This is likely going to be my longest entry in my offseason outlook series, so maybe this is where I stop this nonsense entirely. After spending a probably-too-long time examining options at the quarterback and runningback positions, this time I will pivot to a position of true need that the Jets must fill this offseason no matter what if they intend to do anything of value in 2022.
In this post, I will be exploring options in free agency, trades and the draft, as fixing this position is important and should require all options to be considered. The Jets may have entered the 2021 season with high expectations for their receiver room, those expectations- for a variety of reasons- were sadly not met. Upgrading this position is a must, so I will be examining who we have now, what their roles are, and who can be added in order to improve the offense.
Feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions below this post.
There are currently six wide receivers under contract with this team for 2022, but with respect to DJ Montgomery, Tarik Black and Rodney Adams, I don't think many people view those signed to futures contracts as realistic options. Additionally, I'm going to take some liberties and assume that the Jets will exercise the ERFA tender on Jeff Smith, so that would leave four wide receivers on the roster next year to examine. I will examine them in order of 2022 cap hits from highest to lowest.
Corey Davis, Age 27, 5 Years of Experience
Davis was a disappointment in his first season in New York. After the Jets gave him a three-year, $37.5 million contract, he was expected to be the top target for either Sam Darnold or whichever rookie the Jets drafted to be their next franchise hopeful. Davis was one of only three free agent signings the Jets made last year that I fully supported, believing that he could be a great receiver in a different environment.
Unfortunately, his first season was a real source of pain for this team. As the ninth-highest cap hit of 2021 among receivers, he wasn't even in the top 50 receivers graded by PFF at the time of his season-ending injury. He played in only 9 games due to two injuries that limited his effectiveness in the three games between the two of them (he had 93 yards in his first game back from injury, but he had a killer fumble in Bills territory that essentially ended the game in the first half). The way his contract is structured, his cap hit in 2022 will be the highest of his three years at $13.67 million. The Jets are not going to cut him, since there is no cap benefit to doing so and he was not nearly bad enough to demand that he be off the roster entirely. I also don't think that there is much of a trade market for an underwhelming receiver coming off a core muscle surgery, so Davis will be on this team in 2022.
I hope he returns to the form that made him the 5th overall pick in 2017 and netted him the contract the Jets gave him last year, because what he gave in 2021 is not enough. In his 9 games played, he had 34 catches for 492 yards (14.5 YPR) and 4 TDs. The YPR number is actually good, but he was the most targeted player on his team at the time of his second injury, racking up 59 targets (a minimum of 5 in each game played, 6.5 TGT/G in 9 games, 7 TGT/G in the first 8 games). He is also credited with 6 drops by PFF, a career high in that category despite a career low in games played. Those 6 drops are not acceptable for his number of targets; dropping more than 1 in 10 passes thrown your way is not good enough for a WR1, let alone a starting receiver. For comparison, Davante Adams of the Packers was targeted 166 times this season and dropped 4 of those passes (close to 1 in 40 passes dropped).
Davis may not need to be a WR1, but with the 17th-highest cap hit among receivers (before this year's free agency period) in 2022, he needs to be closer to a WR1 than a WR3, as he was in 2021. He was 4th on the team among WRs in targets, 4th in catches and 2nd in yardage. The fact that he averaged 54.7 YPG is good, though it's hardly WR1 material. His 70.3 YPG in 2020 with the Titans is much better, so I'd like him to be somewhere between those two numbers in 2022 (if not better than 2020, if possible).
Briefly, I'd like to touch on his run-blocking. PFF grades him an excellent 80.4 grade as a run blocker. Considering that the Jets run an outside zone scheme when handing the ball off (and whenever Wilson keeps the ball himself along the sidelines), having an effective run-blocking WR is vital. They may choose to use him in that role more often in 2022, so hopefully he continues that part of his game.
Davis needs to be better than he was this season to justify his increased cap hit and his presence on the team in 2023, when he has under $700 thousand in guaranteed money and could be cut to save $10.5 million. Even if the Jets bring in a new WR1 (as I'd like them to do), he needs to contribute to this offense in a meaningful way. Cutting down on drops (and fumbles) is a good way to do that, so I hope he returns next year with surer hands and an improved physical shape.
Elijah Moore, Age 22, 1 Year of Experience
Taken in the 2nd round when few predicted the Jets would target a receiver so early, Moore flashed his potential in a trying season where he was one of the few bright spots in the receiving room. He led the Jets in 2021 with 77 targets and 538 receiving yards with 5 TDs (plus 54 rushing yards and 1 TD on the ground) despite finishing 3rd on the team in catches.
Though he officially only had 48.9 YPG in his 11 games played, it was truly a season of two halves for him. In his first five games played (including one game where he suffered a concussion and one game where he was targeted only twice in London, and one of those targets was more of a throwaway than an actual pass), he tallied only 79 receiving yards (15.8 YPG) for no scores (plus one carry of 19 yards for his rushing TD). In his last 6 games played, he tallied 459 receiving yards (76.5 YPG) and his 5 receiving TDs. Compared to Corey Davis, Moore had only 1 drop by PFR's total, meaning he dropped only 1 of his 77 targets.
He obviously did much better work in his second half- looking like he might actually be able to turn into a WR1 if he could stretch out that production into a full season- but the concerning part is that he had a season of two halves. Part of it was on Mike LaFleur being one of the worst play-callers in the league before he moved up to the booth and became one of the better play-callers, part of it was on Zach Wilson wanting to feed the ball to Corey Davis even when he wasn't open early on in the year, and part of it was on simple bad luck, like with the concussion he suffered against the Broncos that caused him to miss the Titans game and be limited in the Falcons game.
