Once considered the franchise left tackle in New York, Mekhi Becton will enter his third season with the Jets in a competition for playing time.
After missing the final 16 games of the 2021 season with a knee injury, the former first-round pick will need to beat out George Fant if he wants to be New York's starting left tackle next season, per head coach Robert Saleh.
"[Mekhi] has to come in and reassert himself into the starting lineup," Saleh told reporters (including ESPN's Rich Cimini) at this week's Senior Bowl. "It's a really good problem to have, with what George has been able to do. We know what we can get out of Mekhi as he attacks this offseason."
Becton underwent knee surgery in September after suffering an injury during New York's Week 1 loss to the Panthers. Initially, he was expected to miss only a month or two. He ended up sitting out the rest of the season, a delay that was reportedly a result of Becton gaining weight while attempting to recover from his injury.
There's no question the left tackle is talented. Becton showed flashes of dominance during his rookie year back in 2020 and there are plenty of reasons why he was worthy of the No. 11 overall pick earlier that year. Injuries have limited the tackle's ability to develop, however, keeping him off the field for far too long.
That in mind, is there any chance that the Jets choose to move on from Becton this offseason, shipping him to another franchise while moving forward with Fant or someone else?
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler answered that question this week, naming Becton in an article highlighting 20 "under-the-radar NFL trade candidates."
Here's what Fowler had to say about Becton:
This feels like a long shot because GM Joe Douglas might have a tough time moving off his first draft pick in New York. Plus, concern about his fit in the Jets' zone-running scheme is a bit overblown. Becton is a major talent who should be scheme-transcendent, but his second year couldn't have gone worse. He came to camp overweight and missed 16 games with knee issues.
The Jets found something with George Fant and Morgan Moses at the tackle spots, though Moses is a free agent and upped his value. (No wonder the Jets tried to do a two-year deal with Moses last summer.) The Jets believe Becton is a good player who probably didn't respond to Year 2 adversity well enough, so how he responds this offseason will be crucial for him. Let's call this one a deep sleeper. Nothing is expected to happen, but his name bears watching.
As Fowler said, this is a long shot.
Saleh's comments show that while the Jets aren't pleased with Becton's recent inability to stay on the field, they still believe he has the talent to be a starting left tackle at this level.
To put it another way, Saleh made it sound like they're going to give Becton one more try to get in the shape necessary to compete at a high level.
"It's a big offseason for him in the sense that he's got to put together an OTAs and a training camp and give himself a chance during the season," Saleh said. "We're excited about Mekhi and the direction he's going and we're super excited [about] George. We feel like we've got a really good tackle plan."
Then again, could the organization's fondness for Fant influence general manager Joe Douglas to field offers for Becton over the next few months? It's not impossible. Fant made it clear this past season—filling in at left tackle admirably in Becton's place for effectively the entire year—that he's deserving of a full-time role.
"It would be a disservice to George and the work he's put in and the things he's been able to do this year to just tell George he can't compete for that job," Saleh added. "Like I said, it's a great problem. We're kind of spoiled in that regard that we have two really good tackles. It's going to be great to watch those guys compete."
In this league, depth on the offensive line is a good thing. Considering Becton still has high upside and won't be a free agent for at least two more seasons, it seems hasty for New York to trade him away. This will be an interesting story to follow going forward, though, as Becton's future slowly comes back into focus.
“I think Mekhi has the skill set to do whatever he wants,” Saleh told reporters. “He just has to put his mind to it.”
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