There’s only one specific way the New York Jets can handle the center position heading into the NFL Draft and here it is …
While the first few waves of free agency have already passed, there are still a few names floating around out there who possess the starting experience that porous teams like the New York Jets could potentially covet.
One of the many holes that still remain on the Jets roster is smack in the middle of the offensive line, at center.
With Spencer Long coming off of a horrendous season, the Jets made the no-brainer decision to cut ties with him, thus entering the offseason with a humongous hole at center. One would presume this meant the team would attack the position aggressively in free agency.
Surprisingly, they came away empty-handed at the position. The top two options on the market headed elsewhere, as former Chiefs center Mitch Morse joined the Bills and former Broncos center Matt Paradis joined the Panthers.
New York’s lack of aggressiveness at the center position is rather peculiar. This is a spot that has killed the Jets offense in each of the last two seasons. Due to the struggles of Wesley Johnson and Long, the Jets have fielded one of the worst running attacks in the league for two consecutive years, while dealing with far too much pressure allowed up the middle.
For a team with a developing young quarterback, the importance of the center position is even greater than usual. A reliable leader in the middle of the offensive line that can act as a second coach on the field is extremely key for a young passer. In addition to that, it’s obviously important from a production standpoint to have a center who can anchor a strong run game and keep the pressure up the middle to a minimum.
Constant flip-flopping between mediocre options at the spot is not going to be all that helpful for Sam Darnold.
It seemed like the center spot would be a top priority for the Jets to address with their hoard of cap space, but as it turns out, that was not meant to be. Both Morse and Paradis, who the Jets were rumored to be in on, carry a lot of injury question marks. Perhaps the Jets were not comfortable with either of those two players due to uncertainty from a health standpoint, which is fair.
So, the show goes on without one of the big-ticket free agent snappers agreeing to don the green and white. The Jets did re-sign Jonotthan Harrison, but as we learned in 2018, he is not good enough to be relied upon as a starter.
Mike Maccagnan and company will likely turn to the draft to address the long-term health of this position. Until then, the team could still use another experienced player in the building to at least provide competition for Harrison, and potentially hold the spot down until a draft selection is ready to take over. We could even see a three-way center battle similar to the quarterback showdown the Jets had in 2018, featuring Harrison, a draft pick, and a free agent addition.
So, who should the Jets turn to for an injection of life at the center position? The higher-tier options are off the table, but there are a few names left with starting experience. These players are not going to be remotely near the All-Pro conversation, but they have a lot of experience and a good chance to represent at least somewhat of an upgrade over Harrison.
One of them was a starter in Super Bowl 53. The 33-year old John Sullivan, an alum of Notre Dame, spent the last two seasons in Los Angeles as a weekly starter for the Rams. Following this year’s playoff run, he was not retained by the defending NFC Champions and remains on the market.
C.J. Mosley's sideline-to-sideline game is insane.
Look at the angle he takes. No doubt he takes it incredibly flat with 3rd-and-3 in mind and the corner does a tremendous job with the inside shoulder, but any way you slice it, this effort is filthy. #Jets @TreyDeuce32RTR pic.twitter.com/Pnk2HVaEuN
— ESNY Jets Film Room (@jetsfilmroom) March 23, 2019
The Mount Kisco, New York native was selected 187th overall by the Vikings in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft. He has started 132 games at center in his NFL career, mostly with the Vikings and including a quick pit stop for the Redskins in Washington, before heading to Hollywood prior to 2017. He did not miss a single game due to injury for the Rams over his two seasons there.
As you can expect with a player still available at this stage of the market, Sullivan is probably not going to come in and provide a huge upgrade. He is going to turn 34 in August and was considered the weak link on the Rams line this past season. His outing in the Super Bowl was very rough.
However, from an off-the-field standpoint, Sullivan has been praised as a major asset. He has received a lot of acclaim for his role in the development of Jared Goff. This alone could make Sullivan attractive as a stopgap for the Jets, even if he can no longer provide staggeringly high-quality play.
In spite of his age and performance drop-off, Sullivan represents a perfect fit for what the Jets could use at this position right now, with his experience and reputation as a teammate.
The other option and one that the Jets have been rumored to have interest in is Stefan Wisniewski, who spent the last three seasons in Philadelphia.
Wisniewski, who just turned 30 years old, has a lot of experience starting at center in the NFL. He was selected 48th overall by the Raiders in the second round of the 2011 Draft and started 61 games for them from 2011-14. He spent one season as the starting center for the Jaguars in 2015 before joining the Eagles, where he spent the past three seasons.
The Penn State product was a backup in Philadelphia, primarily playing left guard but sprinkling in some time at center as well. Circumstances threw him in for a total of 28 starts for the Eagles (all at left guard), including all three playoff games in their 2017 Super Bowl run.
Like Sullivan, Wisniewski is not viewed as much more than a replacement-level player, but he carries with him a lot of experience in the league, highlighted by a recent Super Bowl run. He also has spent his past three seasons playing alongside a developing franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, another parallel to Sullivan’s career and experience the Jets could see as valuable to have alongside Sam Darnold.
At this stage of the offseason, it’s clear the Jets are not going to find their center of the future in free agency this year. They will either make an aggressive play at the position on draft weekend in Nashville or wait and see what the market has to offer in 2020 and go through this whole process again.
For now, the Jets could use whatever competition they can find, to try and squeeze the most out of the position in the short-term. If that competition also brings experience to the table, both with the playoffs and playing alongside a young franchise quarterback, then that player can provide a lot of value in the locker room—specifically for Darnold and a developing young center.
Sullivan and Wisniewski both fit that bill to a T. Neither player is going to come in and provide above-average performance, nor will be expected to hold the position down into 2020, but they can both offer the Jets a lot of positive value with the competition and experience they would provide to the locker room.
In other words, each profiles as the quintessential bridge to the future.