Over the next few weeks, we're going to break down each position in terms of which players are fighting for those final roster spots. Who is in danger of being cut? Who has a chance to earn themselves a bigger role? We continue today with a look at the offensive linemen.
Probable Roster Locks
The starting line-up seems relatively settled right now with free agent Spencer Long filling in for the departing Wesley Johnson at center. The other four starters are expected to be the same as last year with Kelvin Beachum at left tackle, Brandon Shell at right tackle, James Carpenter at left guard and Brian Winters at right guard. Barring injury, the Jets are not expected to deviate from that.
The hope is that Long provides enough of an upgrade over Johnson to elevate the unit from where they were last year. The Jets' offensive line struggled for most of the season, but was not necessarily among the worst in the league. The team is also hoping that Winters being healthy will also elevate this unit.
In the competition
The Jets still have four players on their roster that were on last year's team as Brent Qvale, Ben Ijalana, Dakota Dozier and Jonotthan Harrison were all re-signed for one year, with Qvale receiving a restricted free agent tender. Of the four, Qvale's spot is probably the most secure. He was in the mix for the starting role at right tackle last year and has started 11 games over the past two seasons at guard or tackle due to injuries. Dozier brings similar versatility as he can fill in at center and also started three games at guard last year and two in 2016.
Ijalana saw plenty of action in 2016 due to the injuries to Breno Giacomini and Ryan Clady, but otherwise has been inactive a lot, so while the team values his ability to play either tackle spot, they perhaps don't trust him as much as they do Qvale.
Harrison seems the least likely of this group to retain his spot. After failing to beat out Johnson, last year's number two center will face a big challenge from another experienced free agent, Travis Swanson. If Swanson is healthy, Harrison will probably be surplus to requirements, especially with Dozier's ability to fill in at center in a pinch.
While he might not have much chance of seeing significant action this year, Antonio Garcia has a chance to earn a roster spot if he shows sufficient potential to be considered a candidate to compete for the left tackle role in 2019. As a recent third round pick, Garcia likely has more upside than any of the Jets' youngsters.
With a number of experienced players ahead of them, the roster chances for this year's crop of undrafted free agents seem slim. The Jets brought in Canadian Dakoda Shepley along with Austin Golson and Darius James from Auburn. Each of these three brings good versatility and shows some promise on film. However, Shepley and Golson have better workout numbers than James, a former five-star high school recruit who tore his ACL in 2014.
There's also a 2017 undrafted free agent still with the team. Ben Braden spent the entire year on the practice squad, though, so perhaps the team is higher on him than they've let on. However, we'll have to wait and see how much progress he's made since last preseason.
These four are probably competing for a practice squad spot once again. However, since the Jets would usually have at least two offensive linemen inactive on a week-to-week basis, if any of them show sufficient promise then the Jets could give them a roster spot to avoid having to expose them to waivers and potentially lose their rights.
With 15 offensive linemen on the roster, the Jets are ideally set up for camp, where it is customary to have three distinct units to work with. While there will be some mixing and matching due to the number of players who play multiple positions, you would expect each of these four undrafted players to spend most of training camp stuck on the third unit which means they'll probably play together in preseason. If any of them are able to move up to the second unit, that will be a strong sign that they are progressing well.