Relief from Pain
I went to the Jets game this weekend against the Eagles, and I really couldn't summon the will to do a game breakdown and what it meant for the continued existence of the 2021 season. Let me just summarize my thoughts; if the Jets as a team were a single human, it would be a man with no punting leg, no kicking leg, one receiving hand, a double-jointed throwing arm, no backbone, no spine, no ears, no teeth, no balls, no heart and no brain. Was I pleased with Zach Wilson's performance? Very much so, yes. Was I pleased with the offense as a whole? Not exactly. Was I pleased with my decision to go to the game? No, flat no.
In lieu of a game breakdown this week, I instead want to react to the news that Corey Davis will miss the remainder of this season due to a core muscle injury that will require surgery. First, let me wish all the best to Davis, as he remains an important piece of this offense, even if a lot of fans have found buyer's remorse with how he has performed in his first season as a Jet. I'm not going to pretend he's been good; far from it, as he carries the ninth-highest cap hit among receivers in the league, but isn't even the best receiver on his team. At the time of his injury, PFF grades Davis as the 54th-best receiver in the NFL (or at least among those who have played enough snaps to qualify), which feels appropriate considering that he is 56th in receiving yards this year. For context, the guy directly above him in the receiving chart at 55 is DeAndre Hopkins, but he's ranked 11th by PFF. How is the chasm between two guys who have similar receiving yard totals so wide? That's the quality of play difference (and also 4 more TDs for Hopkins, but shhhhhh), and it is mostly Davis's fault that his quality of play has been so poor.
I’ve been extremely critical of the free agency moves that this organization has made under Joe Douglas, but you won’t see me criticizing the Corey Davis signing now. Even with him only playing in nine games and failing to achieve 500 yards when he was brought in to be the Jets’ top receiver this year, I still support this signing. Davis has struggled, yes, and I will 100% criticize Douglas for his injury handling (because it has been abysmal with the injuries that have been caused by playing guys who are not healthy), but I still believe that Douglas was correct for signing him.
For real, unless Douglas had magically found all of the bargain receivers who could come together and form the perfect offense for this team, Davis was the guy they needed to sign. At the end of the 2020 season, all of us knew that the Jets needed to bring in a new WR1; the question was which receiver they would sign. If this team had completely failed to bring in a top option at the receiver position in free agency, we would be killing this team for failing to put the pieces around a rookie QB to enhance his development. I know that Davis was not good in the 2021 season, but he was instrumental in helping Zach Wilson during training camp and the preseason, serving as his first target on almost every preseason snap.
Davis being out for the year sucks, but put the rest of the free agency market into perspective; Davis was one of the "Big Five" most-coveted young receivers available along with Kenny Golladay, Juju Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel and Will Fuller. Davis to this point has outperformed all of them, and only Golladay (the one who is more expensive to his current team) has a legitimate chance of putting up a better statistical season this year. Bringing in one of those five players was absolutely necessary this offseason, and even with the first season’s returns being subpar, I would still make this signing again.
This is not to say that Douglas should be content, however, as the receiver room only has three players under contract next season in Davis, Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims. Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith are all set to leave in FA next year (though the Jets could easily keep Smith if they so choose with an ERFA tender). Davis needs to have a bounce-back year next season to prove that he was the specific member of the Big Five that the Jets needed to sign. I know some Jets fans were high on Curtis Samuel, but it will take a second season to determine whether or not the Jets made the exact right signing.
In the short term, this is the last opportunity for Denzel Mims to prove he belongs on this team next year. He has been this team’s WR6 this year by receiving yards and targets; that is unacceptable for a second round pick’s second NFL season. He does not contribute on special teams and does not offer the veteran presence on the sidelines in a leadership role. If he cannot prove that he belongs on this offense in the final five games of the season, they need to cut bait while he may still have trade value to another team.
In the long term, I would like the Jets to make another strong push in the offseason for wide receivers. I would like the Jets to extend Berrios for one more season for somewhere around $4 million if he’s willing to come back at that price, but beyond that, I would clean the slate of everyone else who is not under contract next season.
I would like the Jets to make a strong push in free agency for the Packers’ Davante Adams should he reach the open market. If they cannot get him, guys like the Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin, the Cowboys’ Michael Gallup and the Chargers’ Mike Williams would make fine substitutes as top options. If they fail to get any of those players or another as-of-yet-unnamed top option in free agency, the Jets should look to execute a trade for a top option. Should the Seahawks enter a teardown after this season, I would get them back on the phone and see if DK Metcalf is available (and knowing Joe Douglas’s trading history with the Seahawks, maybe they could acquire him for a 5th round pick). He’s in a contract year in 2022, so he would be especially motivated to perform so that he could get the big money in 2023.
They should also bring in a second option if Mims cannot earn a roster spot, such as Juju Smith-Schuster or Sammy Watkins, or maybe even Keelan Cole again should he be interested in another one-year contract (for less money) after playing this year on a one-year deal. I’m not particularly in favor of bringing in these players in particular (my favorite second-tier option at the moment is Zach Pascal), but this is secondary to bringing in a new WR1. As much as I like Elijah Moore’s potential, he and Davis cannot make up a receiving corps by themselves. A new top target is needed for this offense, and we cannot just wait for the draft to settle it.
This has been a bad season for Davis, but- for better or for worse- he’s going to get another season with the Jets to turn it around. Given his contract and his failure of a first year in New York, I doubt there’s much of a trade market for him, so the Saints likely won’t be offering their first round pick for him this offseason. I certainly wouldn’t accept anything less than a second round pick for Davis, since I’d need to immediately replace what he brings to the table next year with a capable prospect in the draft. I hope he works his way back into top form next year and helps lift this offense to where it needs to be in 2022.
Davis was brought in to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. He was supposed to provide relief from pain, not be its cause. So I'm rooting for him to rebound, and rebound he must. Otherwise, the pain will continue.