Once again, general manager Joe Douglas will enter the offseason with the offensive line at the forefront of his mind. The Jets only had two starting offensive linemen who played over 700 snaps in 2023, whereas the four teams contesting the AFC and NFC championship games this weekend all had five starters playing over 700 snaps in the regular season.
That underlines the importance of getting a stable group together and this could therefore be Douglas’ number one priority.
Let’s break down the pros and cons…
The Jets’ right guard position was a revolving door last season. Eight different players saw time there and all eight played less than 250 snaps with only Alijah Vera-Tucker grading out above average. It should therefore appeal to Douglas to have the opportunity to bring in a player who has been extremely durable for his career.
Zeitler has started 181 games in 12 years and has played over 800 snaps in all 12 of those seasons. The Jets brought in a pair of durable linemen in recent years – Laken Tomlinson and Morgan Moses – and they would prove to be just as durable as Jets players. Douglas probably regrets not re-signing Moses, who went on to be a teammate of Zeitler’s in Baltimore.
Talent and Production
Zeitler is not just a steady presence though. He’s capable of elevating the Jets’ offensive line talent level with his performance.
While he’s never been a pro bowler, Zeitler led fan voting at the guard position this year and signed a $60 million contract with the Browns several years ago that, at the time, made him the third-highest-paid guard in the NFL.
He’s reliable in pass protection, having not given up more than three sacks in a season since his rookie year, and has good on-field discipline with only having more than five penalties in a season once. He’s also a consistent run blocker who has blocked for some of the league’s most productive running games, including for the Ravens who led the league this season.
Value for money
Pro Football Focus currently projects that Zeitler would receive a two-year deal worth $7.5 million per year on the open market. If the Jets could sign him for that kind of money, it would be an affordable deal that would help their flexibility to address some other needs.
Zeitler may not be an ideal scheme fit for the Jets. He’s regarded as more suited to a gap/power running game, which he’s fared well in with the Ravens and Giants in recent seasons. The Jets have recently trended towards having more athletic linemen and zone-heavy schemes, although they do like to mix things up and can potentially tailor the running game to their personnel.
The veteran also doesn’t offer anything in the way of positional flexibility, having played exclusively as a right guard during his pro career. That’s not necessarily a problem, because the Jets have some other versatile players, but it would mean that either the team would have to play Vera-Tucker at tackle which might not be his best position, or cut ties with Tomlinson, who has been a rare mainstay in the lineup.
Zeitler is due to hit the open market and missed some offseason activities last year as Baltimore opted not to offer him an extension. This suggests he’s open to continuing his career and that he might be leaning towards moving on from the Ravens. However, none of this is certain. It could all depend on how the Ravens perform over the next few weeks. If they come close, Zeitler could be compelled to try again with the same team. However, if they win it all, perhaps he will consider retirement.
Even if Zeitler does hit the market, there is sure to be competition for his services from other teams and the Jets aren’t really in a position to overpay for talent with so many holes to fill.
Although he’s been durable throughout his career, Zeitler is now 33 and there’s no telling if his body will start to break down or if he’ll lose a step and become less effective as he enters the twilight years of his long career.
Even if the Jets do sign Zeitler and it works out, it’s probably a short-term move. Then again, the Jets aren’t thinking too far into the future anyway, as they look to keep the window of contention open for as long as Aaron Rodgers is in their plans.
Zeitler would be a solid addition, albeit a short-term move. However, the Jets may be reluctant to go into 2023 relying on guys with upside who will be learning as they go. Plugging in a player like Zeitler and having him remain healthy and providing them with consistent play could be transformative for a line that was desperate for chemistry and continuity last season.
The plan in the past was always for Vera-Tucker to be a guard in the long-term, but with limited offensive tackles on the market and Vera-Tucker having shown some competence within that role, perhaps this is the way the Jets will approach replenishing their offensive line depth.