The latter, however, is the concern. Elijah Moore suffered three injuries in his rookie campaign, calling into question his durability. He's already a smaller receiver than most at 5'10'' and 178lb, and I'm not certain if he has the capacity to add any bulk to his frame without limiting his speed. Still, he missed a game due to a concussion and five games due to the quad injury he suffered against the Eagles, plus much of the preseason due to another quad injury over the summer, so he and the Jets need to work together to find out.
PFF graded Moore as the second-best receiver on the Jets behind Braxton Berrios, 6th among the 13 rookies who qualified by offensive snap counts (and he was 7th in snaps with only 476) and as WR49 in the NFL as a whole. That's good value for a 2nd round rookie, though I'd like him to translate what we saw in his second half to a full season and see him climb the rankings in his 2nd year. He needs to be more available and more effective over 17 games to justify his selection. Now that this team has seen what he can achieve, he must answer the call.
Denzel Mims, Age 24, 2 Years of Experience
I'm not spending too much time here. Denzel Mims was the arguably the worst player on the entire roster in 2021 regardless of position. Even Alex Kessman- the kicker who lasted only one game with the team and missed both of his extra point attempts- at least was good on his 4 kickoffs against the Eagles, giving them an average 13 yards per return and setting them up inside their own 20 on average per PFF. He had 5 penalties against him on 279 snaps, plus 2 drops. That's 7 penalties and drops compared to 8 receptions, meaning he had one more net positive reception than plays where he was a net negative as a receiver.
And it's not like he was a net positive even when he wasn't being targeted. Mims was touted as a good if not great run blocker coming out of Baylor, having the 6'3'', 205lb frame that helps bigger-bodied wideouts get the push against corners and even linebackers. Instead, he's been far more often a liability as a run blocker, grading no higher than the 48.0 mark he received from PFF this season in two years. I even distinctly remember him missing a block against Jacksonville in the second half on the first play of a drive beginning at the Jets 34. It was his first and only snap of the third quarter, having been benched out of halftime for that awful play in the endzone to end the first half where he stepped out of bounds (meaning that even if he'd caught it, it wouldn't have counted for a penalty) and then let the ball go right by him for a near interception.
Mims has not been nearly good enough in his two years in the league to justify being selected in the second round. His sophomore season saw him record a fantastic 16.6 YPR on 8 catches, which is fantastic... for a WR6, which is what he was by targets, receptions and yardage. Except- as Robert Saleh correctly pointed out when asked about him being made inactive twice in September- Mims has no special teams value, not receiving a single special teams snap in the regular season. He has zero touchdowns through two professional seasons, his only score being a 2-pt conversion against the Raiders in 2020. He's frequently injured, ill or otherwise indisposed, and he's been a healthy inactive 3 times, the same number of times (all from his rookie season) where he eclipsed 50 yards in a game.
The Jets should look to move on from him in the offseason. I don't know what you could possibly get for him in a trade (out of 133 qualifying WRs, PFF grades Mims as 132nd ahead of only Trinity Benson), but even getting a conditional 6th round pick in the 2024 draft might be worth it. There's no cap benefit to trading him over cutting him (he will have a cap hit just under $756 thousand if he's off the team in a pre-6/1 move, cut in half over the next two years if done in a post-6/1 move), but if there's any team out there that wants to make sure he doesn't hit waivers to try to rehabilitate him, they might be willing to part with such a far away asset.
Either way, Mims should not be on this roster next year. Even with only three receivers currently under contract not including the guys on futures contracts, he can't be counted on to even be a WR3. If you can't trade him before the draft, just hold onto him through the start of the preseason before waiving him just to see if anyone else in the league loses a guy for enough time that they reconsider trading for him, but you can't even call him camp competition at this point. If he miraculously puts it all together through that point and impresses the coaching staff enough to merit being on an NFL team, all the better; it will improve his trade value.
Jeff Smith, Age 25, 2 Years of Experience
Again, Smith is not technically on the roster for 2022, but I do expect that the Jets will exercise the ERFA tender on him for the second year in a row to guarantee him a one-year, $895 thousand contract. He's not supposed to be a starting receiver, but he's been a fine backup with some contributions on special teams. The former college quarterback-turned-receiver has nearly identical offensive stats as Denzel Mims (8 catches, 113 receiving yards, 14.1 YPR, 0 TDs in two years) on fewer targets, and he was a marginally better run-blocker in 2021.
He's not great on special teams, but at least he has some value. In 12 games, he had a pretty consistent feature with 10 of his games grading out above 54.0 as a special teamer (with two games at 44.0 or below) bringing down his season grade to 46.3. He shouldn't be a starting gunner next year (I think Jason Pinnock or another special teamer signed could do it better), but he's a good enough backup in that role that he could still work on kick coverage while serving as a WR6 (who would probably be a healthy scratch if all 5 guys in front of him are healthy).
There's not much else to say about Smith. Maybe the Jets could get him back on the roster without having to guarantee his contract, as they were able to keep Vyncint Smith (no relation) at a higher dollar, less guarantee contract in 2021 without having to tender him as an RFA. If they can do that, all the better, but I'm assuming they will go down the ERFA route since they have that option with Jeff where they didn't with Vyncint.
I don't think there are any other guys from the 2021 team who will be on the Week 1 roster next season. Jamison Crowder has been an excellent Jet in his three years (leading the team in receptions with 8 different quarterbacks throwing him the ball), but I think he would be best served joining a contender next year like the Buccaneers or the Cowboys. Though I would have considered bringing back Keelan Cole five weeks ago, he was not effective down the stretch as a starting receiver; unless he is willing to take the veteran minimum for minimal guarantees, I'd move on from him as well.
