FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It didn’t take long for Joe Douglas to address one of his predecessor’s mistakes. After a few weeks on the job, and before the start of training camp, Douglas commenced his secret Ryan Kalil pursuit. It culminated Thursday with a contract agreement, giving the New York Jets an experienced center to pair with young quarterback Sam Darnold.
Douglas, hired in June to replace Mike Maccagnan as general manager, recognized it would have been borderline malpractice to play his still-developing quarterback behind a journeyman-type center (Jonotthan Harrison) with limited experience. For some reason, Maccagnan ignored the position in the offseason, opting to re-sign Harrison on the cheap.
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The Kalil move shows Douglas, himself an old college lineman, recognizes the importance of offensive line play. (You can almost hear the sound of cheering Jets fans.) It also demonstrates aggressiveness on his part, getting it done while there’s still time for Kalil to get in football shape and learn coach Adam Gase’s offense before the regular season.
Is it a slam-dunk win for the Jets? No. Let’s not forget, Kalil, 34, was retired when the call came. He played 12 seasons for the Carolina Panthers, enjoying glory (five Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl appearance) and enduring pain (serious shoulder and neck injuries in 2016 and 2017). He still has to pass the Jets’ physical. It’s not easy to get off the couch, go to a training camp and return to your previous form. It also should be noted that his performance slipped last season, according to Pro Football Focus grades.
To use a favorite Bill Parcells line, they don’t sell insurance for this kind of thing.
But in this case, the potential reward outweighs the risk. It’s a one-year contract for $8.4 million, including incentives. If Kalil shows up, gets hurt and can’t play, it won’t make much of a dent in the salary cap. With $23 million in cap space, the Jets can afford to take chances. The worst-case scenario is they go back to Harrison.
The best-case scenario is Kalil works his way into shape, galvanizes the offensive line and becomes a trusted bodyguard for Darnold. Kalil can be the O-line version of Josh McCown, Darnold’s 2018 quarterback mentor. Kalil, one of the most beloved players in Panthers history, has seen everything. He can read defenses, adjust blocking schemes and serve as a calming influence on Darnold.
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Kalil is expected to make his practice debut on Saturday, the same day the greatest center in Jets history — Kevin Mawae — is to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In a recent conversation about Mawae, former Jets running back and fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Martin told ESPN, “People underestimate how important the center is to the offensive line. It’s another quarterback on the field, and Kevin was the best at it.”
Kalil can be that second quarterback for the Jets, an old Southern California center snapping the ball to a recent Trojans quarterback in Darnold. Fight on!
The Jets have a seasoned offensive line with Kelvin Beachum (30), Kelechi Osemele (30), Kalil (34), Brian Winters (28) and Brandon Shell (27). Kalil improves the depth because Harrison can go back to being the sixth man as a center/guard swing player. Clearly, the Jets are in win-now mode, as they should be after eight years out of the playoffs.
The biggest winner, though, is Darnold.
New coach, new offense, new center.
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