Just days after learning Mekhi Becton is likely to miss the 2022 season with a knee injury, the New York Jets have found a replacement by agreeing to a two-year deal with veteran offensive tackle Duane Brown, reports Adam Schefter of ESPN.
The rapidity with which the Jets acted to sign Brown is a clear indication that they don’t want to leave any excuses on the table for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. Let’s look at how Brown fits in with the rest of New York’s offensive line.
New York Jets sign Duane Brown
Becton was shifting to right tackle on a full-time basis for the 2022 campaign, leaving George Fant to play on the left side. The Jets were clearly interested in adding more depth even before Becton went down, as they hosted Brown during a scrimmage last week.
Once the severity of Becton’s knee cap and patella injury was revealed, New York’s need for offensive line reinforcements became all the more apparent. Had they not signed Brown, the Jets would have turned to Connor McDermott — who started three games for the team in 2021 at right tackle — while rookie fourth-rounder Max Mitchell could have also mixed in.
Instead of just “getting by” at tackle, the Jets have now added a five-time Pro Bowler in Brown. Although he’ll turn 37 years old by the end of August, Brown was still providing above-average play for the Seahawks in 2021. He has 14 seasons of NFL experience under his belt, so he’ll offer the same sort of stabilizing presence that Morgan Moses did a year ago.
With Brown under contract, the Jets will have to determine where exactly he’ll play. Brown has never played a snap of right tackle in his NFL career, while Fant has spent ample time on the right side, including while playing alongside Brown in Seattle.
Given that Brown likely doesn’t want to change positions at this point in his career, New York will likely slide Fant back to the right side. Gang Green can use the rest of training camp and the preseason to sort out their alignment.
Brown’s two-year contract is worth $22 million, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, so depending on how the deal is structured, he could theoretically be part of their plans in 2023. Fant is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2022 campaign, and he’s currently negotiating an extension with New York. General manager Joe Douglas could use Brown’s addition as leverage in contract talks with Fant, while a potential move back to right tackle could also affect the discussions.
Zach Wilson has no more excuses
Brown will become the second new face on the Jets’ new-look offensive line, joining former 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson, who signed a three-year, $40 million deal in March. Tomlinson will play left guard, while 2021 first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker will slide to RG. Connor McGovern is back at center after starting 31 games over the past two seasons.
Pro Football Network recently ranked New York’s offensive line as the 16th-best in the league, and there’s a lot of upside here. The loss of Becton hurts, but Brown should be able to replicate — if not exceed — the production that Becton was expected to turn in this season. And Vera-Tucker has the potential to ascend and become one of the best guards in the NFL.
New York moved quickly to replace Becton, and that was by design. The Jets have to fully evaluate Zach Wilson as he enters his second NFL season, and they won’t be able to do that if he’s consistently running for his life behind a porous offensive line.
Between fixing the OL and adding skill-position talent such as Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, C.J. Uzomah, and Tyler Conklin, the Jets’ front office is giving Zach Wilson every chance to succeed in 2022. If he doesn’t, Douglas could begin thinking about targeting a quarterback replacement — either via the draft or the free agent market — as soon as next offseason.