New York Jets looking to add protection for Aaron Rodgers

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The prospect of blocking for New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers fueled some serious gushing among the top offensive tackle prospects at last week's NFL scouting combine.

Penn State's Olu Fashanu said "it would be awesome" before going on to say "Aaron Rodgers is a legend of the game." Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga said he'd be speechless and that "[it's] just a dream kind of thing." Alabama's JC Latham said Rodgers was his Madden quarterback as a kid.

Who wouldn't want to protect a future Hall of Famer? The challenge for general manager Joe Douglas is finding three starting linemen -- through the draft and free agency -- whose skill matches the want-to of Fashanu & Co.

It's an annual refrain around One Jets Drive: Fix the offensive line. This time, it's more important than ever because of the sense of urgency. For the Jets, it's, "Just win-now, baby," with a 40-year-old Rodgers coming off Achilles surgery. Not to be melodramatic, but if Douglas fails to assemble a quality offensive line, it could send the organization into a total reset in 2025 -- as he acknowledged the need for "a lot of pieces" up front.

"I feel like there are some guys that could come in and be the right type of fit for us," Douglas said. "In terms of intelligence, toughness, reliability, there's some good candidates out there that can come in and help us."

The Jets finished 28th in sacks allowed, 30th in pass block win rate, 22nd in rushing yards and 29th in run block win rate. With more than $25 million in cap space (which should increase to more than $40 million with contract restructures), and with the 10th pick in a draft loaded with tackles, the Jets have the resources to pull off an overhaul.

But it won't be easy. It will take savvy and creativity and maybe a little luck. The key, Douglas said, is Alijah Vera-Tucker, whose four-position versatility provides uncommon flexibility. He has played every position except center, which means they can add two guards and one tackle or two tackles and one guard, depending on where they slot Vera-Tucker.

Let's try to solve the puzzle:

Left/right tackle

Protecting Rodgers' blind side is priority No. 1, so the goal is to find a franchise left tackle.

Former first-round pick Mekhi Becton was supposed to be that guy, but they will let him walk in free agency -- which officially starts Wednesday. They might find his replacement with the 10th pick, but it's a gamble because Notre Dame's Joe Alt -- the consensus No. 1 left tackle -- probably will be gone. Fashanu could be on the board, but there's a chance he won't be, and Fauga and Latham are right tackles.

Douglas can't afford to leave himself exposed, so he needs to come out of free agency with a left tackle. As usual, the pool is shallow. The best left tackles are Tyron Smith (Dallas Cowboys), Trent Brown (New England Patriots) and Donovan Smith (Kansas City Chiefs), each of whom carries an age/injury risk. Vera-Tucker has played only 68 snaps at left tackle, so he could be a project there. Plus, they want his next position to be his last position, according to Douglas, who said no more switching.

The top right tackles are Mike Onwenu (Patriots), Jonah Williams (Cincinnati Bengals) and Jermaine Eluemunor (Las Vegas Raiders), each of whom has position flexibility. Onwenu, who will have a robust market, is viewed by some as a better right guard than right tackle. That makes him attractive to the Jets. Williams and Eluemunor have played left tackle (more so Williams), adding to their value. Vera-Tucker (268 snaps) is an option, though many believe he's better suited to guard.

In a perfect world, the Jets sign two tackles, draft one and let the best two play. This must be carefully managed because they don't want to overspend on two tackles only to have one sit behind a rookie.

Smith, 33, an eight-time Pro Bowler and potential Hall of Famer, fits the bill from a win-now standpoint, but his injury history will give teams pause. He has missed 37 games in the last four years, and the Jets can't afford a re-run of the Duane Brown saga. But when healthy, he's still an elite pass protector.

Oft-injured Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, expected to be released, can't be ruled out because of his link to Rodgers and familiarity with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's scheme. If he can pass a physical -- he's had five knee surgeries -- he could be considered as a hold-the-fort starter or swing tackle.

Left/right guard

The Jets should sign the best-available guard and pair him with Vera-Tucker, beefing up the interior. There are several starting-caliber guards in free agency, led by Robert Hunt (Miami Dolphins) and Kevin Zeitler (Baltimore Ravens).

Hunt intrigues the Jets because he played in an outside zone scheme, which they run, and ranked No. 1 among guards in pressure percentage, according to Next Gen Stats. Zeitler, 34, is long in the tooth, but has remained a consistent player. Both play right guard. If they sign one, they can kick Vera-Tucker back to left guard, where he showed promise as a rookie.


The Jets feel good about incumbent Joe Tippmann, a second-round pick last year. That said, he did play 198 snaps at right guard, so there's position flexibility.


The top backups under contract are tackles Carter Warren and Max Mitchell and center/guard Wes Schweitzer. Quality depth is vital, and the Jets learned that the hard way. In 2023, they started 13 different line combinations, which included seven different right guards.

One longtime personnel executive, analyzing the Jets' line issues in recent years, said Douglas has focused too much on athletic traits and not enough on intangibles such as toughness and durability.

"I don't look at the ceiling with offensive linemen, I look at the floor," the executive said. "It's a character position. [Former Jet] Nick Mangold is the poster boy for everything you want in a lineman -- smart and tough. Those are the guys you want."