The right side of the New York Jets' offensive line is headed to free agency -- guard Willie Colon and tackle Austin Howard. With no plug-and-play replacements on the roster, it behooves the Jets to re-sign both.
They will try to get Howard locked up before he hits the open market. A former practice-squad player who came up the hard way, Howard, still only 27 (by opening day), is the kind of player you want to keep in your program. He's a two-year starter with many good years of football ahead of him, and he undoubtedly would draw considerable interest on the open market. He allowed only two sacks, tied for the league lead among right tackles, according to ProFootballFocus. Howard was an integral part of the running game. In fact, only one team ran behind their right tackle more often than the Jets did with Howard, according to NFL stats. How much is he worth? New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is a good comparison. A year ago, he signed a four-year contract for close to $17 million.
Colon's situation is complicated by a torn biceps in the final game. He will miss a good chunk of the offseason, but he should be good to go by training camp. Colon, who will be 31, is a good hold-the-fort player, certainly worth another one-year contract. He won't draw interest now, but he could be a factor in the secondary free-agent market.
Projected offseason plan: The Jets will make a strong push to re-sign Howard, but they will take a wait-and-see approach at right guard. They have Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell waiting behind Howard and Colon, respectively, but neither player saw action last season. They were inactive for every game, basically rookie red-shirts. They were deemed developmental players, especially Campbell, a former college defensive lineman. It would be a stretch to think they would be ready for starting duty early in 2014, but general manager John Idzik kept them around for a reason. Aboushi and Campbell will be a good barometer of the Jets' scouting and player development.
Free agency: Slim pickings at right tackle. Zach Strief (New Orleans Saints) would be the best option. There is not much at guard, either. Some scouting services rate Richie Incognito (Miami Dolphins) are the top free-agent guard, but do the Jets really want to go there?
Draft: After drafting three offensive linemen last year, the last thing the Jets want to do is go back for more. But if they were to lose Howard, they would be able to replace him in the first round (18th overall). ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has six tackles rated among his top 32 players. At 18, they could be in position for Zack Martin (Notre Dame) or Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama). But with other needs on offense, they would be just spinning their wheels if they to use a premium pick to draft a Howard replacement.