So, with the guys currently on the roster out of the way, I'm now going to explore external options, beginning with free agents. I will be dividing the free agents into two tiers. I am going to be making a few assumptions here about who will become free agents and who will not hit the market. For the upper tier, I am assuming that both Davante Adams and Mike Williams will not hit free agency; even if Aaron Rodgers requests a trade (and since Thanksgiving, I no longer think he will), the Packers will likely tag him, and the Chargers would do the same for Williams to use as a hold while negotiating a long-term deal. I am also assuming that Emmanuel Sanders and AJ Green will both be looking to join contenders next season, as they are close to the end of their respective careers and have made their money already.
With that in mind, let me first begin with the upper tier and list my three favorite options in it. Full disclosure: some guys suffering major injuries have changed my opinions since December.
Free Agency 1st Tier
Chris Godwin, Age 26, 5 Years of Experience
Godwin is fairly young for a guy who has been in the NFL for five years. The former third round pick has never graded below 80.3 by PFF's metric and has played in at least 12 games every year. The ACL tear he suffered was the first major injury of his career, but unfortunately for him, it occurred in a contract year for him, so it could hurt his market.
I suspect that that is what the Buccaneers are counting on, as while they would like to keep him, they won't want to exercise a franchise tag on him. After placing the franchise tag on him last year, doing so again would give him a pay bump to $19.2 million. While the Buccaneers are no strangers to restructuring other contracts and using voidable years, they're up against the cap and using the franchise tag outright would leave them with only $2.8 million in space with no other moves, and they only have 36 players under contract for the 2022 season. They will probably let him go and ask him to come back to them for a chance to match any offer he might get.
I'm not sure what market he might have after the ACL tear, but he has been an accomplished receiver in his five years in the league. Outside of his rookie season when he was a backup behind DeSean Jackson and part of an offense that ran a lot of 2 TE sets with OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, Godwin has had at least 840 yards and 6 total TDs in every season. Since his Pro Bowl 2019 season, he has averaged at least 70.0 YPG in each season and at least 11.3 YPR (81.9 YPG and 13.2 YPR over last 26 games). He had 5 drops in 2021 by PFR's count, though on 127 targets, that's only roughly 1 drop in 25 passes thrown his way. He fumbled on two of his 98 receptions, so that's a bit of a concern.
It would take a serious commitment to get him on the Jets, and it might scare some to give him a big contract coming off an ACL tear in December. Yes, I too am concerned that he might not be able to play in the preseason and might not be able to establish an early connection with Zach Wilson like the one he made with Corey Davis, but the talent he offers could be a real boon to the team once that connection is established.
If Godwin were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a five-year, $90 million contract, the same AV Kenny Golladay signed with the Giants last year but with one more season attached. I'd guarantee $60 million of it in a signing bonus and implement salary guarantees to make sure that $72 million is guaranteed at signing, plus some vesting guarantees to incentivize the Jets to make early decisions on his roster status. I'd include $10 million in incentives for playing time, production and Pro Bowl appearances, bringing the total value of the contract to $100 million. I'd also like to frontload this contract so that the cap hits are the lowest for 2023 and 2024, two years where the Jets absolutely must be in playoff contention. For example, that could look like something like this (page may not work on mobile). If he absolutely must be cut after three seasons (the Jets would likely be in teardown mode if that is the case because everyone has been fired) or has to be traded, the Jets would incur a $26 million dead cap hit in a pre-6/1 release or defer $12 million of it to the 2026 season (if traded, only $2 million in relief ahead of the 2025 season).
In the scenario that Godwin reaches free agency and Davante Adams does not, Godwin is likely to be the most-sought after free agent receiver, so he would be fielding offers from a lot of teams. He might get a better offer from other teams, and I'm not sure I'd be willing to go much higher than the contract I've projected; I'm already committing a third of my available cap space in 2022 to a receiver who has only twice led his team in targets, receptions or receiving yards (he led his team in all three categories in 2019 and 2021, but has only ever been second at best in either one the rest of his career). If he returns to the Buccaneers to match this offer or gets a better one, the Jets would have to look elsewhere for a new WR.
Christian Kirk, Age 25, 4 Years of Experience
Kirk had not been top target for the Cardinals until this year, stepping up in the absence of DeAndre Hopkins to lead the team in targets (103), receptions (77) and receiving yards (982). His 12.8 YPR is definitely good, but the worrying part is that he only averaged 57.8 YPG, which is low for a WR1. Despite leading the team in receiving yards, in playing all 17 games, he only led the team in receiving yards in 4 games, and one of them was the devastating loss to the Lions where he racked up most of his yards in garbage time. Up until this year, he's only truly been a WR2 at best.
What was the cause of Kirk's breakout in 2021? The Cardinals started using him in the slot far more often than they had previously, putting him in the slot on 78.6% of his passing routes per PFF. His previous high in share of slot placement was 41.6% in 2019, which was his prior best season before 2021. Elijah Moore is seen as a guy who can produce out of both the slot and along the sidelines, and I think that Kirk could be a similar piece who is more often in the slot than not. For context, Moore in 2021 was in the slot on 28.3% of his passing routes, which is a near complement to Kirk's placement.
Kirk had some issues with drops in 2021, unfortunately; on his 103 targets, he had 6 drops per PFF. He had 2 of his drops against the Lions, so even with most of his yards coming in garbage time, he still wasn't catching all of the passes thrown his way. A 5.8% drop rate isn't bad, but it should ideally be below 5% if you're a starting receiver. He was one drop too many or 17 targets short of getting below 5%, so it's not too big a deal, but it is something to take not of when exploring him.
