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The Jets' offensive overhaul continued with the addition of former Carolina Panthers guard Greg Van Roten over the weekend.
Much like George Fant, Van Roten took an unusual path to where he is now. The 30-year-old did a solid job over the past few seasons as a starter with the Panthers, but prior to that, he had been out of the league for several years and spent two years playing in the CFL. He didn't make his first NFL start until he was 28.
Having finally broken through, Van Roten played every snap in 2018 at left guard and then started the first 11 games of 2019 before missing the last five with a dislocated toe. Signing him should give the Jets another option with starting experience heading into the 2020 season, and it's widely assumed he'll earn a starting role.
Having already re-signed the incumbent starting left guard Alex Lewis, this raises the question as to where Van Roten might fit in. Last year's starter at right guard, Brian Winters, is still on the roster with new signee Connor McGovern expected to start at center.
Releasing Winters is certainly a possibility. The move would free up $7 million of cap space, although the team may prefer to hedge their bets and delay such a decision until training camp. There's a risk involved, though, because if Winters -- who has had durability issues over the past few years -- was to get injured in camp, the Jets could end up on the hook for his entire salary depending on the severity of the injury.
An alternative might be for the three to battle it out for these two available guard spots. Desperate to upgrade their own line this time last year, the Bills brought in a handful of linemen with starting experience, and basically held an open competition to identify their best five.
By oversubscribing, they were able to deal a couple of players from their surplus to recoup some draft capital before the season began. A similar approach could be in the works for the Jets with further additions possible.
If the Jets were to opt to remove Winters from the starting line-up, then either Van Roten or Lewis would have to move to the right side. While both have good positional versatility, they've actually only played four snaps at right guard between them in preseason or regular season action during their combined NFL careers.
However, Van Roten was a CFL All-Star at the position in 2016, so he should be comfortable with it if he's the one they get to make the move. It's also not impossible either of them could play the tackle position in a pinch, but that's unlikely to be anything other than an emergency measure.
Although Van Roten signed a three-year deal, further details of his contract have yet to be reported. However, Lewis signed a deal of the same length which contains just $6 million of guaranteed money. With Winters out of contract at the end of the season and Lewis in a situation where he could theoretically be released at the end of the year, the Jets will also need to think about 2021 and beyond.
As noted, part of the possible desire to move on from Winters is concern over his durability. He's started 16 games just once since being drafted in 2013, and has ended the season on injured reserve in four of the past six seasons. Winters missed 13 starts over the past four years, and played hurt in many more games over that period. Despite being two years older and having missed five games himself last season, Van Roten offers a more reliable player with more chance of lasting the whole season.
Aside from his versatility and experience, Van Roten brings some useful attributes to the table. Thanks in part to Van Roten's contributions, the Panthers were fourth in the league in rushing last year with Christian McCaffery racking up over 1,000 yards both as a rusher and a receiver. As a pass protector, Van Roten had his hands full with Aaron Donald on opening day but didn't allow a sack in any of his other 10 starts.
Van Roten, a former Ivy Leaguer, also brings intelligence, athleticism and a good attitude and, like the other linemen the Jets have signed, has been disciplined on the field with only one penalty called on him over the past two years according to the official numbers.
The Jets still have some decisions to make, but there's no question they've given themselves more options by bringing in Van Roten and the others over the last week.