From the first day he arrived at Jets headquarters, Joe Douglas made it clear his priority was fixing the Jets' offensive line. He inherited a mess, he could obviously see it, and he knew cleaning it up it was his most important job.
"You guys know how I feel about the offensive line," the Jets GM said at the scouting combine in February. "It's hard to have a good team without one."
The Jets' line isn't yet good enough to power their team, but as promised, Douglas certainly took steps in that direction during the opening days of free agency. He took a flier on tackle George Fant, re-signed the Jets' best lineman in guard Alex Lewis, and landed the best center on the market in ex-Bronco Connor McGovern.
And more is on the way. The Jets have been talking with free-agent guard Greg Van Roten, who could replace Brian Winters. And their right tackle spot is certainly in flux, especially with multiple NFL sources convinced that Douglas is going to take a tackle with the 11th pick in the NFL draft next month.
Yes, the Jets still need cornerbacks, receivers and help for their pass rush, so there's a lot of work to be done overall. But the Jets are well on their way to having a completely revamped offensive line by the time training camp opens this summer.
And that was always Job 1.
"Obviously we need to have a strong offensive line," he said. "We have to do a good job of taking care of Sam (Darnold) moving forward."
It's clear that the Jets' line did not do a good job of that last season. They gave up a ridiculous 52 sacks, and that doesn't even fully tell the story about how much pressure there was on the Jets' three quarterbacks. Darnold was constantly on the run, making plays outside of the pocket and escaping trouble caused by his crumbling line.
So how much better is the Jets' line now? While the grade is "incomplete" for now, the upgrades do seem significant. The 6-4, 306-pound McGovern is a big improvement over Jonotthan Harrison at center. He's durable, having missed just one game in the last three seasons. And last year, in his first season as a full-time starting center, he committed no penalties and gave up just one sack, according to Pro Football Focus, in 1,013 snaps.
McGovern got a three-year, $27 million deal from the Jets, slightly more than the three years, $18.6 million it cost them to re-sign the 6-6, 305-pound Lewis. Douglas got Lewis from Baltimore in August for a seventh-round draft pick, and he became the Jets' best lineman once he took over for the injured Kelechi Osemele. According to a team source, Douglas felt he was the only one of the Jets' linemen from last season that he absolutely had to re-sign.
Douglas' big gamble is the 6-5, 322-pound Fant, who got an eye-popping three-year, $27.3 million deal after three years as a part-time starter in Seattle. But the contract really is a one-year, $9.25 million bet on a promising, sizeable player. Fant will likely be the left tackle to start this season, but could move to the right side in the future depending on which tackle the Jets draft in the first round.
There are other variables, too. The 6-4, 300-pound Harrison is likely coming back and will provide some much-needed depth. He also could fill in at center or play guard, if necessary. The Jets haven't given up on tackle Chuma Edoga, last year's third-round pick, after an up-and-down rookie season. And there seems to be a chance they'll bring back Winters, whom Douglas praised during his press conference at the combine, but only if Winters agrees to a significant cut of his $7 million salary first.
So the rebuilding isn't over, but Douglas got off to a good start. There's a reason he started addressing this before he began adding at other positions. A good defense and dangerous weapons are minimized if a team can't protect their quarterback. Having a strong offensive line is an absolute necessity.
Or as Douglas said, it's hard to have a good team without it. The Jets may not have one yet, but at least they're finally on their way.