Still, he brings a lot of favorable qualities to the Cardinals offense even when he is not the featured part of it. He's played in at least 12 games every season and never had fewer than the 590 yards he had in his rookie year. He's also a fairly disciplined player, having only 3 penalties accepted against him in four years as a pro (2 in 2019 for OPI, 1 in 2021 for illegal shift). He's not an effective run blocker with a season rating of 51.4, but he was mostly average over the course of the season, achieving a grade over 50 in 13 games (over 60 in 6 games). If he's going to line up in the slot, the Jets would likely not want to run behind him too often, but he's not completely hopeless in this regard.
On the Jets, he would be comparable to the what Jamison Crowder was when he signed with the Jets in 2019. I think they can be the same kind of player with Kirk having more to offer on the perimeter (Crowder had almost the same share of passing routes run from the slot with 78.9%). Though the Jets likely drafted Elijah Moore with the intention of playing in the slot once Crowder was gone (and I assume he will be gone after this year), Moore spent most of his time on the perimeter as I previously noted. Having an effective slot option (not Braxton Berrios) who can intermingle the same way that Moore mostly works outside can help charge the offense.
If Kirk were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a three-year, $30 million contract with $18 million guaranteed at signing. I'd also include vesting guarantees so that his 2023 salary would become guaranteed to incentivize the Jets to decide on his roster spot early in that offseason. This contract is comparable to the three-year, $28.5 million contract Crowder signed in 2019 (his final year later reduced to $5.5 million). I would also include an additional $6 million in incentives for playing time and production, bringing the contract's total value to $36 million. The contract could look something like this (page may not work on mobile).
I think Kirk is a rather undervalued member of the upcoming free agency class, even if I think he's probably going to be a guy more suited to the slot than the perimeter. There's a chance the Cardinals may be able to retain him, but as I said in my post about the runningback position, they are going to have to let some guys go in free agency for how up against the cap they are. Kirk would probably have to agree to take less than he would going elsewhere to remain. If he hits free agency, he'll be chasing the money, and I think this would be among the best (if not the best) contracts he would get. I'm not certain if I'd be willing to go higher than the AAV I listed here (if he does well in the playoffs, I'd definitely consider it, though he's likely to be matched up with Jalen Ramsey Monday). Still, if he's not available, the Jets would have to look elsewhere.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Age 31, 9 Years of Experience
The only reason Patterson didn't make the Pro Bowl this year was because there wasn't enough conformity on what position he plays, I'm certain. The former 1st round pick from 2013 has been in the league for a while in a variety of roles, but his age 30 season with the Falcons was probably his best from an overall player's standpoint. He's been known for a while now, but it might have been 2021 when everyone realized just how good he can be. This season saw him achieve career highs in almost every offensive category.
Used as a rusher a career high 153 times (previous high was 62 in 2020), he ran for 618 yards (4.0 YPC) on the ground (previous high was 232, also in 2020) for 6 TDs (previous high was 3 in 2013). His usage as a RB didn't yield great results as a pass blocker, but this is an outlook on receivers, not runningbacks (even if 147 of his 293 passing routes were on routes from the backfield, most of his targets were beyond the line of scrimmage); if Patterson is versatile enough to also work out of the backfield as a rusher, all the better for his production.
As a receiver, he saw 69 targets (not the highest of his career, but still nice) and only dropped one of them. He also caught 52 of them for 548 yards (previous high was 469 from his rookie season)- good for a 10.5 YPR- and a career high and team high 5 TD receptions (previous high was 4 from his rookie season). As a receiver and in line run blocker, he achieved a PFF grade of 74.4, though it was only on 24 run-blocking snaps, so it's a little suspect. Still, he's been at least average throughout his career, never falling below 49.5 and his two seasons below 50 were on teams with generally bad run-blocking anyway. All told, he had 1,166 scrimmage yards (previous high was 627 in 2013), 72.9 scrimmage YPG (previous high was 39.2 in 2013) and 11 TDs (previous high was 7 in 2013).
Finally- and this was his main claim to fame prior this year- he has a lot of value on special teams, owning the most touchdowns on kickoffs in NFL history with 8 (0 in 2021, 1 in 2020). He has been named a First Team All-Pro four times and Second Team All-Pro three times as a kick returner and special teamer. He's only ever returned one punt in his career, so it's probably not the best idea to have him back there on punts, but I think he could be a reserve gunner, having 16 solo tackles in his 8-season career. As much as I want the Jets to re-sign Braxton Berrios (more on him later), grabbing Cordarrelle Patterson is not so bad a consolation.
If Patterson were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a two-year, $13 million contract (no signing bonus) with $7 million guaranteed. It would be the highest total amount, highest AAV and highest guarantee of his career, breaking the previous record he set on the $10 million he made over two years with the Bears (no need for contract constructor: just evenly divide the money, guarantee his first year and $1.5 million his second year). I don't know if he'd be able to earn more than this from other teams; though he has only missed 2 games in his entire 9-season career, his age will probably catch up to the speedster sooner or later. I would very much like to see what Mike LaFleur could do with Cordarrelle Patterson and Elijah Moore on the field at the same time while there's still an opportunity for it to happen. Still, if he gets a better offer than this- or decides he wants to join a contender for less money- he would sign elsewhere, in which case the Jets would have to explore other options for a new top receiver.
Free Agency 2nd Tier
For now, though, let me shift over to the second tier of free agent receivers and list my three favorite options from it. I won't be as detailed here since these guys would likely be either backups or rotational players rather than starters with the Jets.
