Achilles Heel: Woody still viable after injury?

| March 3, 2011

The Jets made a bit of a splash this week, trimming some fat from their roster. Vernon Gholston, Jason Taylor and Kris Jenkins represent three predictable, if significant, casualties from their defense. Gholston ranks amongst the league’s most spectacular draft busts of recent years, Jenkins is coming off back to back knee injuries, and Jason Taylor limped to the finish a bit after an incredible career.

But on the other side of the ball they also said goodbye to right tackle Damien Woody, who has been one of the best linemen in the league the past three years.

Woody recently had surgery to repair the Achilles tear that ended his season, and is still going to be far from 100% for quite some time, so the Jets were able to save themselves $3.35 million by letting him go. Was it the right move?


Elite on the right

Despite his age (33 years old), Woody remains elite, and has been a mainstay among the top tackles as long as PFF has been grading games.

In 2008 Woody was our top ranked offensive tackle overall. Better than Joe Thomas, better than D’Brickashaw Ferguson, better than anybody else you can name. Last season he was our 2nd ranked right tackle, and this season, despite missing time with injury, he was our 3rd ranked right tackle, boasting an overall grade of +13.8.

Other players on the Jets’ offensive line get more credit and plaudits, but Woody’s quietly consistent dominance should not be overlooked. The impact he’s had on their fortunes is made especially clear when you inspect the play of Wayne Hunter (-13.4) in his stead.

Better pass protector than you might think

It’s fair to say Woody is a punishing run blocker, and that is what he is known for. Games like his Week 4 encounter this season against the Bills show you just how dominant he can be in that area — routinely caving in the right side of the line and sealing the edge on run plays. But people often talk up his run blocking and do a disservice to his pass protecting skills. Woody is also an excellent pass protector.

Over the past three seasons, Woody has allowed just 52 total pressures in the 45 games he has played. He has surrendered 16 sacks but allowed the QB to hit the ground just 21 total times, or fewer than once every other game. Those are elite numbers by anybody’s standards.

There are some tackles in the NFL that warp their pressure numbers slightly with the number of penalties they give away: hiding a pass blocking issue in penalties rather than measurable pressure. Woody is not one of those players. He posts impressive protection numbers and gives up fewer than the league average in penalties, grading positively in the green in every facet of play we measure in each of the past three seasons.

The bottom line

As we said earlier, the Jets saved themselves a significant chunk of cash by cutting Woody, but it wasn’t all about economics. Despite his fine performance over the past few seasons, it’s difficult to look beyond his age, especially coming off a major injury.

The ability to return from that severe an injury at his age is far from a sure thing, and nobody is likely to know more about that aspect than the Jets themselves. In that regard, we have to be careful about saying he is a lock to sign elsewhere and dominate as if nothing ever happened.

There is a feeling that Woody could return to the Jets later in the off-season at a reduced price, but in regards to the possibility of him landing with another team, the extended recovery time becomes particularly important. Teams have until 11:59pm on Thursday, March 3 (tonight) to sign any cut free agent players. After that, nobody can sign to a new team until a new CBA is reached.

A new team would have to act incredibly quickly and would be taking a huge gamble. However, if teams wait, a CBA is reached, and Woody can eventually demonstrate he is ready to start another NFL season at full health, there will be plenty in need of a major upgrade at right tackle, so it would be no sure thing that the Jets could retain his services at a knock-down price.

Woody has been amongst the very best offensive tackles in the NFL in recent years, despite playing at an age where most players at his position are firmly on the downslope of their careers. He is a player who represents a huge potential upside, but carries significant question marks regarding health and is unlikely to be a long-term solution for anybody. The Jets remain likely favorites to retain his services, as the two parted on good terms, but if he recovers well, they’ll have to fight to bring him back.

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