The New York Jets need to better protect quarterback Sam Darnold and rumor has it they are looking for a certain veteran to help form a competition among the offensive lineman.
They have already added talent in free agency—signing center Connor McGovern, left tackle George Fant, guard Greg Van Roten and center-guard hybrid Josh Andrews—and used their 11th-overall draft pick on Mekhi Becton. But now New York reportedly has interest in luring former Chicago Bears tackle Kyle Long out of retirement.
Long was asked by a local Chicago reporter, Rick Tarsitano, if there was any truth to the rumors, and he said, “No. None.”
Long’s career was riddled with injury and he hasn’t played a full season in four years. He was placed on the injured reserve (IR) after Week 5 of the 2019 season after a hip injury—the latest among his laundry list of injuries including shoulder, ankle, and foot issues. He ended spending some time on IR every season between 2016-19.
Long announced his retirement in January. Could he play more? Yes, he admitted as much shortly after his decision on NFL’s RapSheet and Friends podcast. Long also stated he would “never wear another set of colors but navy and orange” and doesn’t want to “tarnish” his legacy by joining another organization. But sometimes the urge to return to the gridiron is too strong; we’ve seen it time and time again.
If Long’s return begins in New York, would he be a difference-maker for the Jets?
The Jets’ offensive line more than struggled in pass protection. Darnold was sacked 33 times and blitzed 166 times last year. New York’s offensive front has gotten progressively worse as Darnold’s sack percentage per game jumped from 6.60% his rookie season to 9.08% last year, which was the fourth-worst mark in the league. General manager Joe Douglas needs to combat the offensive line issues and doesn’t want a situation where Darnold “was just going to have to be under fire all the time with protection issues.” Douglas wants to keep it simple with “smart, tough and versatile” players and create a competition among the position group. Who is going to fear losing a spot to a player who can’t hold it—even if it’s to no fault of their own?
Long acknowledged the frustration Bears fans must have felt. Long’s play was severely impacted over the last four seasons. After he was selected as the 20th pick by the Bears in 2013, he earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods and played almost 100% of their snaps—he missed one game in 2014. Since 2016, Long has never played more than 50% of Chicago’s snaps and missed 34 total games. His player grades, according to Pro Football Focus, dropped from 76.3 in 2016 to a lowly 38 in 2019.
Long’s recent production wouldn’t immediately benefit the Jets. New York doesn’t need a veteran leader on the bench or a strong presence in the locker room to boost morale after its fourth-consecutive losing season. It needs solid, sustainable play and it can’t get that from Long.
New York needs a tough presence up front. Among Darnold’s protection issues, the Jets struggled to help utilize the pricey Le’Veon Bell last season. The Jets averaged 0.7 rushing yards before contact per attempt, which was the lowest mark of any team in the NFL, and allowed quick pressure (in 2.5 seconds or less) on 27.5% of their dropbacks—the second-highest percentage in the league.
The Jets already tried a similar tactic with Ryan Kalil, a 13-year NFL veteran who retired after 12 seasons in Carolina but un-retired last year. After playing more than 90% of snaps for the Panthers since 2013, Kalil’s production at center was far from what New York expected. Kalil’s return-from-retirement experiment failed; even though he allowed zero sacks, he played in just seven games last season and was placed on the injured reserve in November.
If Douglas is looking for consistency, he would have gotten it from Long almost five seasons ago. Investing the already limited pool of cash in a deteriorating tackle while desperately needing consistent, reliable starters up front muddies the competition Douglas is asking for.
Long already took a pay cut to stay in Chicago once while trying to regain his perennial status. It obviously didn’t work out there and it’s hard to envision a better scenario in New York.
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