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Of all players signed so far this offseason by the Jets, offensive lineman Connor McGovern could be the biggest. He's reportedly been guaranteed $18 million -- almost twice as much as any of the new additions -- on a three-year, $27 million deal.
At this stage, you could arguably say he's the only new addition who is definitely in the Jets' plans beyond this season. Therefore, let's give consideration to what those plans might be.
McGovern was a fifth-round pick out of Missouri and spent his entire rookie year with the Broncos as a healthy scratch. Over the next three seasons, he gradually worked his way into full-time role. After spending most of 2017 as a rotational lineman, McGovern started the last five games at right guard, then began the 2018 season as the starter in the same role. Midway through the season, Matt Paradis was lost to a season-ending injury, so McGovern moved into the starting center role before being made the full-time center in 2019.
McGovern struggled in 2017, but played more with much more consistency in 2018. In 2019, he took the next step and arguably established himself among the top centers in the league with a solid season. That year-on-year improvement is tantalizing for the Jets because, if he keeps improving, he could feasibly end up as an elite center.
On the face of it, you might attribute this growth to the fact that he did better once Denver moved him to center. However, he never played center before being drafted. In fact, he had played left tackle as a senior. Nevertheless, the Broncos had given him some preseason experience at the position from early on in his career, and groomed him to take over that role in the future.
If McGovern takes that starting center role with the Jets and continues to develop as he has been, he will follow in the footsteps of a long lineage of quality Jets centers that went before him. From Super Bowl winner John Schmitt in the '60s, to seven-time Pro Bowler Nick Mangold's retirement in 2016, the Jets have rarely gone more than a couple of years without stability at the position.
In between Schmitt and Mangold, Joe Fields, Jim Sweeney and recent Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Mawae all started for several years and played at a high level, so McGovern will have a lot to live up to. However, he has a good chance to emulate them if he can build on his performance last year.
During that season, McGovern showcased his excellent athletic ability in the running game, excelling in both man and zone concepts, on the move, and at the point of attack. He also gave up just one sack and less than one pressure per game and didn't commit any penalties.
McGovern doesn't necessarily have to end up as the Jets' center of the future though. It's possible the Jets could seek to find that player in the draft and employ McGovern as a stopgap or safety net.
Should they do this, McGovern's presence gives them the luxury of being able to bring the rookie along slowly, much like McGovern himself was. They could either groom that player and leave him on the bench until they're ready, or start him at guard as a rookie before moving them into the more mentally-taxing center role in year two like the Lions have done with Frank Ragnow.
Coincidentally, Graham Glasgow, who moved from center to guard to accommodate Ragnow, is McGovern's replacement in Denver.
Of course, if they bring in a youngster to eventually start, then McGovern will have to move to guard. Can he play well enough at the guard position to warrant his high salary though?
Although he has graded out better since the move to center, you would hope this was a product of his natural progression in terms of strength, technique, and his overall comfort level in the trenches at the NFL level. His best season might have come at the center position, but he arguably played better at guard than he did at center in the previous season, which is hopefully a sign he has been developing in both roles.
Ultimately, whether or not he's their center of the future, McGovern's versatility gives the Jets a lot of options and maximum flexibility heading into the draft. This will also be useful once the season is underway, in case they need to shuffle the pack due to injuries.
Moreover, his athleticism, football IQ, and intangibles bring a lot of things to the table that will help to upgrade a unit that desperately needs it.