2018 Jets free agency preview: Should Brent Qvale stay or go?

Brent Qvale is one of those hangers-on the New York Jets have had for just a few years – someone unproductive who seems to have been around longer than he has been. In reality, he just completed his third NFL year and will be a restricted free agent in a few weeks.

Surely, this is not the entry of “Should He Stay or Should He Go?” that any of you was most looking forward to this year, but believe us, he’s still one of the 10 most important pending free agents the team has. The decision the Jets make about Qvale’s future will say more about their plan for the offensive line than it will appear at first glance.

What he did in 2017

Thank nyjets.com contributor Randy Lange for these stats and this mini-profile of Qvale, an unsexy occasional starter at an unsexy position. Qvale has started 12 games in his career: seven at right tackle, one at right guard and four as a blocking tight end, Lange says. He posted career highs in starts (six) and snaps (394) last year.

But 2017 was the year that Brandon Shell appeared to officially win the starting right tackle job – for the short term, at least. Shell, in only his second year in the NFL, was on the field for 67.28 percent of the Jets’ offensive snaps, while Qvale played just 38.03 percent of them. According to Pro Football Focus, Qvale graded out as the league’s 58th-best tackle and the team’s third-best with a 50.0 grade, behind Kelvin Beachum’s 72.7 and Shell’s 65.3. Qvale’s grade represented a sharp drop from his 65.7 in 2016.

According to Fox Sports’ offensive line statistics, Qvale was penalized five times and was responsible for two sacks allowed – and I think it’s worth noting those numbers are identical to center Wesley Johnson’s.

What could be his role in 2018?

It looks like New York will go forward with Shell as the regular starter on the right side in 2018, unless they sign a surprise upgrade in free agency. Qvale’s most likely role remains as a back-up who can come on in a pinch.

Qvale’s best attribute is his versatility, which is evidenced by his career starts at tackle, guard and tight end. He’s obviously not catching passes as a tight end. In jumbo sets he comes on as what amounts to a “third tackle,” but usually the ref has to announce, “No. 79 is reporting as an eligible receiver.”

He filled in for Brian Winters and Brandon Shell at various points in 2017. Smells like a back-up lineman to me. But my biggest question about Qvale is whether he fits into new offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Rick Dennison’s plans.

Dennison favors a zone-blocking scheme, which employs quicker linemen. Qvale is built more like a mauler at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds. I can’t predict that he wouldn’t pick up a zone-blocking scheme, but if he ran a 5.20 40-yard dash and, more importantly, a below-average 4.82 20-yard shuttle at his Nebraska pro day a few years back, I feel like there are better fits out there.

What’s he worth?

Max Marcilla wrote a good, quick explainer of restricted free agency when he analyzed Quincy Enunwa earlier this month; read that here if you need a brief refresher.

Qvale went undrafted in 2014 and signed with the Jets that offseason, so a original-round tender would cost $1.797 million – or if they went as far as a second-round tender, $2.746 million. Either would be a huge pay raise from the $615,000 he made in 2017. Fellow New York back-up linemen Jonotthan Harrison and Dakota Dozier had respective cap hits of $831,250 and $765,146, though the latter was still on his rookie contract too.

Perhaps the right talent comparison to make would be with Ben Ijalana, but not the right value comparison. The Jets were in a similar situation a year ago when choosing whether to re-sign Ijalana, except that he was unrestricted, not an RFA. They gave Ijalana a two-year contract worth $10.25 million total, but then added Beachum in free agency and started him at left tackle all year. Ijalana played 56 snaps of regular-season action and made over $5 million in 2017. Nice for him. But the team can’t afford to do the same with Qvale, even though he does figure to play more often than that.

Should he stay or should he go?

I have very little invested in this particular personnel decision, but I think the Jets should let Qvale go. I don’t mind if he’s signed back. He’s a fine back-up and jumbo-set contributor. But the team might be smarter letting him go unsigned, then drafting an extra offensive lineman in the late rounds of April’s draft whom Rick Dennison and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates like more. (I say extra because, as I’ve reiterated, they need to draft an OL high, too.) They’d save a bit of money, keep their depth the same with a one-for-one swap and find someone more suited to their needs as a reserve guard and tackle.

Photo courtesy of newyorkjets.com

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