The New York Jets already were looking at a 2016 NFL season without an answer at quarterback. Now they have to find one at left tackle. Per reports, long-time star left tackle D’Brickashaw Freguson has announced his retirement, leaving the league at the age of 32.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) April 8, 2016
Still one of the better pass protecting tackles in the game, Ferguson opted to go out on his own terms, rather than agree to a pay cut pitched by the Jets. New York was looking for ways to save cash in order to bring back Fitzpatrick and make other moves, but inadvertently forced Ferguson to re-think his intentions for 2016 and beyond.
New York has claimed to know of Ferguson’s decision for some time, recently stating that they already have a backup plan and are trying to “execute it”.
The one good thing here is Ferguson walking away frees up roughly $9 million in free money for 2016. That money could be used to convince Fitzpatrick to return and pick up where he left off – a career season that nearly resulted in a trip to the playoffs. The Jets could also use the extra cash to replace Ferguson and/or add another impact defender.
The team already boasts an excellent passing attack with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and recently signed versatile running back Matt Forte. If they can fill in their glaring holes, they could be right back in the mix for the AFC East come next season.
New York’s Options
Fitzpatrick’s situation has to be placed on the back burner for the interim, as New York suddenly has a huge hole on an otherwise stable offensive line. Ferguson was starting to get up there in years, but he was still grading out as a high level pass protector and made Fitzpatrick’s left side a non-issue. Depending on who replaces him, it could quickly become a negative wrinkle in the offense.
New York hasn’t gone on record as to what their plan of attack is, but it could include making a splash in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Landing stud tackle Laremy Tunsil isn’t a possibility with the 20th pick, but Michigan State’s Jack Conklin is absolutely in play. Other tackle prospects Gang Green could consider include Ohio State’s Taylor Decker and Notre Dame’s Ronnie Staley, although Staley is another prospect who is a steep long shot to last all the way to the 20th pick in the draft.
Of course, perhaps a trade up to land someone like Stanley could be the plan the Jets plan to “execute”.
Free agency is also still in play. Will Beatty, Nate Chandler, Jake Long, Don Barclay and Jason Fox are a few interesting veterans that remain out on the open market that wouldn’t be terrible attempts at filling in the left tackle slot. None of them are sure-fire fixes, but in lieu of an obvious answer, they could potentially make sense.
For a team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2015 and still doesn’t have their expected starting quarterback under contract, the loss of a top notch left tackle could be a pretty hefty blow. New York already enters 2016 with weak 50/1 odds to win it all this season, and even that could have been a reach with all things considered. The Jets are still a fringe playoff team if they can bring Fitzpatrick back, as they stood toe to toe with the New England Patriots and are arguably just as good – if not better – than the rest of the AFC East. That could give them a shot at the division title if everything breaks right and they’re able to both keep Fitzpatrick and also effectively replace the retiring Ferguson. If not, however, their odds to make any serious playoff noise may be worse than they already are.