Braxton Berrios, Age 26, 4 Years of Experience
Berrios is the most popular option among Jets fans when you ask which of the Jets' impending FAs they would like to retain. He's been a generally good punt returner for this team in his three years here and became the team's best kick returner in 2021, getting his first career return TD while averaging a league-leading 30.4 yards per return on kicks. He'd be the Jets punt returner no matter who among the other receivers I've highlighted they might sign, and he'd most likely be the starting kick returner even if they were to sign Patterson.
I did a little bit of digging into what kind of contract I'd want to give Berrios before, so I'll just restate it in more detail here. I'd give him the same contract the Patriots gave Julain Edelman in 2014: four years for $17 million, guaranteeing half of it. Though he wouldn't be a starting receiver for this team, he still proved in 2021 that he could hold his own as a slot. He had only one drop (that unfortunately resulted in an interception) on his targets (PFF and PFR differ pretty significantly on the total; PFF says he had 60 targets while PFR says he had 65). His YPR of 9.4 in 2021 is indicative of a backup, but his 26.9 YPG is still good for a WR4 (which is hopefully what he will be for the Jets next year). I'm not too concerned about giving a contract of length and guarantees to him, either; though he missed his entire rookie season with the Patriots on injured reserve- some reports indicating the Patriots stashed him there with a minor injury to prevent having to waive him- he has missed only one game in three years with the Jets.
Zach Pascal, Age 27, 4 Years of Experience
About a month ago (prior to Berrios's breakout in his four games without Corey Davis out for the season and Elijah Moore placed on IR (ultimately also out for the season), Pascal was my first choice to pick up as a backup option. He has a higher upside than Berrios on offense, but he's coming off a down season with the Colts and doesn't have nearly as much special teams value. He hasn't missed any games in his four years since joining the Colts (spent 2017 on two teams' practice squads), proving to be very durable. He also has been targeted a lot in the last three years, getting at least 69 targets a season with five different QBs throwing to him. He'd ideally be a slot receiver like Crowder, but as a better run blocker (Pascal was mediocre as a run blocker this year, but in his three other seasons, he was good to great).
If Pascal were to sign with the Jets, I project it would be on a two-year, $10 million contract with $5 million guaranteed. I'd structure the contract so that he'd be making $4.5 million his first year (all guaranteed) and $5.5 million his second ($500 thousand guaranteed); he would need to prove that his down 2021 was not a sign of his future in order to earn the second year.
Tre'Quan Smith, Age 25, 4 Years of Experience
Smith was a little bit of a disappointment to the Saints, who drafted him in the 3rd round in 2018 but saw him appear to peak at 448 receiving yards in 2020. He was a decent receiver for them, but never became a consistent impact player that you'd want to see from a guy drafted on day two. Still, despite not living up to expectations, he still has a 13.3 YPR and 17 TDs, with only 8 drops on 166 targets. He nearly evenly split his time outside and in the slot in 2021, though his rookie season- likely his best- saw him work much more on the perimeter. He's also been a fairly good run blocker, being graded 63.0 at worst in two seasons and having a career grade of 70.3 from PFF. I think he could be a cheaper, more effective version of what Keelan Cole brought to the Jets this past season.
If Smith were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a one-year, $2 million contract, a quarter of it guaranteed. I'd be willing to raise the guarantees if necessary, but I'd be reluctant to raise the total value; I really don't think he's going to get much better offers elsewhere. Maybe he wants more job security, in which case I'd offer him a second year of equal value for $100,000 guaranteed money, but I think he'd be more likely to take the one-year deal where he'd be likeliest to prove himself for another contract in 2023.
Here, I will go over my three favorite potential trade options this offseason, what I'd be willing to trade for them and what I'd like to do with them once they are here. I'm not doing this in tiers; if I'm trading for an established player, it better be a guy in the first tier only.
Brandin Cooks, Age 29, 8 Years of Experience
Cooks is no stranger to being traded. After being drafted by the Saints in the first round in 2013, he was traded to the Patriots after three years, then traded to the Rams after one year, extended by the Rams and then traded to the Texans after two years. He was never traded because of poor performance; quite the opposite, in fact, as his first two trades involved the Patriots and then Rams surrendering first round picks in the trade packages. The Rams traded him away in 2020 because they needed the cap space (even though they had just extended him, meaning that they actually paid more to get rid of him than they would have paid to keep him on the roster that year). The Texans traded for him as part of an ill-advised attempt to replace DeAndre Hopkins after dealing him three weeks earlier, giving up a second round pick as part of the package.
That's not to say Cooks has been bad for the Texans; he's been their best receiver in two seasons there, having back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons with 6 TDs both years. He's not DeAndre Hopkins, but he's still among the better receivers in the league (even if he's shockingly never made the Pro Bowl). He had 4 drops on 130 targets in 2021, compared to 90 receptions for 1,037 yards (11.5 YPR) in 16 games (64.7 YPG). He's not a particularly good run-blocker, just barely above average in that regard.
The Texans may choose to keep him because he's been good and they will want to use him to evaluate Davis Mills in year two/some rookie they might draft in the spring, but since he's in a contract year, they might take offers to see what they could get in a return. I expect that a lot of teams would be interested in him, but not a lot of contenders would be able to take on his contract without restructuring him. Any team that acquires him via trade (assuming that the Texans don't agree to restructure him themselves or pay an agreed-upon total in the trade) would have to pay him just over $13.7 million in 2022. The teams with no cap space may not be able to afford that total in trade talks, so they'd have to up their compensation to get Houston to eat more of his contract.
