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Every year, a handful of developments in the weeks just before the draft change the outlook of the first round. And this is a significant one: Longtime Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson is retiring, ending a 10-season career at just 32 years old.
The stunning news comes two days after a New York Daily News report that the Jets would ask Ferguson to take a pay cut, so they could up their offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Perhaps more importantly, it comes nearly four months after Ferguson penned a guest column for Sports Illustrated on his reaction to seeing the movie Concussion.
Amazingly, Ferguson started all 160 games since being selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 draft. He missed just one—one—snap during his 10-year career.
His decision has to bump offensive tackle to the top of the Jets’ draft-needs list, especially if Fitzpatrick does in fact re-sign with the team. An edge rusher looms as the other depth-chart headache. Selecting an OT with the No. 20 pick, though, already had to be on the mind of GM Mike Maccagnan, as the Jets could stand to upgrade right tackle Breno Giacomini and Ferguson’s current contract was set to expire after 2017.
Now, Maccagnan almost has no choice but to use an early-round selection on a tackle.
New York does gain upwards of $9 million on this year’s cap via Ferguson’s retirement, but the free-agent market at the position has been picked thin (remaining options include an injured Will Beatty, Jake Long and Don Barclay). New York may have more hope of going the trade route: Denver has been rumored to be shopping Ryan Clady after landing free agent Russell Okung, and it is still possible Cleveland could move Joe Thomas.
The more direct path to finding help is through the draft, where the Jets currently hold picks 20, 51 and 83 over the first three rounds.
In my most recent mock draft, published before the Ferguson retirement news, I had the Jets selecting Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi with pick No. 51. They may not be able to wait that long now. But that mock also puts on display the potential difficulty of finding Round 1 help: Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley, Taylor Decker and Jack Conklin all were off the board when New York went on the clock at No. 20.
Ifedi was more of a Giacomini contingency plan, too—he played right tackle in his final two seasons at A&M, despite hopes that he would be able to slide to the left side as a senior. The early-round LT options, beyond that top four, would consist instead of the raw (but talented and athletic) Jason Spriggs and Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark, who is generally considered more of a Round 2 prospect.
Ferguson’s departure definitely makes New York more of a candidate to trade up in Round 1. It already may have been in that camp before Friday, given the need for a dynamic edge rusher on defense. One issue, though, is that the Jets are thin on draft picks, holding just six in total. Leapfrogging teams on the first night of the draft likely would leave them with even fewer slots over the next two days.
So, they are a bit stuck. Maccagnan no doubt will bring in at least one veteran option with experience at left tackle, but he’s also going to have to commit a draft pick or two to the position.
Do the Jets cross their fingers that Decker or Conklin lasts through the first 19 picks? Or do they get aggressive in Round 1 to get ahead of Detroit at No. 16 and Indianapolis at No. 18, two teams that likely will be eyeing O-line help?
They might feel compelled to go the latter route after watching their starting left tackle of the past 10 seasons walk away.