3 picks in the 2016 draft. (Fun fact: They were chosen with picks that were swapped in the same trade between the Baltimore Ravens and Broncos.)

Moral of the story? Douglas wants players who are passionate about football, a trait usually found in players who had to come up the hard way.

But, let's not be naive, though. Part of the reason these players appealed to the Jets was because their price tags were not exorbitant.

-- The four newcomers have combined for 78 career starts, including 36 in three years by McGovern. Are the rest late bloomers or overrated backups? Time will tell.

-- The objective was to improve the overall athleticism of the line. The obvious reason is pass protection, but Gase also likes to use outside zone running plays that require the linemen to be nimble in space. Fant, a former college basketball player, fits the mold at left tackle. Scouts say he has terrific feet for a man his size.

While McGovern is considered the best of the new additions, his pass protection last season was only average, according to ESPN's pass rush win rate. He ranked 20th among 32 qualifying centers at 92.9%, only a fraction ahead of incumbent Jonotthan Harrison, who probably will slide into a backup role. Van Roten (88.2%) ranked 59th out of 70 guards.

The good news? Scouts believe McGovern and Van Roten, who could replace longtime right guard Brian Winters, represent upgrades in a power-running game. Somewhere, Jets running back Le'Veon Bell has to be smiling.

-- It's probably not a coincidence that Douglas added players known for being light on penalties. Over the past two seasons, the four new players committed 15 penalties in a combined 4,521 snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets need to cut down on the dumb penalties. How many times last season did they face a first-and-15 because of a pre-snap penalty?

-- The makeover won't preclude the Jets from drafting a tackle in the first round. They might say they're content with Fant and Chuma Edoga as their starting tackles, but the reality is they won't hesitate to draft one if they believe the value is there. There are four premier tackles -- Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills Jr. and Tristan Wirfs. There's a good chance one will slip to the Jets.

"[There are] quite a few guys that kind of fit the mold of what we're looking for: smart, durable, tough, explosive, guys that can play multiple positions," Douglas said. "The versatility, that's a big thing. You've got to be able to play multiple positions. So, there's quite a few guys who fit that bill."