The New York Jets have major decisions to make, both on and off the roster, when it comes to Sam Darnold’s primary weapons.
New York Jets offseason positional preview: Part III
The position: Wide Reciever
Current names on roster: Jamison Crowder, Quincy Enunwa, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Vyncint Smith, Josh Bellamy
Free agents: Robby Anderson, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Malone, Jeff Smith
Reserve/Future/Injured: Jehu Chesson, Keon Hatcher
The position on the position
Every great quarterback has his favorite receiver and vice versa. Montana had Rice. Manning had Harrison. Falco had Franklin.
Sam Darnold was able to end his rookie season by building good chemistry with his own group of catchers. Initially, it appeared that 2019 was going to wipe out that progress entirely. Quincy Enunwa, who earned a four-year extension, at the end of the year, barely lasted a quarter before sustaining a season-ending neck injury. Late arrival Demaryius Thomas was in an out of the lineup in the early going. Darnold himself missed three of the first four games with an illness that didn’t help anyone on the New York Jets offense. Thus, the group had to spend a trio of listless performances overseen by third-string insertion Luke Falk.
But once Darnold came back, the receiver began to make names for themselves at the perfect time. At the forefront of that progress was Robby Anderson. Over the final dozen games of the season, Anderson had three 100 yard games, joining his 2017 self and 2015’s Brandon Marshall as the only Jets receivers in the decade to earn a trio of century-mark yardage games. With 1,531 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons, Anderson is by far the most prolific receiver of the Darnold era. Alas… he is set to enter free agency this offseason.
The Jets may have a decision to make when it comes to Enunwa. The veteran has been one of the more interesting stories in recent local football history, working his way back from a tough neck injury that cost him all of the 2017 campaign. His latest ailments are another setback, but Enunwa is dedicating himself to return for the 2020 season.
Jamison Crowder was one of the Jets’ most impactful additions. The slot receiver was signed to a three-year deal and wound up leading the team with 78 receptions (a career-high) and 833 yards.
Robby Anderson-The scariest part for the Jets is that Anderson seems very keen to test free agency. As soon as Week 17’s final seconds ticked away, Anderson expressed how “exciting” the upcoming period was going to be. Anderson also immediately remarked that he wasn’t interested in offering the Jets a “discount” for her services. Worsening the Jets’ case are a pair of destinations that hearken back to Anderson’s college days. A trade to the Philadelphia Eagles was reportedly discussed prior to the trade deadline. Anderson’s alma mater of Temple shares Lincoln Financial Field with the NFC East champion Eagles. Elsewhere, Anderson’s college head coach, former Owl boss Matt Rhule, accepted the same position with the Carolina Panthers this week.
Demaryius Thomas-Injuries have derailed his sterling NFL career, but glimpses of the old Thomas emerged over the Jets’ final weeks. He earned 216 yards and three touchdowns on 18 receptions over the last three games of the season. One of those scores was the final touchdown of the Jets’ season, the difference-maker in the Week 17 win in Buffalo.
Jeff Smith-Smith made the practice squad as an undrafted free agent and made his NFL debut in December against Baltimore. He had a single 12-yard reception before an ankle injury put him on injured reserve.
Josh Malone-Injuries forced the third-year man Malone into service over the final two games of the season.
Will they draft?
If Anderson goes and a veteran of greater or equal value doesn’t present himself, it’s a near certainty the Jets will have to use a pick on a receiver within the first two days of the draft. Blocking help should remain the primary concern, but Oklahoma star CeeDee Lamb would certainly fill any “best player available” dreams the Jets are hoping to fulfill. Possible day two includes TCU’s Jalen Reagor and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler.
Veteran names to watch
Amari Cooper, Dallas-The Cowboys have a big decision to make as the Mike McCarthy era begins. Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott have routinely exchanged the title of the team’s offensive MVP. But which one will get the highly sought-after extension? The Jets were rumored to be in the mix for Cooper when the Raiders traded him at the 2018 deadline, but wisely kept assets and allowed the Cowboys to give up their first-round pick. If he hits free agency, the Jets would be wise to at least inquire for her services. The potential addition of Cooper would give the Jets their most dangerous and elite receiving weapon since Brandon Marshall departed after 2016.
Zach Pascal, Indianapolis-Injuries in Indianapolis allowed Pascal to break out to the tune of a team-high 607 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Set to hit free agency once again, the undrafted fourth-year man out of Old Dominion could be an experienced and affordable option if Anderson walks.
Breshad Perriman, Tampa Bay-The former first-round pick finally began to flash his potential with the Buccaneers, setting career-bests with 36 receptions, 645 yards, and six touchdowns. That latter tally is good for second-best amongst all free agents (behind only Cooper). He’s another name of similar value that can fill the Anderson void if he indeed walks.
Anderson is perhaps the Jets’ most impactful free-agent-to-be. Let him walk, and they lose one of the biggest weapons in recent franchise history. Anderson’s comments have made it clear that he wants to get paid. Such a signing must mesh well with the Jets’ cap space, currently numbered at $57.5 million. The hometown factors in both Philadelphia and Carolina also don’t bode well for the relationship.
If Anderson walks, expect the Jets to try and lure Thomas back for another year and then sign another veteran like Pascal or Perriman. Signing Cooper would be ideal, but there are far too many pressing needs to dedicate a good portion of the salary cap to one big star. The addition of Cooper reeks of a “one move away” type of deal…and the Jets are far from “one move away”.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.