Mekhi Becton wanted to play left tackle for the New York Jets, but ended up at the right tackle position heading into training camp in 2022. Becton now says that the Jets are to blame for his season-ending injury, saying putting him on the other side put more stress on his right knee.
Ahead of the 2022 season, the Jets placed Becton on injured reserve after he fractured the kneecap of his surgically repaired right knee. Becton believed the position the Jets "forced" him to play is the reason he missed his second year in the league.
"I was just saying [on Instagram] what I know I am," Becton said (via Newsday). "I got drafted as a left tackle. I dominated as a left tackle my rookie year, and I was going to dominate my second year, and that unfortunate injury happened. I'm a natural left tackle. I'm not a right tackle. I don't care what people say. I know I'm going to go out there and prove it. People know what I can do as a rookie, and I'm better now than I was then."
Becton was drafted with the No. 11 overall pick in 2021 and played his first season as a left tackle, starting 14 games.
The 24-year-old said as he headed into his second year, he attempted to tell the coaches playing at right tackle would not be good for his surgically repaired knee. Becton says the team did not take his warning seriously.
"It made no sense to put me at right tackle," he said. "I hurt my right knee. That's going to be the knee that I put the most pressure on [while backpedaling in pass protection]. I explained it [to the coaches], but no one cared."
Becton added that once he began to feel discomfort in the right knee, he alerted the coaches, but again says they did not react.
"I got forced to play a position I don't play, and then I was pretty much telling them I wasn't feeling good the whole time throughout camp, and I was told I shouldn't be complaining," he said. "Go out there and do it. I was limping throughout the whole practice. I just took a step and my knee buckled and I got hurt and had to get reconstructive surgery."
Becton wants to go back to playing left tackle, and head coach Robert Saleh wants him to earn that position ahead of the 2023 season.
"Duane Brown has something to say about that," Saleh said Tuesday regarding Becton's desire to move back to left tackle. He says the "best five" will start and that Becton understands it could mean he's still manning the right tackle spot.
The Jets coach previously responded to Becton's (since deleted) tweet declaring that he is a left tackle. Becton's tweet was in response to Saleh telling reporters earlier in May that New York will play its best five offensive lineman that includes guards Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laken Tomlinson.
"Go earn the left tackle," Saleh said when asked about Becton's tweet, via NFL Media. "Competition."
After Saleh publicly challenging Becton to earn his spot, and the offensive lineman openly expressing frustration with the team, just how does the relationship between the player and team stand?
When asked how things are with him and the coaches, he said, "They're OK. I mean, it is what it is."
Salah did acknowledge Becton's noticeable physical transformation. Becton, whose fifth-year option was not picked up by the Jets, recently shared that he has lost a significant amount of weight as he looks to bounce back following two injury-marred years.
"He looks good," Saleh said. "He looks fantastic, really. But I don't know. ... He's attacking this offseason the right way, and I'm excited for him."
Competition is the name of the game in the NFL. The teams that have the most position battles are usually the ones playing deeper into January. That's what Salah is trying to build in New York, specifically at offensive tackle. Along with Becton, veteran Duane Brown (the current front-runner at starting LT), 2022 fourth-round pick Max Mitchell and free agent Billy Turner are also vying for playing time at offensive tackle.
Whoever starts on the Jets' offensive line will have an intense microscope on them this season. That's what happens when you're charged with protecting a 39-year-old four-time league MVP -- Aaron Rodgers -- who is trying to help Gang Green make it back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.