Another crushing injury for a member of the New York Jets offense has left them trusting in their depth once again halfway through the NFL season.
New York has mitigated the loss of Aaron Rodgers from his Achilles injury. Now, they’ll have to do the same for Alijah Vera-Tucker after he suffered the same injury in the Jets 31-21 win over the Broncos.
Unlike the Rodgers injury, the Jets have a few solid options to replace AVT as the starting right tackle this season. Whether it’s trusting the depth of the roster or bringing in a quality starter on the open market, Gang Green is better prepared for the loss of Vera-Tucker than they were last season.
Trust Max Mitchell to start at RT for the rest of 2023
New York’s coaching staff has been high on second-year offensive lineman Max Mitchell since drafting him in the fourth round. He started five games for the Jets in 2022 and played pretty well before a serious health concern ended his season.
Mitchell did struggle in training camp, but he did play “decent” according to head coach Robert Saleh in relief of Vera-Tucker in Sunday’s win over Denver.
“He’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s someone we have full faith in,” said Saleh of Mitchell.
The best option for the Jets this season is that Mitchell plays well enough that they don’t have to make a corresponding move. If Mitchell does well, and Mekhi Becton stays healthy, that will allow veteran lineman Duane Brown to be a backup once he comes off IR in Week 8 – a much easier situation to deal with than the opposite.
As options go, this is the best-case scenario for Gang Green this year to replace Vera-Tucker.
Sign La’el Collins
If the Jets aren’t satisfied with trotting Mitchell out on game days, then there is a free-agent right tackle that could be a perfect fit for what the team needs.
La’el Collins tore his ACL last season and is well on his way back to being a solid starter in the NFL. He’s had big-game experience, experience on the right side, and would provide a veteran presence for someone like Joe Tippmann at guard. Collins didn’t have his best year in 2022, but he’s still a serviceable guy.
This is part of why New York restructured Rodgers’ contract in the first place – if they NEEDED to make a move, they would have the flexibility to do so. Signing Collins would be an immediate band-aid and help the Jets in the short term.
It wouldn’t just help Gang Green either. Collins was once one of the higher-paid right tackles in the game. While a new contract with the Jets would be a single year, if he plays well enough, could be in line for another big payday in 2024. He would have plenty of chances here as an immediate starter.
Chalk this up as the unlikeliest scenario with New York consistently wanting to roll with the guys that got them to this point, but it would be an immediate solution to their current problem.
Play Mitchell and then move Mekhi Becton to RT after Duane Brown returns from IR
We’ve given a best-case scenario with Mitchell playing well while replacing Vera-Tucker, and it leaves the O-Line making minimal changes. The worst-case scenario, however, would be this one.
If Mitchell were to struggle over the next few weeks, the return of Brown would be a welcome sign, but add a difficult problem. Brown has yet to practice at right tackle, so the logical response would be to move Becton from left to right tackle. That’s an incredibly difficult ask to make of a player like Becton, a player who has played well on the left side and is already dealing with his knee problems. It would be asking for more trouble.
As much as the move could be a disaster, it makes a lot of sense. Becton has practiced all camp on the right side so there is some familiarity, and it keeps Brown in his natural spot on the left side. It’s probably the most likely scenario if the Jets aren’t satisfied with how Mitchell is playing.