By Ernie Palladino
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The Jets really have no choice.
When the kids start running around in their pajamas at the end of the week at the NFL Scouting Combine, Gang Green have given themselves little option but to focus on offensive linemen.
That’s saying a mouthful, considering all the other talent hunting the Jets have ahead of them. Those spots include quarterback, tight end, and cornerback.
But their recent moves, which included excising right tackle Breno Giacomini, left tackle Ryan Clady, and their offensive anchor, Nick Mangold, from the ledgers, has left them without an offensive line.
All of Gang Green Nation saw last season what happens when injuries decimate the frontal protection, as all three of those guys missed significant time. Now, imagine what things will look like as the Jets rebuild almost an entire front.
It won’t be all with kids, of course. They probably have the rugged Mangold’s replacement on the roster already in restricted free agent Wesley Johnson, who did what some might call a respectable job during Mangold’s eight-game absence due to a bad ankle.
And there’s probably a free agent tackle out there that Mike Maccagnan is already considering worthy of spending part of the $18.5 million of cap room he created through his latest cuts, which also included kicker Nick Folk.
At least one draft pundit has them taking Florida State tackle Roderick Johnson with their third-round pick. He’s started every game since 2014 and shows potential as a long-bodied left tackle. He has some footwork issues to work out, but might be the guy to develop now that Clady is gone.
Maccagnan will have a choice of veteran talent once the free agency starting gun goes off March 9. Gosder Cherilus, a 6-foo-7, 314-pound Boston College alum who spent the last two years with the Bucs, could make as good a stopgap as any at right tackle. Plus, the 32-year-old was the Lions’ first-round pick in 2008.
Whoever the Jets get to re-populate the protection for whoever will quarterback this team next year, they’ll have to land someone with leadership qualities. That’s the biggest thing they’ll miss with Mangold off the roster.
Even Todd Bowles admitted that losing the 11-year veteran and seven-time Pro Bowler created a big hole in the leadership department.
“A great person, a great player,” Bowles said moments after the 33-year-old center’s release. “You could always count on Nick’s smarts, consistency, and poise.”
One should also remember that Mangold provided a seamless transition from Hall of Fame finalist Kevin Mawae in 2006. Mangold undoubtedly will find himself on the ballot, too, once he hangs them up.
Mawae and Mangold were the Jets’ only two regular centers since 1998.
That’s a lot of consistency to give up at one position.
Add the other two spots, and the Jets have a lot of work to do up front.
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