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Let's Talk About Connor McGovern
I wasn’t entirely sure whether I’d do a newsletter today, here in the UK we have some bank holidays and a four-day weekend for the Queen’s jubilee. I’m no royalist but I’ll certainly take some extra days off work and an excuse to have a beer or two.
Edition #147 (can’t quite believe we’ve done 147 of these) is going to be all about Connor McGovern, and if you’ve been here since issue 1 you’ll know I’ve historically been critical of the Jets’ center, some of that I’d still argue was warranted but as a complete body of work in 2021, I ended the season thankful he was on the team.
McGovern came into the league as a 5th-round pick of the Denver Broncos out of Missouri in 2016, but his first full season as a center didn’t come until 2019.
He began his NFL career as a right guard in his rookie season and then split time between guard and center in 2018, moving to the middle after Matt Paradis suffered a season-ending injury.
After the Denver Broncos decided to not sign a center during free agency in 2019, McGovern was finally able to dedicate all his time to learning the position, and he spoke about how important that was back in Spring 2019:
"I think I learned a lot, especially from Paradis," McGovern said. "He was such a great guy to have as a mentor and a good friend starting next to him at guard. I got to see how he handles the huddle and I got to see how he handles pre-snap. As the ball is getting snapped, sometimes you're getting calls out of your mouth too. Between everything I've learned from Matt and the couple of games where I was fortunate enough to play center, I think I have a pretty solid base going into the season and being able to go through the whole OTAs and camp at a certain position. I think it's going to be huge."
I don’t think it’s widely known just how little center McGovern had played when he signed his free-agent deal with the Jets before the 2020 season.
He played two years at Missouri and didn’t take a single snap at the center position, he finished his college career with more snaps as an inline tight end (1). He actually spent his final year with the Tigers as their starting left tackle, the year before he split time between right tackle and right guard. Center may have been his natural position in the NFL, but he was raw at the position at the same time.
Fortunately for McGovern, his transition to a full-time center coincided with the Broncos hiring Hall of Famer Mike Munchak as their offensive line coach. Munchak had previously held positions with the Steelers and Titans and in 16 of his 22 years coaching offensive line, his unit had been in the top 10 in terms of fewest sacks allowed.
"Munchak is fantastic," McGovern said. "He gets it. There are a lot of coaches that played a couple of years in the league or played college ball and got hurt and then got into coaching. He's a Hall of Famer. He's seen every look. He's played against great guys. He knows what it takes to beat anybody. He played against fantastic defensive linemen. Just his knowledge of the game and the little nuances that a lot of O-linemen don't even see and definitely the everyday person wouldn't see, he's so good at. The base technique, he really hammers that home and [in] a way where we all understand it because it literally applies perfectly because he's used that in games — and a lot of games."
McGovern’s first year as a full-time center couldn’t have gone much better. He was graded as the 9th best center in football by PFF and the 5th best pass-blocking center. He allowed just a single sack and only 15 total pressures…not bad for a lineman learning a new position.
One thing I wanted to point out is that during his final year in Denver in 2019 he had Rich Scangarello as his offensive coordinator, now Rich wasn’t very good in Denver and he got fired for a reason, but he spent time with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta before Shanahan hired him as the QB’s coach in San Francisco. Obviously, Mike LaFleur came from working under Shanahan and although every coordinator takes and evolves an offense, there are certain base concepts and philosophies that stay the same. Scangarello commented on some of these when he was hired by the Broncos
"In a sense, it is our offense. It evolves in our own way, and now it's the Denver Broncos offense. … Some of the pass-game roots go back to Bill Walsh, and some of the run-game roots go back to Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs and how things have evolved over time. But my experience most recently with Kyle and the success he's had, you identify with it, but in the end, it's our offense and now as we move forward, it's time to make it our own with our own identity. You look at what Sean McVay's done in his own way, and it's his offense. That's our goal here, to do the same thing."
Then we get to his first season as a Jet, moving from where he’d called home across the country to a new system. Moving to a system run by Adam Gase and from an offensive line tutor like Munchak to Jets offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who’s currently trying to sort the Bengals offensive line out. I’m sure Pollack is a fine coach, but he doesn’t have the reputation or resume of someone like Munchak. We also need to remember that this would be McGovern’s 2nd full year as a starter at center.