If the Jets were to trade for him, the proposed trade package I would use is:
- WR Brandin Cooks
- HOU 3rd round pick (via NO)
- HOU 4th round pick (via LAR, i.e., the remaining part of the LAR-HOU trade for Cooks)
- HOU 6th round pick (via SF from NYJ, i.e., the pick the Jets traded to Houston for Shaq Lawson)
- WR Denzel Mims
- NYJ 2nd round pick (via CAR)
- NYJ 4th round pick (via CAR)
- NYJ 5th round pick (via PIT)
In this scenario, the Jets would be paying roughly $14.5 million for Mims and Cooks in 2022. They would be exchanging their remaining picks from the Sam Darnold trade to the Panthers, moving from 38 down to 80 and moving from 108* down to 130* while also moving down from 161* to 210* (order not finalized for those latter two pick swaps).The Texans would receive a young receiver- formerly touted as a potential WR1 before being drafted- with two years of control for less than $1.4 million each year to see if he could be a starter for them while $8.7 million in an expected non-competitive 2022 (plus $2.5 million each in the voided 2023 and 2024). I think this might be a good offer for all sides; Mims gets a fresh start in warmer weather a few hours away from his hometown and college, Houston clears some cap for 2022 and beyond in a year where they will likely be in a rebuild with a new head coach and improve three draft selections in 2022, and the Jets get a guy who has formerly been a WR1 and can at the very least be a solid deep threat for a team that does not currently have one.
Once in New York, I would like the Jets to give him a two-year extension beyond 2022 for $25 million (same AAV as Corey Davis and what Cooks's base salary already is) with $15 million guaranteed, tying him to the team through the 2024 season. I understand if you might be reticent to commit long term to a 29-year-old receiver before he even plays a snap for the Jets, but he's been remarkably durable for a guy always on the move and often tasked with running full speed downfield. He missed six games in his rookie season in 2014; since then, he's missed four games in 7 seasons. He's averaged 70.5 YPG in Houston and 66.5 YPG in his career. In six of his eight seasons, he eclipsed 1,000 yards and 5 TDs. Statistically, I can count on him to have at least two 1,000 yard seasons in New York; hopefully he could have three.
As I said earlier, however, the Texans may get a better offer in draft compensation in exchange for Houston eating more of his 2022 cap than they would otherwise. If so, the Texans would likely take the better draft offer and eat the money. Cooks is going to be popular in trade talks, so it is likelier he goes elsewhere rather than to the Jets, leaving the Jets in a position where they'd need to explore other trade options.
Calvin Ridley, Age 27, 4 Years of Experience
Let me preface this by saying that- first and foremost- this trade only happens if Ridley is in good enough spirits to resume playing football. Ridley left the Falcons after five games played (he missed the London game due to personal reasons, returned for one game after the bye and left again for the rest of the season), the first time he finished below 800 yards in a season when he had only 281 yards and 2 TDs on 31 catches. Obviously, this is not the best season to evaluate him over; prior to 2021, he'd played in 44 of a possible 48 games, had 3,061 receiving yards and 26 TDs.
If he is in good enough physical and mental shape to return, then the Falcons may be making him available via trade. The former first round pick is likely the best receiver on their team, but after what happened in 2021, recent reports indicate that a clean break might be what both sides want in 2022. Plus, it's not like the Falcons are against trading away their best receivers; they did that to Julio Jones last year, shipping him to Tennessee for 2nd and 4th round selections in the 2022 and 2023 drafts respectively.
So, if Ridley is available via trade, the proposed trade package I would use is:
- WR Calvin Ridley
- 2023 7th round Pick
- NYJ 2nd round pick
In this scenario, the Falcons will have cleared the entirety of Ridley's $11.1 million cap hit in 2022 and surrendered their 2023 7th in exchange for the Jets' 2nd round pick in this year's draft. The Falcons already have two second round picks (their own and the Titans') and could look to be drafting a QB in the draft to replace Matt Ryan long term. Though they may not want to use their 8th overall pick on a QB with needs all over their defense (or they could even use that pick to replace Ridley with whichever receiver they want in the likely scenario that no receivers are taken in the first 7 picks). Giving up a 7th in 2023 isn't going to be too big an issue for the three 2nd round picks in 2022 they'd have, and the Jets would gain the pick in that year's draft that would give them a pick in every round.
Ridley would get to start fresh in New York, with the Jets picking up his contract. Unlike Cooks, I'm not totally certain if I would want to extend Ridley upon arrival, as I'd need to verify whether he'd be able to operate in New York, a much tougher environment to perform than Atlanta. It would certainly be a shame (and a failure) if the Jets were to trade a 2nd round pick for a one year rental in a year where they will likely not be making the playoffs, but I wouldn't want to compound a mistake by doubling down on it. Case in point, the Patriots in 2019 traded a 2nd round pick for another Atlanta receiver in Mohamed Sanu and cut him after one season, not wanting to carry a receiver they didn't think was able to perform well enough despite having given up a premium pick for him. If Ridley performs well in 2022, the Jets could work on an extension either during the season or afterward, and if they deem it worth it, they could franchise tag him for somewhere close to $20.5 million in 2023 while they continue to work toward a deal.
Still, like Cooks, the Falcons are expected to receive plenty of offers for him in light of recent reports that they are considering moving him. The former first round pick has been a hit for the Falcons, but in the midst of a rebuild, he could serve them better in a sale to the highest bidder. If he goes though and the Jets still haven't resolved their need for a new WR1 before the draft, they may have to take extreme measures...
