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Earlier this week, the Buffalo Bills announced they had signed former Jets center Spencer Long. The Jets had reportedly held out some hope of bringing Long back on a reduced salary having released him last week.
Now that Long is no longer an option, who could the Jets' starting center be in 2019?
The Jets don't have anyone with center experience on their current roster, although Jon Toth signed a futures deal, so he'll be with the team next season. Toth has never played in a regular season game though, so he is a longshot to make the roster, let alone compete for a starting role. There doesn't seem to be any obvious candidates to convert to center, either.
Two pending free agents - Dakota Dozier and Jonotthan Harrison - have played center for the Jets in the past. In fact, Harrison started the last seven games of the 2018 season, as Long's finger injury forced him to move to guard. However, he's probably inadequate as a first choice.
Dozier has played a few times as an emergency center, but the team always seemed to prefer him at guard. Either or both could be re-signed for depth, though.
The top free agent center is former Bronco Matt Paradis, who has started in Denver since his rookie year in 2014. That was also Adam Gase's final year as their offensive coordinator, so there's a connection there. Paradis would provide a big upgrade in terms of pass protection, and in the running game.
It was considered unlikely that the Broncos would let the 29-year old test the market, but reports earlier this week now suggest that they will. Paradis missed the second half of last season with a broken leg, and is likely to cost upwards of $10 million per year with several teams expected to make him a priority, so the move is not without risk.
Other than Paradis, the free agent class is somewhat thin, although Kansas City's Mitch Morse is sure to draw interest if he hits the market. Morse is still only 27 and did a good job with the Chiefs last year, although he wasn't as effective as Paradis.
The only remaining options are less attractive and may not even represent an upgrade over what a banged-up Long provided in 2018. However, at some point, it would make sense to sign a fallback option who could start if the Jets don't fill the position adequately, or if the player they bring in gets hurt or struggles.
The Jets could consider bringing back Travis Swanson, who was with the team in camp but ended up starting 11 games for Gase's Dolphins. Alternatively, if the Bengals - whose 2018 offensive line coach Frank Pollack is now with the Jets - are going to persevere with Billy Price as their starter, then they might let pending restricted free agent Trey Hopkins leave.
If the Jets come up empty in free agency, then drafting a potential starter is not out of the question, although recent history suggests it might be difficult to find one who is going to be good right off the bat.
A handful of rookie centers have stepped right into the starting lineup over the past few seasons, including Price and Mason Cole last year, both of whom struggled. In 2017, Pat Elflein did well as a full-time starter for the Vikings in his rookie year, but then struggled badly in 2018. Two rookie starters in 2016 - Ryan Kelly and Cody Whitehair - played well, but they were a first and second-rounder respectively.
The Jets don't have a second-round pick so, unless they package some picks or add to their draft capital with a first-round trade down, they wouldn't be able to pick a center until the third round.
Since Elflein and Cole were both third-rounders, recent history perhaps isn't that promising. However, there's an encouraging crop of center prospects this year, so perhaps one the Jets identify as pro-ready will fall to them.
Top prospects include Garrett Bradbury from North Carolina State, Erik McCoy from Texas A&M and Elgton Jenkins from Mississippi State. However, based on current rankings, it's possible all three will be selected by the end of the second round.
Another possibility is to draft a tackle or guard and convert them to center, which is what the Bears did with Whitehair. Some scouts think Kansas State tackle Dalton Risner is a better fit inside, so perhaps he could be a candidate. But this too is far from a sure thing.
Unfortunately, if the Jets can't get Paradis or Morse in free agency, they might be stuck hoping that someone unexpected is a surprise cap casualty or made available via trade.