Stay or Go: Should Jets re-sign George Fant?

George Fant
George Fant / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

The Jets signed George Fant to a three-year contract ahead of the 2020 season, and he immediately stepped into the starting lineup and did a solid job.

The 30-year-old started 29 games over his first two seasons and was considered a veteran leader by head coach Robert Saleh and his staff.

The 2022 season, however, didn’t quite go to plan for Fant, who spent most of the year rehabbing a knee injury that was suffered at the end of the 2021 campaign.

There was confusion over whether he’d be lining up on the right or on the left and he never fully recovered from the knee injury, despite spending several weeks on injured reserve in the middle of the year.

That three-year deal is now coming to an end, so the Jets are facing a decision on him.

So, should the Jets bring Fant back?

Why Fant should be back

Fant performed at a high level in his first two seasons, especially in 2021 when he only gave up one sack all year after moving to left tackle to replace the injured Mekhi Becton.

Ahead of the 2022 season, some reports suggested he was about to sign a big-money extension. If he returns now, though, it’s more likely to be on a prove-it deal, so the risk will be lower.

If he can get back to 100%, Fant is a player who is talented enough to be worth hanging onto, along with being an important leader, as noted. Although he’s 30, Fant was a late bloomer who didn’t really start playing football until his final year of college, so he may have more “tread on his tires” than most players who are entering their early thirties.

Saleh said that Fant had basically been “playing on one leg” at the end of the season, so it’s clear that the injury had a big impact on his performance.

Another reason to bring him back is that last season showed you can never have enough good tackles. The Jets were snakebitten at the position with Fant, Becton, Cedric Ogbuehi, Max Mitchell and Duane Brown all losing time due to injuries. Alijah Vera-Tucker, who had moved to tackle temporarily, was also lost for the season.

Fant’s ability to play either tackle position also works in his favor here.

Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets offensive tackle George Fant (76) prepares to block Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (55) in the fourth quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets offensive tackle George Fant (76) prepares to block Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (55) in the fourth quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports / © Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Why Fant shouldn’t be back

Fant struggled so badly in 2022 that the concern would be that he’s never going to return to his previous level of play. He only started seven games in 2022 but gave up five sacks and was flagged for seven penalties.

Even if he can return and play up to his previous level, another injury could soon cause him to be unavailable or affect his level of play again.

After how 2022 played out, the Jets might be reluctant to have too many players with durability issues on the offensive line. Fant himself might not be keen to have a utility role, after admitting his frustration at constantly having to change positions last season.

The other reason to potentially not bring him back is the fact that they have several other options. Becton, Brown and Mitchell are all under contract, although in each case their availability is a question mark.

Verdict

Wherever Fant ends up in 2023, he’s probably going to have to accept an incentive-based short-term deal because he’ll have to convince teams he can still play at a high level and stay on the field.

If he’s prepared to accept a team-friendly deal, the Jets could have interest in bringing Fant into camp to increase their number of options available in the event of more injury issues.

However, such a deal would probably not guarantee him a starting role or even a certain spot on the main roster.

Expect the Jets to let Fant explore the market but ultimately this could turn out to be one of those situations where he has to wait until the second wave of free agency before he can prove himself healthy enough for any team to sign him to a contract.