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.