Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Throughout the offseason, the Jets have responded to any suggestion that they were undermanned at the center position by stating their confidence in Jonotthan Harrison. Head coach Adam Gase said Harrison had "done a great job" and insisted that Sam Darnold had a good comfort level with him.
However, today's announcement that they've lured former Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil out of retirement suggests that they never gave up looking for alternatives. Kalil signed a one-year deal, worth a reported $8.4 million - starter money for sure - and will join up with the Jets at training camp this week.
There weren't many center options on the market this year but having opted not to get into a bidding war for free agents like Matt Paradis and Mitch Morse and then failed to draft one, the Jets looked set to have to stick with the incumbent starter Harrison. Kalil wasn't on anyone's radar after the 34-year-old retired at the end of last season, having implied all season it was to be his last.
Does the veteran have anything left though? He was last voted to the Pro Bowl at the end of the 2015 season and can't realistically be expected to play at that level again. However, the Jets received such inconsistent play at the position last year that Kalil arguably only needs to be an average player to provide the team with a huge upgrade.
Advanced analytics suggest that Kalil predictably regressed over the last three seasons, but he still graded out as about average and wasn't prone to setting the offense back with negative plays. He had just two penalties in 16 starts, while Harrison had four holding penalties in his eight starts.
Additionally, according to a statistic from Pro Football Focus, Kalil only allowed his man to make the tackle on five percent of running plays over the past three seasons, the fifth-lowest rate of any NFL center. And while he gave up more pressure in 2018 than in any other season, he still only surrendered two sacks. His overall pressure percentage ended up being similar to Harrison, who no doubt benefited from the Jets scheming to provide him with extra help.
It's in the running game that Kalil could provide the Jets with the biggest boost, though. The Jets' running game floundered badly with Harrison at center last year, as Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon only averaged three yards per carry in the second half. However, the Panthers led the league in yards per carry. Kalil's ability to block on the move and get out in front on short passes adds a dimension that could really help the team maximize their big investment into Le'Veon Bell.
Harrison could also benefit from the move in the long-term. Rather than being thrown into a role where he would have been made a scapegoat if the Jets failed to get their offense going, he can now learn from an experienced veteran and hopefully make technical advancements that will benefit him if called upon. Harrison, who can also play guard, could still be a useful utility player for this team down the road.
When his fellow professionals discuss Kalil, they talk about things like savvy, toughness, experience and leadership that cannot be measured by statistics. However, those are the areas where he's undoubtedly going to help the Jets. While the Jets genuinely might believe Harrison has some potential, these are all areas he would have to grow into, whereas Kalil can step right in, anchor the unit and put the offense in a position to succeed.
Even if he's lost a step and perhaps isn't as mobile or powerful as he once was, Kalil is still smart enough to do a good, functional job. As Jets fans saw with Nick Mangold, he may have been less dominant as he neared the end of his career, but it was still rare for him to make the kind of drive-killing individual mistakes an overmatched lineman can be prone to. This should be the case with Kalil too.
The 2016 and 2017 seasons were cut short for Kalil due to shoulder and neck injuries, which perhaps prompted Kalil's declaration that he was going to "empty the tank" in 2018, implying it would be his final season.
However, he started every game last season, helping the Panthers' offensive line rank in the middle of the pack despite losing both their starting tackles in preseason. His sudden decision to reverse course on the decision to retire clearly suggests Kalil didn't quite empty the tank after all.