The 2020 season was an absolute disaster, not only for McGovern but for the Jets in general. 9 different offensive linemen played in at least 200 snaps, the Jets often looked unprepared and out of sync. There’s a reason Adam Gase was fired following the season and most of the coaching staff were let go. You have to balance the blame and the players didn’t execute as they should, McGovern included, but the Jets were a mess.
McGovern allowed a career-high 6 sacks in 2020, his pressures allowed doubled from 15 in 2019 to 33 in 2020. His pass-blocking efficiency fell from 98.6 to 96.5 which is huge for that statistic. It wasn’t a good year, you can’t sugarcoat it. But, it was a tough year across the board, so let’s fast forward to 2021.
You come in to start 2021 and you’re in a new system, as mentioned above there are elements that are similar to the system he ran while in Denver in 2019, but it’s new, and it takes time.
To start the season you are blocking for a rookie QB whose internal clock isn’t quite where it needs to be, you’re playing next to a rookie at LG in Alijah Vera Tucker and a guard who’s struggled on the right side in Greg Van Roten. All while trying to learn a new system.
I was asked a question recently about how long it takes to learn a new system for an offense, that’s quite difficult to answer as if you research enough you’ll get different answers. It depends on the system, the player’s aptitude and appetite to learn, and the experience of the players who you’re trying to teach. But, the Jets got off to a rough start in 2021, and we didn’t see real development until the 2nd half of the season.
We’re here to talk about Connor, so let’s compare his first 8 starts to his last 7 to see how he improved as the players around him improved and the system began to bed in.
He improved in absolutely every single area, from sacks to pressures, to efficiency, and across the board in terms of his grades. I’m not saying he’s the best center in the league, but an offensive line is a unit that works as a whole and as the unit improved so did Connor’s play. There is a reason for optimism heading into 2022 considering the monumental upgrade at one guard spot with Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker being in year two.
I know a lot of criticism was thrown at McGovern for a comment he made that seemed to throw AVT under the bus, I criticized him for it as well. We’re quick to jump on lineman for mistakes, but it’s hard to sometimes know who’s culpable without hearing the protection call. On the play in question the protection call was slide right, which means you do exactly that, you slide right. Unfortunately on the play AVT slid left and a free rusher came up the A gap. Without knowing the call it looked as though McGovern was to blame, when he explained the ball it appeared he was throwing AVT under the bus…it’s a tough balance.
If you said to me that Connor McGovern was a top 10 center, I’d have no problem with that. In the three years, he’s played center he’s been top 10 in two of those with the other being the disaster Gase year of 2020.
In 2022 he’s going to be the third highest-paid center in the league, which is a lot. It also happens to be the final year of the three-year contract he signed before 2019.
As you can see from the contract, the Jets could have easily moved on from McGovern this year and saved $9 million…although you would have had to spend some of that on his replacement. They chose not to. From everything I hear the Jets and the coaching staff love McGovern and feel he’s the perfect player for their scheme.
The Jets could look to restructure his contract, extending it for another 2 years and giving McGovern some security with guaranteed money…while lowering his cap hits. He’s still on the right side of 30 (29) and chances are he’ll be even better this year than he was last year.
Conclusion - I was a little confused this off-season as some fans clamored for Ryan Jensen, a player who statistically wasn’t as good as Connor last season while playing on a more settled line. McGovern isn’t the best center in football but he’s a pretty damn good one. Considering he’s only played three years at the position and has had a new system to operate every single year, I’m sure there are plenty of teams out there that would love to have a Connor McGovern. I hope the Jets can restructure his contract and extend him to provide stability on the offensive line for the next few years, for the Jets’ sake and for Zach’s.
He was recently asked on the Hot Mic with Dom Izzo show on WDAY X if he enjoyed playing in New York and if there was mutual interest in making it a long term stay:
“I like the Jets a lot, It’s a team that I think is on the upwards trajectory. I would love to be a part of a team where I was there when it turned around. It makes you feel as though you left a legacy and you weren’t just part of one. I hope to play there for a long time and we’ll see how it works out. The NFL’s a business and you got to see how it works out after this year but I love the Jets, I love playing in New York and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on a Jets team, In New York City and win a lot of football games, that’s one of the best places to be when you’re winning a lot of football games”
I’ll leave you with this quote from Connor from last month:
“He’s a true leader of men (Coach Saleh). He knows his X’s and O’s, he’s good at his X’s and O’s but he’s truly a leader of men. I think that’s the kind of guy that needed to come into our organization to change it and turn it around. The team itself, the way they’ve built this the last couple of off-seasons, I’m really excited about it”
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