Two angles merged into one as Jets general manager Joe Douglas discussed the offensive line he envisioned around QB Sam Darnold for the 2020 season:
1. Restocking the O-line is a high priority.
Douglas: "You know how I feel about the offensive line. It's hard to have a good team without one and right now, as it stands, we only have one opening-day starter coming back under contract in Brian Winters. Everyone else is an unrestricted free agent. We're at 21 UFAs and three RFAs, so we have to improve not only the offensive line but many other positions.
2. Blockers can take a number of different roads to get to the Jets.
Douglas: "We've got a few different avenues to try to attack this — UFA, draft, trades — so we're going to look at every scenario."
The Jets can also re-sign their own free agents if they so desire. Not only are four of last year's starters from the Bills opener unsigned — LT Kelvin Beachum, LG Kelechi Osemele (released), C Ryan Kalil and RT Brandon Shell — but six O-linemen overall are unsigned and those half-dozen combined for 49 of the line's 80 starts last season. That's a lot of starts that may have to be replaced.
But this article is focused on the unrestricted free agency signing period that opens for business March 18. Here are some of the notable names among O-linemen who could be available as unrestricted FAs:
Anthony Castonzo (6'7", 307): The former first-rounder for Indy in 2011 has played all 9 of his NFL seasons as the Colts QBs' blind-side protector. He'll turn 32 in training camp and he's never made a Pro Bowl. But he's been remarkably consistent and available (128 starts out of 136 games, including playoffs, since '12).
Bryan Bulaga (6'5", 314): Green Bay's 23rd overall pick in 2010 is the flip side of Castonzo, having played his entire NFL career to this point with his draft team, never made a Pro bowl but played solidly. He did miss the 2013 season and 11 games in '17 due to knee injuries but started all 17 games for the Packers last year.
Jack Conklin (6'6", 308): The Titans' RT could be the tackle in demand in a few weeks because of his age —he turns 26 during training camp after starting all 16 games in 3 of his 4 seasons in Nashville. As an aside, he was a true freshman redshirt on Michigan State when Jets RB Le'Veon Bell played his last season for Sparty in 2012.
Joe Thuney (6'5", 308): He's been a solid LG blocker in Tom Brady's offense for 74 games (including 10 in the postseason) since the Patriots' made him their third-round pick in 2016. New England could franchise-tag him but some Pats observers feel that's unlikely to happen and he'll be available as a UFA.
Brandon Scherff (6'5", 315): Scherff is a former fifth overall pick by Washington in 2015 who's made the Pro Bowl three of the past four seasons. He could also be tagged. While this is a longshot scenario, wouldn't it be neat to have Scherff and rookie Tristan Wirfs, both Iowa grads, working together on the same OL?
Stefen Wisniewski (6'3", 305): "Wis" has made the rounds as a C/LG in his 9 pro seasons, making stops with the Raiders, Jaguars, Eagles and last year with the Chiefs, for whom he started all three playoff games. He's started only 26 games his past four seasons, however.
Connor McGovern (6'4", 306): Not a lot of top centers appear on UFA lists. McGovern will be 27 when camp starts. A fifth-rounder in 2016 for Denver, he sat out his rookie season, broke in at RG in '17, and the last two years started 31 of 32 games for the Broncos.