My recent articles have focused on underrated players. Whether it be because they are underused or are part of a less than successful team, some talent seems to consistently fly under the radar. But if you had to choose an underrated position in the NFL, then center could be it. We constantly talk about who is ‘under center’; but how often do we concern ourselves with who that center is? Yet it is one of the most pivotal positions in the entire game and one of the toughest to play. Finding a great center is difficult, the best are few and far between, so when you find them, you keep them. But all good things come to an end, and this week the New York Jets released their long time center Nick Mangold; arguably the best at his position in the last decade. He might be past his heyday, but with a hugely successful eleven year stint with the Jets coming to an end, now seems a good time to cast the spotlight on a player who, until this week, garnered limited attention.
The New York Jets drafted Nick Mangold out of Ohio State in the first round of the 2006 draft, with the 29th overall pick. He has played in green and white for each of his eleven seasons in the NFL and in that time become, not only one of the best players in franchise history, but also a fan and team favourite. Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who retired last season, was also drafted in the same round in 2006, spawning an offensive line partnership which, at the peak of their powers, terrorized quarterbacks across the league.
Mangold was voted to the pro-bowl 7 times and was twice named All-pro (2009 and 2010) in the years the Jets made the AFC Championship game. He started 164 out of a possible 176 games since being drafted. Most of these missed games came more recently, showing that age was taking its toll (which seems a ridiculous way to describe a 33 year old), and 2016 was a particularly tough year for the Jets’ bearded stalwart. He missed eight games with an ankle injury that kept being re-aggravated, ending the year on injured reserve. With talk of surgery being needed, the release of Mangold, although painful, did not come as a huge shock to Jets fans. The cull of expensive, aging and injury prone players to free up cap space started in earnest in the last few weeks with the release of long time kicker, Nick Folk as well as tackles Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini. With one of the worst cap situations in the league, something needed to be done and Jets nation got a timely reminder of the fact that the NFL is, at heart, a business. Mangold clears $9 million in cap space.
It isn’t just his on field prowess which will be missed in New York. The outpouring of support for Mangold from all echelons of the Jets organisation, from players to management, is testament to his importance in the locker room. Owner Woody Johnson said in a statement:
“For the past 11 years, Nick Mangold has been a cornerstone of our team both on and off the field. As our Pro Bowl center, Nick consistently demonstrated superior skill and unmatched toughness. Equally important, off the field, Nick exhibited respect, sensitivity and compassion for the causes he supported. It has been a privilege to have known Nick these many years and, for all of us, I say Nick will always be a Jet.”
Head coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan echoed these sentiments with similar comments. And it is certainly true. In his eleven years, Mangold has witnessed some of the best and worst moments of recent Jets history and has been a stalwart and consistent force throughout. Without him, you might question where the veteran leadership is going to come from next season.
As a Jets fan, for me, Nick Mangold epitomised what the famous ‘play like a Jet’ mantra, was meant to mean and I am genuinely upset that he will not be wearing Green and White next season. Sometimes when players leave, you have to fold away their jersey and put it to the back of the draw, but not number 74. I for one will be wearing my Mangold jersey for years to come and hopefully on the day when he is voted into a Pro Football Hall of Fame. Pro Football Focus ranked him highest of all centers five times in his career, ranking in the top 6 for all but 2 of his seasons. An impressive feat. Center isn’t the most flashy or popular position, but to be one of the best at that position over a period of 11 years must be celebrated. In his parting statement, Nick intimated that he would not be retiring but wherever he goes next, he’ll always be a Jet to the many fans who wear his jersey with pride and gratitude.
— Nick Mangold (@nickmangold) February 25, 2017
Photo credit: Nikki Charlesworth