With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing each position on the New York Jets' roster and examining possible upgrades:
Position: Offensive line
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
LT Kelvin Beachum -- $9.5 million
RG Brian Winters -- $7 million
LG James Carpenter -- $6.8 million
RT Brandon Shell -- $689,000
Key stat: The pass protection was a major issue, as the Jets allowed 47 sacks (tied for 24th). They allowed pressure on 29 percent of their dropbacks (19th), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The interior -- Carpenter, Johnson and Winters -- allowed a combined 11 sacks and 20 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.
Money matters: The Jets are seemingly locked into Beachum ($8 million) and Winters ($7 million) because their base salaries are fully guaranteed. If anyone gets cut, it'll be Carpenter, who has only one year left on his contract. They'd clear $4.7 million of his $6.8 million cap charge by releasing him.
Big picture: The offensive line was their most erratic position group. It had brilliant games (see: Jacksonville Jaguars and the rematch against the Buffalo Bills) and brutal games (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). There was no consistency from week to week, especially in the middle. Line coach Steve Marshall paid the price, losing his job.
Johnson struggled, grading out 35th among 35 qualified centers, per PFF. Carpenter and Winters ranked 60th and 73rd among 77 guards, respectively. Beachum and Shell graded out as their best linemen, finishing 35th and 44th among 81 tackles, respectively. Mediocre run-blocking grades dragged down their overall grades.
While overall consistency was an issue, the line wasn't the train wreck that some portrayed it as. Of the 47 sacks, 19 were deemed "coverage" sacks, according to ESPN Stats. The runners averaged 2.41 yards before contact (15th in the league), which indicates there was ample running room.
The game plan: The Jets expect Winters, who underwent surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle, to regain his past form. They must take a hard look at center and left guard, especially the pivot position. Free agency offers a few intriguing options. Scheme fit (and, of course, cost) will determine which direction they go.
If they want a strong, point-of-attack anchor, Jensen is the man. He started only one season for the Baltimore Ravens, but he played well in his walk year. If they place an emphasis on athleticism and the ability to block at the second level, Richburg and Long would be nice fits in their zone-based scheme. The concern with Richburg is that he missed the final 12 games because of a concussion. They absolutely must come out of free agency with a starting center. It will be expensive, as the market could reach $9 million a year.
Norwell, an All-Pro at left guard, was a punishing road grader for the Carolina Panthers. He's considered one of the top free agents and could command $12 million a year. The Jets would bring a new level of nasty to their offensive line with Norwell and Jensen, but it's probably not feasible to get both.