Why Keep RT Wayne Hunter?
The Jets allowing RT Wayne Hunter to earn a full guarantee on his $2.5 million salary in 2012 has certainly created a bit of a firestorm among the fans of the team in recent days. Hunter was given the Right Tackle job and floundered since day 1 where he was decimated on national television by the Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Ware. When a lineman makes a mistake it is glaring because the QB is often hit hard by a defender and Hunter allowed the most hits of any tackle in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus. It seemed a certainty that Hunter would be sent packing before the season began, yet he still remains on the roster for the Jets.
The first thing to note is that Hunter may not have his salary guaranteed. He had no leverage with the team due to poor play and the fact that he received no signing bonus last year that would accelerate to the salary cap if he is released. It is quite possible that the Jets have already reworked the contract behind the scenes to reduce how much he is owed this year. But, for now, let’s assume that the deal is guaranteed for the year and why, perhaps, it’s not as bad a decision as it seems to be.
Nobody can claim that Hunter stopped trying last year. As fans, we can often watch the TV and see if a player is dogging it on the field. It was noted numerous times about WR Santonio Holmes and, in the final game of the year against the Dolphins, about QB Mark Sanchez as he lounged on the bench seemingly oblivious to the game itself. Those players often lose the respect of their teammates, the locker room, and the fans. Those kind of players are never brought back if there is a realistic way to terminate their deal. Hunter was the one player who stood up to Holmes last season and likely gained a large amount of credit among the team for doing so. The Jets are a fractured locker room and while it may send a bad message to the fans to keep Hunter it would send an even worse one to the locker room to cut him on the same day the Jets guarantee Holmes a truckload of money.
Perhaps more importantly who is your upgrade on the market? Brian McIntyre of Macs Football Blog has been tracking the unrestricted free agents around the NFL, and we can get a list of UFAs from there who could potentially replace Hunter. It doesn’t look good. The following chart lists the players who played at right tackle and took part in about 100 snaps or more at the tackle position last season, their salary, and some stats based on the PFF databases. The stats are based on percentage of snaps played. Please note that the salary estimates come from various sources and are believed to be accurate but not guaranteed to be.
|Name||2011 Salary||Sacks||Hits||Pressures||Run Grade|
*Denotes played on RFA Tender/Final Year of Rookie Contract
This is not exactly an all star list of talent. First lets look at the full season type starters since that is what Hunter was last year. There were 5 besides Hunter: McKenzie, Whimper, Richardson, Colombo, and Barnes. Average salary at the position was $2.36 million. Average sacks, hits, and pressures were 0.76%, 0.72%, and 3.23% respectively. The run grade was an atrocious -8.6. Of those names none could be considered far superior to Hunter. Richardson and Colombo were both clearly worse than Hunter in similar poor QB offenses. Barnes is a significantly worse run blocker but he could be a slight upgrade in pass protection. McKenzie gave up a many more pressures, but likely faced more pass block situations with Eli Manning on the team. You could make the argument that he is an upgrade, though I would look very close at how many sacks were avoided by Eli. He would also cost a premium. Whimper is the one starter who was better. He allowed a ton of sacks, but I tend to think that may have been because of the QB situation. At $685K you can’t argue that he is not a better bargain than Hunter.
Of the other players you run into a situation where you have to debate if the players can be effective with more snaps and if the additional cost is worth the chance. Most players coming off the tendered seasons are not going to get 1 year contracts. You are probably locking yourself in somewhere between 2 and 3 years on the deal. Is anyone there a guaranteed upgrade? The average snap count was only 300 at tackle and the pressures allowed were 3.2%. The run grade was around -1.9. Brandon Keith I believe was benched and put in a rotation. Adam Goldberg could be more of a swing guy and could probably play for about $1 million. He might be the guy that would be a better backup player.
The reality of the situation is there really is nobody on the market this year. If the Jets want to really upgrade the position they most likely have to go back into the draft and draft a Right Tackle and hope he can start from day 1. As of today, there are no free agents out there that would be a major upgrade over Hunter. The cost of Hunter vs a replacement is comparable as is the performance and the Jets probably benefit their locker room a bit by keeping him here, even if it costs them a few extra thousand in cap room. Players could be cut, but as a GM you have to consider the best alternatives available at the moment and not the ones that might become available. If the Jets are forced to go the free agency route the best they can do is bring in a lower cost option like Goldberg or Whimper and have that as a viable backup that plays if Hunter cant do the job. But there is not a big market this year for tackles and the Jets probably made the smart decision in keeping Hunter here for the year.
