The New York Jets’ savior has returned. No, Joe Namath won’t be suiting up this season. Rather, Ryan Fitzpatrick is back with Gang Green after an offseason contract stalemate that only the Jets could fashion with a 33-year-old quarterback.
Fitzpatrick is back in the fold on a one-year deal, providing hope that the Jets could have the pieces in place for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2010. New York’s offense is loaded with dangerous weapons, which is remarkable for a franchise that lined up Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson and Stephen Hill as its top three receivers not too long ago.
The dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker returns after catching a combined 189 passes and 26 touchdowns in its first season as a tandem. The Jets swapped the bruising Chris Ivory for a fleet-footed, pass-catching machine in former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and also re-signed a poor man’s version of Forte in tailback Bilal Powell.
The Jets have made a conscious decision to shift toward an aerial attack, and they have the firepower to pull it off. But question marks along the offensive line could derail their plan.
New York’s offensive line had a decent 2015 season. The Jets ranked No. 3 in pass protection, according to Football Outsiders, allowing only 22 sacks. The unit wasn’t as successful in the running game, ranking 26th in run blocking.
Anchor left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired at 32 years old earlier this offseason. That void prompted one of the most intriguing roster moves made this offseason by general manager Mike Maccagnan.
Maccagnan pulled the trigger on a trade for Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady. The Jets traded a fifth-round pick to Denver in exchange for Clady with the hope the star left tackle can return enormous dividends on a relatively modest investment. Of course, that will all depend on whether Clady can stay healthy.
The veteran is coming off of a torn left ACL sustained in May 2015, but his injury history dates back to 2010 when he tore his patellar tendon. In 2013, he played in only two games before sustaining a fracture in his left foot that ended his season.
When healthy, Clady is a premier talent who could be an upgrade over the steady but slowly regressing Ferguson. If Clady goes down, the Jets could be in trouble, as the unit lacks much depth behind the starters.
The right side of New York’s offensive line appears to be a weakness. Right tackle Breno Giacomini received a 36.3 grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranked 68th among NFL offensive tackles.
Right guard Brian Winters didn’t perform much better last season, earning a 53.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. Giacomini, 30, has started training camp on the physically unable to perform list due to a lower back injury and probably tops out as an average blocker who can provide a nasty streak. Winters has struggled since being taken in the third round by New York in the 2013 draft.
New York’s right side could use an overhaul, but the Jets likely will roll the dice with the current combination and hope for the best. The backups are unproven, including guards Dakota Dozier and Wesley Johnson and tackles Brent Qvale, Ben Ijalana and 2016 fifth-round pick Brandon Shell.
Center Nick Mangold is still among the best in the league, but age appears to be getting the best of him. Mangold played in only 84.3 percent of New York’s offensive snaps and was graded as only the No. 17 center in the league by Pro Football Focus. At 32 years old, Mangold’s best football is likely behind him.
Left guard James Carpenter was quietly the team’s best blocker in his first season with the Jets. He finished the year as Pro Football Focus’ No. 17 offensive guard and was a force in both the ground game and passing attack.
The Jets might look to counteract any deficiencies along the line by letting Fitzpatrick throw the ball about 30 times a game in a short-to-medium passing attack. But the plan does not come without risks. Fitzpatrick has thrown 44 interceptions during the three seasons in which he started all 16 games.
The Jets might be expected to soar offensively once again, a rarity for the franchise of late, but bad offensive line play could keep Gang Green grounded.