INDIANAPOLIS -- Adam Gase sees big things for quarterback Sam Darnold in 2020. But that's only if the Jets can keep him healthy.
That's why they are so focused this offseason on what could be a complete overhaul of their offensive line.
In fact, only one of their five opening day starters on the line is currently under contract, and that one -- guard Brian Winters -- is likely to soon be a salary cap cut. That means Douglas could be shopping for five starting linemen for the Jets this offseason in a sign of how huge their line problem has become.
"We're all looking for continuity, so five new starters would be a less than ideal situation," Douglas said on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "That being said, you have to do what's best for the team. So if it comes to that, it comes to that."
It might come to that because, according to an NFL source, the Jets' rookie GM has made it clear that fixing their awful offensive line is his top offseason priority. And really, he had no choice since tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell are scheduled to be free agents, center Ryan Kalil is likely headed back to retirement, and the Jets had an ugly, in-season split with guard Kelechi Osemele.
Winters, the only other opening day starter on the offensive line, is rehabbing a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2019 season, and Douglas had nothing but great things to say about the 6-4, 320-pounder on Tuesday. But Winters is due $7 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2020 and cutting him would clear about $7.3 million in salary cap space for the Jets.
Douglas insisted no decisions have been made, but that certainly seems like what the Jets will eventually do.
That would mean that Jonotthan Harrison, who started 10 games for the Jets last season, is the only key player likely to return. And that means that an offensive lineman is definitely in play for the Jets with the 11th pick in the NFL Draft, as well as several other rounds of Douglas' first draft with the franchise. The Jets also are expected to be big players with the offensive linemen available in free agency. Many even believe they'll land at least one high-priced tackle -- perhaps Jack Conklin -- soon after the market opens on March 18.
"We have a few different avenues to try to attack this -- (free agency), draft, trades," Douglas said. "We're going to look at every scenario. This is a good week where we can grab as much information as we can from the players that are here, the other teams that are here, and just put our offseason plan together."
The good news is that if the Jets use the draft "avenue" to help fix their line problems, they could be in perfect position to add a top tackle with the 11th pick in the draft. By most accounts there are four who could land in the Top 15 -- Louisville's Mekhi Bechton (6-7, 364), Iowa's Tristan Wirfs (6-4, 320), Georgia's Andrew Thomas (6-5, 315) and Alabama's Jedrick Wills (6-4, 315) -- and the Jets have either met or will meet with all of them this week. With two months to go until the draft, it's not clear which ones will still be there for the Jets, but it's a good bet that at least two of them will still be on the board.
"It's a good group," Douglas said. "I think you're going to see a lot of guys who become starters in the NFL."
Of course, the Jets need help at plenty of other positions too, and it might be very tempting for them to take a weapon like Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy if he's there at 11. But even though the Jets desperately need explosive weapons, they don't help much if the quarterback is laying flat on his back.
"Look, you guys know how I feel about the offensive line," Douglas said. "It's hard to have a good team without one. Obviously we need to have a strong offensive line. We have to do a good job of taking care of Sam moving forward."