Jets coach Robert Saleh’s message to Mekhi Becton: ‘Go earn the left tackle’

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On Friday afternoon, Jets coach Robert Saleh declared an open competition at both tackle positions and at center.

A day later, one of Saleh’s players voiced his preference for where he would like to play in 2023.

In a since-deleted tweet Saturday, Becton said, “I. AM. A. LEFT. TACKLE!!!”

Becton’s message was clearly a response to Saleh’s answer during his press conference on Friday when the coach said the Jets would play their best five offensive linemen.

When asked about Becton’s tweet, Saleh had his own message for the fourth-year tackle.

“Go earn the left tackle,” Saleh said. “Competition.”

The Jets declined Becton’s fifth-year option on Tuesday, which would have been worth $13.5 million. The former first-round pick will head into the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him $5.8 million.

Becton is hardly in position to make demands after the last two years. Following the 2020 season, in which Becton started 13 games at left tackle, he has spent more time rehabbing from injuries than on the field.

In 2021, Becton suffered a right kneecap injury in the season opener against the Panthers. He was initially scheduled to miss only four to five weeks, but he missed the rest of that season after having surgery.

Becton returned in time for the 2022 training camp but was reportedly close to 400 pounds. Two weeks into camp, Becton injured his right knee again and missed the entire year before even playing a preseason down.

Becton is now apparently 100%, as he has reportedly lost more than 50 pounds since last season. And he hopes to reclaim his starting left tackle position, but he will have some competition.

Following Becton’s injury, the Jets signed veteran left tackle Duane Brown to a two-year, $22 million contract. Brown started 12 games for the Jets, but he is coming off of offseason shoulder surgery after he played the entire 2022 season with the injury.

The Jets also selected former Pitt standout Carter Warren in the fourth round of last weekend’s draft. Warren not only has experience at left tackle but also at right guard and right tackle.

Because of that, Becton could move to right tackle, something he obviously isn’t thrilled about especially heading into the final year of his contract. Left tackles typically get paid more than right tackles on the open market. So it’s no wonder why Becton’s preference is to play at left tackle.

Becton has impressed Saleh and the coaches during the early portion of the Jets offseason program. However, it remains to be seen where he will play this season and if he can finally play a full season.

“The expectation for him is no different than anybody else,” Saleh said. “It’s redundant, I feel like I say it to you guys all the time, but you wake up and find a way to get better and that’s who you are every single day.

“That’s the expectation. If it leads to starting, if it leads to a left tackle position, it doesn’t matter. If you go to bed satisfied with the way you approach each day and the way you attack it, odds are, it is going to work out in your favor.

“If it doesn’t, at least you go to bed knowing you tried your best.”