NFL Free Agency: New York Jets Bolster Depth In The Trenches


NFL Free Agency: New York Jets Continue Building Offensive and Defensive Lines With Veteran Depth

After lavishly spending in the first wave of free agency, the New York Jets have made it clear what their intentions are in the second wave; add veteran depth to both the offensive and defensive lines. Last week the Jets set that plan in place, bringing in former New York Giants offensive lineman James Brewer, and 10-year veteran Kevin Vickerson along the defensive line. They added more depth to each unit Tuesday, signing defensive end Stephen Bowen and offensive tackle Corey Hilliard.

For Bowen, this is as familiar a situation a free agent could be stepping into. Not only does he have experience working with Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles previously, as the two worked together in 2006 when Bowles was a Dallas Cowboys assistant coach and Bowen was an undrafted free agent, Bowen is now coming home. Bowen is a Long Island native, growing up in Dix Hills and attending Half Hollow Hills West High School. He even went to college nearby, as he played at Hofstra University in Uniondale, New York on Long Island.

On the field, the 10th year veteran will be a perfect compliment, as he does all his work from the right side of the defensive line, while Vickerson works from the left. They are both solid, veteran additions to the defensive line that were in need of some more bodies behind starters Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison after Kenrick Ellis left to the join the Giants.

Bowen has been hit with injuries recently, as he was forced to have microfracture surgery late in the 2013 season, which carried over to 2014 as he opened the season on the PUP list, and played in only eight games. That didn’t hurt the confidence that Bowen had in himself, as he delivered a strong endorsement for his talents last April when talking to the Washington Post, saying, “I’m one of the top 3-4 D-ends in the league, and for what they ask me to do, I know there’s not many people who can do it better than what I do. That’s not me being cocky. It’s me being confident in my ability. As for me, I think yeah, definitely, I’ll be a starter again.”

While the confidence is certainly nice, Bowen didn’t sign with the right team if he was hoping to become a starter, as the only chance he gets at starting with Gang Green is if multiple injuries occur in front of him. Nonetheless, he is a solid veteran addition and will help in the defensive line rotation as a run stuffer.

It is expected that Bowen will be receiving a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum, which is also what Hilliard is expected to be receiving.

Hilliard, who will be 30 when the season starts, was originally a sixth round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 2007. He has also spent time with the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns before finding a home with the Detroit Lions, where he has been the past six seasons.

Hilliard was set to be their starting right tackle last season, but suffered the horrible Lisfranc injury in the first game of the season, ending it essentially before it started. He didn’t have surgery, so there is always a risk that it will creep up again, but he will not be expected to play starter reps with the Jets.

Hilliard should slide in behind Breno Giacomini as the backup right tackle. He has appeared in 47 career games, making 12 starts. He has experience lining up along different spots on offense, as he also lined up as an extra tight end at times with the Lions in 2013. That kind of versatility can come in handy as a backup for the Jets.

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It also signals a change in philosophy for the Jets. Last season, with John Idzik running the show, the Jets went into the season with very little to no experience backing up his starters along the offensive line. That is something Bowles and new general manager Mike Maccagnan have changed, as all the backup offensive lineman they have signed this season have starting experience. If injuries happen this time around, the Jets will at least have a veteran presence to step in, which should make them more comfortable than throwing out rookies without any experience.

The Jets continue to make savvy moves in free agency, as they continue to bolster their units in the trenches, which is where football games are more often than not won and lost.

Next: Who is the best first-round pick in Jets history?

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