The rebuild of the Jets’ offensive line has begun.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas watched some big free-agent offensive line names come off the board early during the first day of the free-agency negotiating window Monday, but he struck late in the day. The team agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with tackle George Fant, according to sources. The deal contains $13.7 million in guaranteed money.
Fant has played for the Seahawks the past four years. The 27-year-old was a college basketball player at Western Kentucky and played only one year of football — at tight end. Seattle signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and converted him to tackle. He made 24 regular-season starts over three seasons, missing the 2017 season with a torn ACL.
In 2019, Fant made eight starts, including a playoff start against the Eagles. Fant has played both left and right tackle with the Seahawks. The Jets view him as a left tackle who can move to right if they need him to. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 57th tackle out of 81 they graded in 2019.
Fant will replace Kelvin Beachum, who started at left tackle for the past three seasons. Beachum is an unrestricted free agent.
Fant is the first piece of what will be a multistep rebuild of the line for Douglas. League sources said the Jets have informed agents their priority is the offensive line, believing they need to be able to better protect quarterback Sam Darnold. It is understandable after watching a line last year that allowed 52 sacks and contributed to a rushing offense ranked No. 31 in the NFL.
The Jets could have three or four new starters on the line this year. Right guard Brian Winters is the only lineman under contract who opened last season as a starter.
It looked like the Jets might get shut out on Day 1 until the Fant deal just after 9 p.m. Many of the top linemen came off the board earlier in the day.
The first domino to fall was the Patriots using the franchise tag on Joe Thuney, preventing him from even hitting the market. The Jets were interested in the New England guard, but they may have not met his asking price anyway.
Next, tackle Jack Conklin signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Browns. The Jets’ interest in Conklin has been overstated in recent weeks, but the former Titan was the top tackle on the market and the Jets did have some interest.
The Broncos then signed guard/center Graham Glasgow, who was a Jets target, to a four-year, $44 million deal.
The Jets have had discussions with guard Alex Lewis about returning, according to a source. Lewis started 12 games for the Jets last year after arriving from the Ravens in a trade and played well.
Other positions the Jets have been active at are edge-rusher, cornerback and wide receiver. The Jets showed interest in Patriots free agent Kyle Van Noy, according to a source, but Van Noy wound up signing with the Dolphins.
NFL Network reported the Jets also are interested in Seahawks free agent Jadeveon Clowney, who is considered the top pass-rusher on the market. Clowney is expected to get more than $20 million a season, a price tag that makes it seem unlikely the Jets will be the team that lands him.
As for their leading pass-rusher from 2019, it appears the Jets are ready to let Jordan Jenkins walk in free agency, according to a source. Jenkins, who had eight sacks last season, may wind up with the Giants, who have shown interest in him.
There was very little noise about wide receiver Robby Anderson, the Jets’ top free agent. The Jets are still hoping to re-sign Anderson, but there was a belief that his price might climb out of their range.
Anderson may be waiting on Cowboys free agent Amari Cooper to set the market. Dallas is trying to re-sign Cooper, according to reports, but it might be tough. It seems unlikely the Jets would pay the salary that Cooper likely will command, but they have to consider it.
One wide receiver the Jets are interested in is Patriots free agent Phillip Dorsett, according to a source. Dorsett is not a No. 1 receiver, but could be a complementary piece. He had 29 catches for 397 yards and five touchdowns for New England last year.