The New York Jets have signed tight end Ryan Griffin to a three year extension reported to be worth up to $10.8 million with incentives that reportedly should not be difficult to reach. $4 million is reported to be guaranteed.
This is a curious transaction for the Jets for a number of reasons. Ryan Griffin is a career backup who spent the first six seasons of a seven year career with the Houston Texans. He was cut by the Texans in May 2019 after being arrested for vandalism and public intoxication. After being cut, Griffin remained unemployed for two months, when the Jets signed him to a one year, $1.375 million deal after starting tight end Chris Herndon was suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season. No NFL team was interested in signing Ryan Griffin for two months after he was cut. The Jets weren’t either, until Herndon was suspended and they had no viable options at tight end. Even then he was only worth $1.375 million to the Jets four months ago. Now he is worth at a minimum $4 million, and as much as $10.8 million with easily reachable incentives. Why? What has changed Griffin’s value?
You might point to his performance for the Jets in 2019. However, that performance, after having been thrust by circumstances into a starting role, has been underwhelming. In 10 games with the Jets Griffin has amassed 25 receptions and 269 yards. That’s 2.5 receptions and 26.9 yards per game. In addition, in six of the 10 games Griffin has been held to 10 yards receiving or less. Is that kind of production worth $4 million in guaranteed money?
It should be noted that Griffin does not excel as a blocker. His value lies mostly in his ability as a receiver. As a receiver Griffin has had more than 50 yards receiving in just 12 games in a seven year career. He has scored just 11 touchdowns in seven seasons. He has had exactly one season in a seven year career in which he has had more than 305 yards receiving. He is not particularly fast or elusive. He is not a deep threat. When given the chance as a starter he has had one big game and a slew of invisible games for the Jets. In addition, Ryan Griffin will turn 30 years old in mid January of 2020. It is not clear how that fits into the structure of a rebuilding team looking to get younger and more athletic.
The timing of this deal is also curious. Everything about Ryan Griffin’s career, from his limited athleticism to his limited production to the two months spent unemployed without any interest from the NFL just four months ago says there should be no urgency in re-signing Griffin. For a player of such modest abilities, accomplishments and market demand, there is no harm in keeping your options open regarding bringing him back in 2020. But this is the type of player that should be a back burner option. If you want him back, let him know that, let him test the market, and see where you stand. If he gets some outlandish offer from another team, let him walk; this is not the kind of player that is irreplaceable. And in the more likely case that no other NFL team is interested in paying him the kind of money in the deal the Jets just signed him to, you may well be able to save some cap flexibility by waiting and letting Griffin test the market. Why tie up cap space now for a backup tight end? Why not wait and see how the free agent market develops and see if the space can be more effectively utilized elsewhere? Why not see if you can sign him for less in free agency?
To be sure, we’re not talking about enormous sums here. The $4 million in guaranteed money is roughly 2% of the expected salary cap in 2020. This deal will not make or break the Jets. It will not have an enormous effect one way or the other. However, for a new general manager with no real track record, this deal gives us one of the first real data points as to how Joe Douglas will approach the salary cap and contract negotiations. It is just one minor deal, but this is not particularly encouraging for the Jets new GM. Ryan Griffin will, barring further injury problems for Herndon in 2020, return to being a 30 year old backup tight end with no upside who is likely to give the Jets somewhere around 200 - 300 yards receiving and perhaps a touchdown or two per year going forward. That is the kind of player that is eminently replaceable. In fact, that is the kind of player that 4 short months ago was unemployed for two months, with no NFL offers, and happy to sign for less than $1.4 million. How he became a $4 million guaranteed money player four months later is a bit of a mystery.