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Ahead of the 2019 season, right tackle Brandon Shell was widely regarded among Mike Maccagnan's most successful draft picks and a candidate to remain with the team at the end of his rookie deal. However, an early season benching seemed to signify that the Jets were perhaps preparing to move on from the 27 year old. Recently, injuries have necessitated a return to the starting line-up for Shell, who seems to have held up well. This begs the question as to whether the Jets may still have a use for him.
Shell was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, after the Jets traded away a 2017 mid-round pick to select the former South Carolina Gamecock. Shell looked the part and had good bloodlines -- his uncle is NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell -- but scouts figured he'd need some technical refinement before he could contribute at the NFL level.
Having ridden the bench for much of his rookie season, Shell started three games at the end of the year, during which he fared better than expected. He then won the starting job at training camp the following summer and started 26 of 32 games as the first-choice right tackle over the next two seasons.
Entering the 2019 season, Shell's place in the starting line-up seemed secure. Third-round rookie Chuma Edoga was considered too raw to contribute, although the Jets had high hopes that they could groom him to be a potential future starter.
Over the first three games, the Jets' offensive line struggled to gel as a unit and head coach Adam Gase announced that there would be changes made following the bye week. Shell had arguably been the least of the problems in the first two games, but had struggled against New England in week three, surrendering two sacks. Edoga received his first career start in place of Shell after the bye and has remained in the lineup ever since.
That wasn't the last we'd see of Shell, though, as he had to fill in when Kelvin Beachum got hurt. Once Beachum returned, Shell found himself back on the bench, but was soon called upon again as Edoga hurt his ankle in Sunday's game in Washington. With Edoga missing practice and Beachum limited to begin the week, it seems likely Shell will earn another start against Oakland this weekend.
In his time as a starter, Edoga has predictably been less effective than Shell was, but the Jets seem determined to keep throwing him in at the deep end. Over the course of the season, Edoga has surrendered six sacks and six penalties, while Shell has only surrendered four of each, despite playing more snaps. Shell has also graded out better in the running game according to Pro Football Focus.
If Edoga misses any time and Shell continues to outproduce him, it will be interesting to see whether the Jets revert back to Edoga once he is healthy again. The rookie has terrific potential and giving him reps may seem like the best way to develop him, especially with the team not in postseason contention. However, the Jets have other priorities, the biggest of which is Sam Darnold's development.
Keeping Darnold healthy, giving him adequate time to run the offense properly and establishing the best possible running game are all vital to the young quarterback's development. This creates a strong argument for Shell to be re-inserted full time into the right tackle role.
It's easy to see the motivation for the Jets to have made this move. If Edoga develops into a reliable starter while he's still got multiple years left on his rookie deal, that will enable the team to prioritize elsewhere. Had Shell remained as the starter all year, he'd be due for a contract extension at the end of the season. The possible demand for a three-year starter about to hit his athletic prime could have raised his price to somewhere in the region of $10 million per season.
With Shell since having been relegated to a part-time role, this will have had a major impact on his likely cost in the free agent market. While he's arguably played just as well as he did in 2017 and 2018 when he's been in the line-up this year, he would have hoped to have taken his game to the next level and developed into a leader this season.
Shell could still invite interest as a reliable backup and spot starter, though. If he performs well in any action he sees over the course of these last six games, perhaps the Jets will be compelled to bring Shell back on a deal similar to the one they gave Ben Ijalana a few years ago.