D.K. Metcalf, Age 24, 3 Years of Experience
This is my pie-in-the-sky pitch. The Seahawks would only trade D.K. Metcalf if they enter a complete teardown after a 7-10 season in which they finished in 4th place after winning the division with a 12-4 record in 2020. At this point, I no longer believe that they are going to do that; they did not fire Pete Carroll after his first losing season in 10 years, and I don't think that Carroll's relationship with Russell Wilson has deteriorated to the point where Wilson will demand a trade since he's still here. While the Seahawks are not particularly well-positioned in the draft, they do have a lot of cap space to spend, and if they really, really need extra space, they could choose to release (or trade or restructure) Bobby Wagner after six consecutive Pro Bowl seasons. They have a lot of needs this offseason (particularly along the offensive line) and could dedicate much of their focus to it. Trading D.K. Metcalf would likely create another need at receiver (though they did spend a 2nd round pick on D'Wayne Eskridge, who... sucked as a rookie with 123 scrimmage yards in 10 games), but they need a lot of help on the offensive line.
So, with that in mind, they could look to acquire some help via trades and the draft as well as free agency. In that spirit, I toyed with the idea of trading either Mekhi Becton (and/or George Fant back) to Seattle as part of a package and drafting their own replacement in the first round, but I'm operating under the assumption that the Jets want both of those two to be their starting tackles next year. Plus, I'd have to give up a lot more than just one of them to land Metcalf- who has never had fewer than 900 yards in a season and has yet to miss a game in three years- in a trade.
So, if Metcalf is somehow available via trade, here's the projected trade package I would propose:
- WR D.K. Metcalf
- LB Jordyn Brooks
- SEA 3rd round pick
- WR Denzel Mims
- NYJ 1st round pick
- NYJ 3rd round pick
- NYJ 4th round pick (via MIN)
Again, this is a very, very unlikely trade, but let me break it down from Seattle's perspective. In trading Metcalf, they are attaching their 2020 first round pick in Jordyn Brooks, who was not a popular pick at the time and did not help matters with a poor rookie season. He had a better 2021 after essentially finding his position as a WILL, but is still somewhat of a liability in pass coverage per PFF. He's been developing as a good tackling and run defending linebacker, but in a draft that is set to have several mid-round LB prospects who could fill a similar role with better coverage skills, they might choose to cut ties with Brooks and send him to a team that needs guys who can be good run defenders (the Jets allowed the fourth-most rushing yards and were third-worst against the run per PFF).
The Seahawks will then gain a receiver in Denzel Mims, who may find a new environment with an established franchise QB throwing him the ball beneficial to his career. The Seahawks would gain about $100,000 in cap space to gain an underutilized receiver with similar measurables to the one they'd be trading away who could find that a new, more experienced coaching staff would get the most out of him.
The Seahawks will also pick up the 4th overall pick, which they would likely use to get the best available offensive lineman. They would also upgrade pick 72 to pick 69 and gain a mid-4th round pick. In the draft, they would have a 1st higher than they earned, their own 2nd and 3rd, and three 4th round picks (their own and two acquired in separate trades from the Jets), giving them six picks in the top 120. With the money they have to spend and the acquisition of the draft assets, they could very quickly launch themselves back into contention in 2022 if they draft the right players.
From the Jets' perspective, the Jets are landing both a new WR1 and new starting LB, who likely sticks at WILL (Mosley stays at MIKE with his generally better pass coverage, though he was not good at it in 2021). They part with a disappointing WR in Denzel Mims and acquire a proven stud in Metcalf, who pairs up with former Ole Miss teammate Elijah Moore as the team's two young, promising receivers for the future.
The Jets would unfortunately be losing out on the 4th overall pick, but Seattle's 10th overall pick would still be in their possession for them to use however they please (they could trade back to recoup some of the lost capital in the Metcalf trade). They'd still have 7 picks in the first five rounds (5 in the top 120) without other trades and would have gained two new starters for the loss of two picks (and slight decline of their third round pick).
For Metcalf, I would give him an extension immediately, hopefully having had discussions with him and his agent prior to the completion of the trade so that they could avoid what the Seahawks went through with Jamal Adams. I would give him a four-year, $78 million extension ($50 million guaranteed at signing) to tie him to the Jets through the 2026 season. I'd also include vesting guarantees so that large portions of his 2025 and 2026 salaries become guaranteed to incentivize the Jets to make decisions on his roster status early. I'd also include an additional $10 million in incentives for playing time and production each year (including 2022). I'd also frontload the contract so that the biggest cap hit would be in 2023 and the succeeding years would be cheaper. The contract could look something like this (page may not work on mobile; cap numbers are $50 thousand off).
This is an extreme option, requiring the Jets to part with the 4th overall pick, which they might not be willing to do for veteran players, but I think this is a deal that could greatly benefit both sides.
Still, if the Jets are unable to resolve their need for a WR1 (or even a depth receiver) before the draft, they will have to use their draft picks on some receivers. Like with the free agency options, major injuries suffered recently have changed my perspective on who the Jets should target in the upper rounds of the draft (Jameson Williams of Alabama was formerly my top choice; if he is ready to return to football in training camp and is confirmed to be able to return to playing in games in September, I would more strongly consider him in the first round once more).
I'm not going to be particularly detailed here, since I've already dedicated a lot to the free agents and trade options and would like the Jets to have done something to address their needs prior to the draft. Still, here are my three favorite draft options to be top receivers.
Draft 1st Tier
Chris Olave, 22 Years Old, Ohio State
The Jets will likely have to spend one of their first round picks to get Olave, a speedy option who could work both out of the slot and on the perimeter. He and Elijah Moore would be two movable pieces pre-snap that could run the more complex routes with their easier sells. Neither is likely to be utilized as good run blockers, which is unfortunate, but hopefully the Jets will have an improved TE room next year that would help ease the burden on Corey Davis to run block on every outside zone run. He's not particularly evasive in the open field, only having 2 forced missed tackles on 65 receptions in his final college season, but that is the role the Moore currently fills (5 on 43 receptions in 2021).
