Jets tackle Mekhi Becton warms up on the field before a game...

Jets tackle Mekhi Becton warms up on the field before a game against the Colts on Sept. 27, 2020 in Indianapolis. Credit: AP/Zach Bolinger

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It began with so much optimism, a player with a reputation as big as his 6-7, 363-pound frame, a man the Jets had hoped would solidify the left tackle position for a dozen or so years and provide the kind of quarterback protection needed for a championship run.

There was even a catchy nickname for Mekhi Becton. They called him “Big Ticket,” a nod to his excellence and ability to use his unusually quick feet and raw power to overwhelm pass rushers at the line of scrimmage. The Jets believed the Big Ticket would be their meal ticket along the offensive line.

But those hopes for a potential Hall of Fame career are now beginning to evaporate.

After missing all but one game in 2021 with a knee injury, Becton is now expected to miss this season with another knee problem. Becton suffered a bone chip in his kneecap that will require surgery, and coach Robert Saleh all but ruled him out for 2022 when he updated reporters after Tuesday’s practice.

Saleh was deeply distressed in delivering the news of Becton’s latest injury, but he injected at least a measure of hope for the future, something the 23-year-old tackle can latch onto as he faces a second straight year of life in the trainer’s room and off the field.

“We love Mekhi,” Saleh said. “We appreciate everything he’s done. His ride is not over. His story is not over.”

About the best thing Becton and the Jets have going for them is the luxury of time. He’s still very young, he’s still under contract through the 2023 season and another year after that if the Jets decide to exercise his fifth-year option. The talent is there, now it’s a matter of seeing whether he can physically recover from a second knee injury and can get into the kind of condition the Jets required for a long run as a productive player.

Becton is a big man who faces unique challenges in getting into football shape, and questions about his offseason training regimen bubbled up after he decided to spend most of his time in Dallas, in large part to be with his pregnant girlfriend through the birth of their first child. He reported to camp looking overweight, but he was in good enough shape to begin practicing.

Saleh decided during the offseason that Becton would switch to right tackle after George Fant played well in Becton’s absence last year and secured that spot as Zach Wilson’s blind-side protector. At one point in Monday’s practice, Becton was seen limping noticeably, and shortly thereafter, he could no longer perform and left the field with the training staff. Saleh was vague when asked about whether the injury occurred after he appeared hobbled and declined to second-guess the possibility further injury might have been avoided had he stopped practicing earlier.

None of it changes the fact that Becton’s star-crossed career took another major hit, as do the Jets’ hopes for an offensive transformation in Year 2 of the Wilson era.

“It sucks, man,” Wilson said of the injury.

Becton’s absence only underscored Wilson’s predicament; the defense would have had eight sacks of the quarterback in Tuesday’s practice.

Oy.

General manager Joe Douglas was already in pursuit of tackle Duane Brown, arguably the best veteran option on the open market. That becomes an even bigger priority now that Becton is out, because fourth-year tackle Chuma Edoga isn’t good enough to consistently handle the league’s top-end pass rushers.

It is an overstatement to think that Becton’s injury alone is enough to sink the Jets’ season, when in reality every team — even Super Bowl-winning teams — must deal with injuries, often to key players. Saleh acknowledged as much on Tuesday, saying that it’s up to the Jets to make the necessary adjustments.

That said, Becton’s absence represents a significant hit to a team that figures to be better than last year’s 4-13 group. Wilson seems much more comfortable with the offense in Year 2, and he acknowledged Tuesday it’s his job to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands, regardless of who’s playing right tackle.

But it’s a lot easier to play quarterback when you’re not under duress, and as Tuesday’s practice showed, Wilson can only do so much if his protection breaks down.

It was an immediate reminder of how treacherous things can be now that they can no longer count on the Big Ticket. And they can only hope that one day, Becton can fulfill the promise the Jets once had in him. Promise that is now buckling again after another heartbreaking injury.