Lichtenstein: Kalil Signing Already Shows Douglas More Determined To Plug Jets' Holes Than Maccagnan Was

Steve Lichtenstein
August 02, 2019 - 11:38 am
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The Jets announced that they came to terms with former Carolina center Ryan Kalil on Thursday, two days before Kevin Mawae, the best they ever had at the position, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Fitting, since Kalil’s two All-Pro and five Pro Bowl selections make him a worthy successor to Mawae and future inductee Nick Mangold. (I’m willing to erase the Wesley Johnson and Spencer Long one-and-done eras from my memory).

If all goes well with Kalil’s physical, he could make his debut on the practice field at One Jets Drive on Saturday and still get home in time to catch Mawae’s speech.

Credit the Jets' new general manager, Joe Douglas, for his fortitude here. With one big check ($8.4 million, with incentives), he rectified his team’s weakest link by coaxing a player who had announced his retirement after his 12th NFL season, all in Carolina. I could see Douglas’ predecessor, Mike Maccagnan, settling with Jonotthan Harrison, who had been penciled in as the Jets’ starter after five seasons in the league, the last two in New York, as mostly a below-level backup. 

Ryan Kalil
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Images

That was just not a workable situation for a team that is looking to surprise people this season, no matter how much coach Adam Gase tried to prop up Harrison all offseason by emphasizing his mobility across the line.

Kalil, 34, might be past his prime, but he’s still a dramatic upgrade over Harrison. Kalil started all 16 games in 2018 after injuries, including a severe one to his neck two years ago, limited him to playing just 14 of 32 games in the prior two seasons. ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the league’s 15th-best center among the 36 at his position with at least 500 snaps last season. Harrison ranked 28th.

More importantly, Kalil is exactly the trusted veteran that quarterback Sam Darnold needs to accelerate his development in his sophomore year. Remember, it took a good chunk of Darnold’s focus just to catch all the errant shotgun snaps last season.

Kalil will help Darnold with more advanced tasks like the weekly chess match. For example, he’ll call out the changing defenses and quickly communicate the correct adjustments to make.

Even with the Kalil addition, the Jets’ offensive line, as a unit, is still a question mark. Of the three returning starters, only left tackle Kelvin Beachum drew as high as an average grade from PFF last season. Like Kalil, guard Kelechi Osemele, whom Maccagnan acquired in a trade with Oakland in March, was once a dominant force, but injuries curtailed his effectiveness last season -- PFF graded him out as 50th among 65 guards with at least 500 snaps.

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On the right side, guard Brian Winters is coming off a down year, especially in his run blocking, while Brandon Shell had his 2018 campaign cut short after 14 games with a knee injury. Fortunately, Shell has not been restricted in training camp, but he, too, will have to generate more of a push in the run game this season in order to maximize the talents of marquee free-agent acquisition Le’Veon Bell, perhaps the most patient running back in the league.

For now, the Kalil signing is just another boost to this team’s confidence about the upcoming season, another indication that the organization is finally turning into a results-oriented operation. You know, like how their competition has been operating all these years. 

It’s nice when Jets fans can celebrate some of the team’s few accomplishments from the past such as the enshrinement of Mawae, who was first-team All-Pro in five of his eight seasons in New York. But it’s way better when we don’t have to use it to obscure an odious present. 

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1