Treylon Burks, 22 Years Old, Arkansas
The Jets will likely have to spend one of their first round picks to get Burks, though 10th overall is a little too rich for me and I would prefer if they could trade back to the early 20s to take him. Despite his size at 6'3'' and 225lb, his role in the Razorbacks' offense over three years has mostly been in the slot, logging 77% of his career passing routes there per PFF. He serves as a mismatch there, almost like a tight end who can get the 50-50 balls. He doesn't get consistent separation, which may be an issue in the LaFleur offense, but he did force 15 missed tackles in 2021 on his 65 receptions per PFF, demonstrating his ability to make big plays when the ball gets into his hands.
Jahan Dotson, 22 Years Old, Penn State
The Jets will likely have to spend a first or second round pick on Dotson, though the combine and/or Senior Bowl could get his stock to rise high enough where he would have to be a first round pick. Dotson has the straight-line speed to be a true deep threat for the Jets, as well as the speed to quickly get away from defenders after making the catch. As a four-year receiver and two-year starter for the Nittany Lions, he has 2,084 yards and 21 total TDs in his final 21 games (99.2 YPG). He forced 9 missed tackles on his 91 receptions in 2021 per PFF, which is closed to nearly 1 in 10 receptions. Like Olave, he likely won't be an effective run-blocker, but he does fill a lot of other needs for the Jets.
Draft 2nd Tier
Alec Pierce, Age 22-23, Cincinnati
Pierce has been an effective receiver for the Bearcats each of the last two years (after missing much of 2019), able to use his big frame and good route running to make plays. He's able to work on both the boundary and in the slot, though at the next level, he might be more effective as a big slot. He wasn't often tested against NFL-caliber defensive backs playing in the American Conference, so it remains to be seen whether he could get the same sort of separation on an NFL offense. Still, if Pierce is available in the 3rd round and the Jets haven't resolved their receiving corps by that point, he could be a worthy swing.
Justyn Ross, Age 22, Clemson
Ross is a player who would probably be talked about as a potential 2nd round pick if not for neck surgery that cost him the entire 2020 season and delayed his return until late in the spring to football workouts. The fact that his final season at Clemson ended with foot surgery after 10 games also won't help matters, but he is expected to participate in the combine and the Clemson Pro Day, so his stock could rise. I think he could be a good swing in the fourth round at present should he be available, and he could be a good fill-in for Corey Davis on some snaps in his rookie year, potentially being able to fill Davis's role in later years.
Tre Turner, Age 22-23, Virginia Tech
Must. Include. Hokies. On. EVERY. OUTLOOK. Well, beyond my desire to get Hokies on the Jets next year, there's a lot to like with Turner. He has a wide catch radius with his 6'2'' frame, and he's a fine run-blocker (to a point). He has both straight-line and breakaway speed, and the ability to do great work in the open field (forced 7 missed tackles on 40 receptions in 2021). His route tree is a little murky, as I've seen him give up on routes way too soon, but he was working in a decrepit offensive system with really bad quarterback play in three of his four years in college. He had some issues with drops in his early years and never played a full college season (though, in his final year, it was due to a throat condition that the coaching staff badly mishandled). He has (in my totally biased opinion) 2nd round talent, but he could fall all the way to the 5th. I think he could be what the Jets hoped Mims would be when they drafted him, though they would have to take on the injury history risk with him.
Bonus Options in the 2022 Draft
I'd be a little reticent to spend multiple draft picks on receivers this year; if the Jets somehow haven't solved their issues by the end of day April 29th, they need to go back to the phone lines for remaining free agents or look into trading 2023 picks for top receivers. Still, there are some late-round prospects (who might even go undrafted) that I would like to bring in to compete for roster spots. My three favorite such prospects are Emeka Emezie from NC State (an extremely durable, sizable receiver who might be a guy that could convert to TE in the NFL), Gunner Romney of BYU (fairly quick, tall receiver with a prior connection with Zach Wilson) and Bo Melton of Rutgers (local product who could be a good slot option). I definitely wouldn't spend any of the Jets' current picks on these guys, but if they were to trade back and get a late 6th or 7th and don't have more pressing needs, these guys could be worthy swings.
Whether or not the Jets are able to resolve their need for a WR1 prior to the draft, I would still like them to take receiver (or even a tight end) with one of their first four picks. Like most droughts with this team, the Jets haven't had a 1,000 yard receiver since 2015 (Robby Anderson came close in 2017), and receiver has been a consistent need every year since. Before 2021, however, it had been a while since the Jets committed significant money to a free agent receiver, and the early returns on him seem to indicate he cannot be a WR1 for the Jets.
So, prior to the draft, my preference would be to sign Chris Godwin from the FA 1st tier for the previously defined contract and Braxton Berrios from the FA 2nd tier for the previously defined contract. Come draft time, if the Jets are able to snag any of my previously defined options from the draft 1st tier (or Jameson Williams, if concerns about his ACL tear cause him to fall out of the first round) with their 2nd round picks, I would do that as well. If not, though, I would like them to bring in one of my preferred draft 2nd tier options in the mid rounds (if Alec Pierce is available in the 4th, I'd definitely take him). In this scenario, the starting three receivers would be Chris Godwin, Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, with the (presumptive) backups of Jeff Smith, Alec Pierce and Braxton Berrios.
The Jets would be banking on a lot of guys coming off injury-shortened 2021 seasons to be their starters in this scenario, though, especially with Godwin coming off a major injury with the torn ACL. Even this may not be enough, which is why they also need to come up with a real tight end who can be a receiving threat, which will be the subject of my next column.
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far.