Biggest Offseason Failure; Lack of Blocking Tight End
Florham Park, NJ- Jets fans have currently taken to the Internet to voice their displeasure with Mike Tannenbaum. The main complaint is about a failure to address the continuing problem of Wayne Hunter as the starting right tackle. On it’s face it’s seems worthy of the rage and fury that is brewing within a segment of the fan base, but as you dig further down the rabbit hole and look at it from every angle the Jets decision at right tackle starts to make more sense.
The failure to upgrade the right tackle position is defensible (the case for this will be made), what is indefensible is the failure to bring in a blocking tight end. For a team that wants to get back to ground and pound and likes to use multiple tight end sets one would think it’d be necessary to have at least one tight end that can actually block defenders.
Obviously settling for bringing back Hunter (and guaranteeing his salary for this year), is less than ideal but reality and ideal don’t often work to well together. Simply put the Jets lacked viable options and they’re far from the only team that has a need to improve their offensive-line. Eric Winston would’ve been a perfect fit, ideally, but the reality was the Jets just couldn’t afford to pay him what the Chiefs could ($22 million over four years). The other free agent options? None of them were looked at as an upgrade over Hunter in the Jets eyes and you can think that’s terrible self-evaluation, and maybe there’s something to that, but it’s also true that there just weren’t any difference makers available at right tackle besides Winston.
Now if you’re wondering about the draft, please go back in your brain and remember what was being said and going on at the time. The mere suggestion of taking a offensive lineman in the first round was enough to fill your Twitter mentions with all types of hate tweets, the Jets had to go defense was the prevailing opinion. It was a solid argument and that’s what the Jets did, they didn’t like any of the offensive line prospects enough to seriously consider and they got their potential difference maker on the defensive line like everyone wanted. But for argument’s sake, let’s say they did go offensive line in the draft, well then there would still be outrage over the fact that they didn’t draft a difference maker on defense.
This draft class was considered a weak class for offensive lineman and many of the options people were throwing out for the Jets (David DeCastro), were guards. Sure they could’ve helped down the line, but they most likely couldn’t have filled in for Hunter immediately. There is a lack of talent at the tackle position in the NFL right now, which makes finding a suitable replacement for Hunter very difficult. It’s easy to say anyone would be better than Hunter, but if you look at all the options and scenarios it’s easy to understand why they upgraded in areas they felt were considerable upgrades. The Jets went into this offseason with numerous holes and not that much money to work with, they were never going to fill them all and this is the biggest one they failed to address, but it’s understandable because of all the other variables.
What’s not understandable is the failure to bring in a blocking tight end. They say a tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, but do you know who a good blocking tight end can be a best friend to? A struggling tackle.
A good blocking tight end can go a long way to covering up for the tackle deficiencies, but the Jets don’t have a single blocking tight end on the roster and for some reason they let Joel Dreessen sign with Denver (three year $8.5 million, far within the Jets price range), without so much as an inquiry. Dreessen wasn’t the only available option, but he would’ve been perfect. He’s an excellent blocker and an extremely underrated receiver who could have potentially helped them with those receiving skills during the points in the season where Dustin Keller continually disappears. It’s not as much that the Jets didn’t sign Dreessen, but they didn’t even attempt to sign him or any other blocking tight ends.
The tight ends are a liability when it comes to blocking, but it’s not their fault because none of them were ever considered blocking tight ends. Keller was always a receiving threat only, sure his blocking has improved moderately but nowhere good enough, Jeff Cumberland was a receiver in college, Josh Baker is more of a receiving threat and Hayden Smith is still adjusting to playing football for the first time in his life. So yesterday when Rex Ryan was asked if he was comfortable with the blocking ability of his tight ends or if he would consider bringing in someone who was more suited to be a blocker, he made sure to avoid the topic of looking for outside help.
“I think we’re getting better in those areas. Certainly, we can still work to get better, but you’re taking a guy like Jeff Cumberland who is a converted receiver from college (and) making him a tight end.” Ryan said, “The thing I like about Jeff is he’s tough, he puts his face in and he’s trying to finish better. I think he’s getting better. You see him getting better each day. I see Dustin Keller getting better. Dustin is never going to be considered Mike Ditka as a blocking tight end and neither is Cumberland or anyone else in this league. I think we can be more than adequate there.”
Notice he didn’t mention Baker or Smith, because he knows they can’t be the answer. What he said about Keller and Cumberland is true, but that’s not the problem. The problem is they aren’t blocking tight ends and this is every bit as true now as it was last year and during the offseason when they were letting the Dreessen’s of the world sign elsewhere without putting a call in.
The right tackle situation is a bigger problem for the success of this team, but it’s a much harder problem to solve and at least they’re are actively trying to do something about it, the attempted trade for Jeff Otah proves that. They aren’t done shopping for a new right tackle, fans just have to hope a young guy with a cheap contract steps up in someone’s camp and makes a veteran right tackle expendable, but they don’t seem to be shopping for a blocking tight end and that’s a problem.
The lack of a blocking tight end could’ve been solved easily and cheaply. It certainly wouldn’t turn Hunter into a pro bowl tackle, but it would surely give him some help and relieve him of some pressure. It could have been a cheap, easy fix, but the Jets didn’t see it that way and that in itself is alarming.