The New York Jets released right tackle Damien Woody Monday. Over the last three years, Woody has been a key cog on what is often argued as the best offensive line in football. The Jets have some critical decisions to make regarding the right side if they want their offensive trench unit to remain elite.
Woody is 33-years-old and coming off an Achilles tendon tear. It was first reported that the veteran tackle acquired an MCL sprain against the Texans in Week 11, though he played through two more full games before being taken out against the Dolphins in Week 14 and replaced by Wayne Hunter. Woody was put on injured reserve during the beginning of the Jets’ playoff run with the Achilles.
Despite the injury, he is still a productive blocker. In 2010, the Jets rushed for 53 first downs behind the right side of the line, which was a combination Woody and right guard Brandon Moore for all but the final three games of the regular season. The Jets were also 89 percent in gaining first downs to the right rushing in short-yardage situations. Woody’s presence in pass blocking was understood during his absence, as Hunter struggled settling in to the position and allowed a few runs at Mark Sanchez. Hunter improved in time for the playoffs, but it was evident Woody was missed.
Based solely on Woody’s tweets Monday evening, it seems like the 330-pounder and the Jets are on good terms. That leaves the possibility of Woody returning to the Jets for a smaller paycheck and an opportunity to start in green and white for at least one more season.
As for Hunter, the 29-year-old is slated to become a free agent this offseason, though it’s a possibility that the Jets sign him to another contract. If that happens, he will most likely be in an offseason positional battle with Vladimir Ducasse for the starting job at right tackle – given Woody doesn’t return to the team. As a rookie, Ducasse lost the 2010 left guard training camp competition to Matt Slauson, and Ducasse has never played at right tackle. Offensive line guru Bill Callahan will have his hands full if that happens, but the Jets seem confident Ducasse can play tackle given the offseason to prepare.
Since Slauson is settled in at left guard and Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum drafted Ducasse to play left guard or right tackle, many signs point to Ducasse being given a fair chance at the far-right job this offseason. If Woody returns, Ducasse’s chances take a big drop. If Hunter returns and Woody goes somewhere else, let the contest begin.
Follow Nick St. Denis, author of the offensive-line focused blog OffTheLineFootball.com, at Twitter.com/NickStDenis