Update: After I wrote this article, Giacomini was signed to a two year deal worth about $ 6 million further illustrating the point of prices of tackles in the market.
It wasn't hard to notice that Wayne Hunter was not a good right tackle last year. The most concerning thing about him wasn't necessarily the amount of QB hits he allowed; rather, the types of hits he allowed frightened me. When he got beat, he got beat bad, allowing the pass rusher to take a beeline to Sanchez and absolutely unload on him.
You gotta be a tough cookie to withstand some of those hits...ones that immediately to come to mind (and nearly every one of these was on Hunter) are the broken nose hit against Oakland, the spear by Haloti Ngata, the spear by Von Miller, the late game sack by Von Miller, and the hit by Justin Houston of the Chiefs. These are just ones off the top of my head and there were many more. This is only exacerbated when your Pro Bowl left tackle has his worst year since 2007.
Once the season ended, I researched some of the options and drew the same conclusion as you; this FA list is terrible. The only appealing guy looked to be Anthony Collins, but I was unaware that he was a RFA. He graded out well the past few years before Andre Smith was able to finally nail down the position...but like you said, who knows how the guy will play when he's asked to play 16 games. That's exactly what happened with Hunter. He didn't do terribly in spot action in 2010 and I foolishly thought he'd be fine for the entire 2011 year. It seems like the Front Office was under the same assumption. Oops.
Maybe the Jets look at a RT high in the draft, but do you think it's more likely that the philosophical differences in Sparano versus Schottenheimer could possibly ameliorate some of Hunter's shortcomings? Schottenheimer didn't seem to be a big fan of chipping pass rushers with the TEs and Sparano is known to use more max protects as well. I really hope that Mulligan is canned, as he cannot block, cannot catch, and commits penalties.
Keller's abilities would be complemented so much better if they had a competent, large TE who could block and occasionally be a dump-off for Sanchez. It would allow Keller to stretch the seam more often and create mismatches with LBs down and across the field. I would be pleased if they used what minimal cap space they have on a guy like Kellen Davis or Joel Dreessen, or perhaps pick up Fasano if he is cut.
Draft a good cover safety, or a good right tackle if they can find one. Their linebackers are getting old also.
PS - I am real sad the Patriots lost to the Giants.
Brandon- Id expect the Jets to go defense heavy in the draft. RT/RG is the only offensive position I could see unless the were absolutely sold on a tall speedy wideout.
Safety (1 or 2), Linebacker (1 or 2), then Running Back...
I'd trade keller but only if you could obtain a Safety or Linebacker... Scott may be gone, but BThomas could be back, maybe he could move inside. He has been strong against the run.
Dave- If Hunter starts I doubt he will be left alone again. I could see the Jets very conservative in their sets next year with just 2 wideouts on the field.
Its very possible that to keep his job with the team, he needs to make some serious improvements in the strength dept during the off season. (Increase bench Press, speed etc.) Im sure at the end of the season the coaching staff told him in no uncertain terms, that he needs to become stronger & make huge gains in his level of skill, or he will be out of a job.
I expect them to most likely address the issue in the draft and have some competition for the job.
Nonetheless, the very fact that Sparano spent several years working with Bill Parcells peaks my interest, and he did seem to make improvements with the Dolphins, despite their QB problems.
I think he and Rex Ryan are like minded, which could and should be a good thing, and I'm hoping that (like Bill Parcells), Sparano will turn out to be a good teacher - turning average players into above average players rather than tossing them to another team to train.
All of you have raised good points regarding Wayne Hunter, and possible good reasons for keeping him in Green and White. I'm praying that this new offensive coordinator will somehow hit Hunter's hot buttons and help this young man turn into a solid offensive tackle.
As Jon Knight alluded, perhaps we can find some gems in the draft. This year, building a team with high priced prima donnas blew up in the locker room, and later, in the huddle. I swear the most solid teams - particularly those with loyal players - build their teams using good drafting principles.
The Steelers have had that rep for years, and now? Hines Ward is getting up there in the years and his production has fallen off. Even so, you just have to know there are teams out there who would be willing to give him a one or two year contract. But, Ward would rather take a pay cut to stay with the Steelers. That's what is needed in New York.
I'm not saying I'm thrilled to see Hunter staying, but I also believe it does not make sense to make a change just to make a change. And, Jason? Thank you for showing us the stats. It definitely puts things in perspective.
Now, we will see how creative the Jets' coaching staff can be.
Whiffing on blocks, being completly overpowered by terrible OLB/DE's, the penalties.
How in the world did this guy just simply become one of the worst OT's in 2011?