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Jets could take wrecking ball to aging O-line if they so choose

With free agency approaching (March 9), we're analyzing the biggest needs on the New York Jets' roster, examining possible upgrades:

Position: Offensive line

2016 cap hits of top returnees (offensive-line rank/average per year):

D'Brickashaw Ferguson -- $14.1 million (4/245)

James Carpenter -- $5.6 million (42/245)

Nick Mangold -- $8.6 million (46/245)

Brian Winters -- $1.9 million (147/245)

Breno Giacomini -- $5.6 million (43/245)

Brent Qvale -- $525,000 (220/245)

Wesley Johnson -- $600,000 (213/245)

Pending free agents: Willie Colon, Ben Ijalana.

Key stat: Pass protection wasn't a problem last season. The Jets were pressured on only 23 percent of their dropbacks, the sixth-best mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Money matters: The entire offensive line is counting $38.6 million on the cap, making it the most expensive line in the NFL. It's hard to justify that, considering not a single player made the Pro Bowl. ... Ferguson is a prime candidate to have his contract re-worked. His bloated cap number includes a $1 million roster bonus and a $750,000 workout bonus. Mangold, too, has a large bonus -- $2.4 million. ... Carpenter's $4.45 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year, March 11. He had a strong season; he's not going anywhere.

Big picture: All five starters are under contract, three of whom are over 30 -- Ferguson, Mangold and Giacomini. It's a solid, if not overpowering, line. General manager Mike Maccagnan said at the end of the season that he'd like to keep the starting unit intact while adding developmental players to the pipeline. Let's face it, the Jets have done a lousy job of drafting offensive linemen in recent years, so there's not much quality depth. The best of the backups is Qvale, a former undrafted free agent who could push for a starting job at right guard or right tackle.

Free-agent market watch: Kelechi Osemele (G), Brandon Brooks (G), Richie Incognito (G), Alex Boone (G), Mitchell Schwartz (RT), Andre Smith (RT), Ben Jones (C/G), Ramon Foster (G), Russell Okung (LT), Alex Mack (C).

The game plan: Maccagnan probably would love to sign Brooks, whom he helped draft in Houston, but he will be too rich for the Jets' budget. So will every player on the aforementioned list. Chances are, the Jets will look to sign minimum-salary vets to create competition in camp and bolster the depth, relying heavily on the draft as well. In the unlikely event they swing the wrecking ball, it's important to know that Ferguson ($9.1 million savings), Mangold ($8.6 million) and Giacomini ($4.4 million) can be released with minimal cap ramifications.