6:00 AM ET
Rich CiminiESPN Staff Writer
- Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
- Syracuse University graduate
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Do-it-all dynamo: Player evaluation is a tricky business. For every hyped prospect who underachieves like Denzel Mims, there’s a Braxton Berrios.
An afterthought at the start of the season, Berrios has played his way into the Jets’ future plans. His free agency will be one of the hot topics in the offseason, as the Jets try to re-sign one of the most unique players in their history.
“Obviously, we love Braxton,” coach Robert Saleh said. “I’ve always sat up here and said it’s our job as a coaching staff to make [general manager] Joe Douglas’ job as hard as possible with regards to re-signing people.”
Gauging his exact value isn’t easy because he’s a combo/gadget player, not a traditional wide receiver who has produced over a full season. For two-plus years, he was known as Jamison Crowder‘s backup in the slot, but he busted out of that mold in recent weeks and is a nice fit in Mike LaFleur’s offense because of his ability to run the jet sweep. The coaches love his intangibles.
So how much is that worth? One comparison is the New England Patriots‘ Kendrick Bourne, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal last offseason. His 2019-2020 receiving numbers (79 catches, 1,025 yards) are similar to Berrios’ 2020-2021 numbers (83 and 825). Berrios could look for Cole Beasley money (four years, $29 million), based on the belief that his best days are ahead of him. The Buffalo Bills‘ slot receiver signed that deal in 2019 at the age of 30.
The wild card with Berrios, 26, is that he’s a standout on special teams. He leads the NFL in kickoff-return average, and he’d be second in punt returns if he had more attempts to qualify. That, no doubt, adds to his value.
With 46 receptions, Berrios finished second behind Crowder for the team lead. It’s too bad he’s not playing the finale — he’s out with a thigh bruise — because he would’ve had the chance to become the first receiver in Jets’ history to lead the team in catches and kickoff-return average. He could have also been only the second player to lead in catches, kickoff returns and punt returns. Bruce Harper, a running back, did it in 1980.
How much are the Jets willing to pay for that?
2. Gase guy: Jets fans may not want to hear this, but former coach Adam Gase was instrumental in bringing Berrios to the Jets when he was cut by the Patriots in 2019. That can be his good legacy, kind of the way former coach Rich Kotite had receiver Wayne Chrebet (580 catches for 7,365 yards and 41 touchdowns over 11 seasons after being undrafted in 1995).
3. 2022 free agents: The Jets have 21 players eligible for unrestricted free agency. Aside from Berrios, the top priority should be defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi, a solid run-stuffer. None of the others are must-haves. Right tackle Morgan Moses is worthy of a multiyear contract after a solid year, but they have tackles Mekhi Becton and George Fant under contract. Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a nice midseason addition, could be back.
Safety Marcus Maye (remember him?) was good enough to get the franchise tag last year, but a lot has happened since then — a drunken-driving arrest (meaning a possible league suspension) and a torn Achilles tendon. I’d be surprised if Maye is back next year. A handful of players could land one-year returns, most notably running back Tevin Coleman and kicker Eddy Pineiro.
4. Four! Barring upsets, the Jets are virtually locked into the fourth overall pick in the 2022 draft, which presents some intriguing options. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. expects defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) and tackle Evan Neal (Alabama) to be the first three players off the board.
At four, Kiper likes safety Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame), cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU) and wide receiver Jameson Williams (Alabama) as options for the Jets. To me, Hamilton is the most intriguing. Safeties usually don’t get picked that high — Jamal Adams (sixth overall) was an exception in 2017 — but Hamilton, listed at 6-foot-4, could be a safety-linebacker combo.
“This is a unique talent,” Kiper said on ESPN’s “Flight Deck” podcast. “He’s kind of an X factor player. He’s not a traditional safety. He’s much more of a do-it-all performer. He can be front seven, he can be in the back in terms of a centerfield role.”
If Douglas views Hamilton as more than a safety, and if Saleh can carve out a role for him, I could see the Jets taking him there. Saleh was a member of the Seattle Seahawks‘ staff for the “Legion of Boom.” You can bet he’d like to re-create that in New York.
Speaking of the Seahawks, their first-round pick (currently at No. 7) belongs to the Jets. It probably won’t go any higher, but could drop as low at 14th. Their game against the Arizona Cardinals is big for the Jets.
5. Looking ahead: The Jets’ 2022 schedule is locked in. Their non-divisional opponents are:
Home: Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears
Away: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Seahawks
A quick takeaway: There could be significant quarterback upheaval among the away teams, all of whom have questions at the position. The future of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson will be major offseason storylines.
6. Mosley money: Linebacker C.J. Mosley proved this season that he can be effective in Saleh’s 4-3 scheme, which should quiet the offseason talk about his future. Now that there’s a mutual comfort level, I wonder if the Jets might address his contract in the coming months.
His cap charge is a team-high $17.5 million, which includes a fully guaranteed $16 million in base salary. They can lower it by $10 million with a simple restructure, pushing money into 2023 and 2024. That’s not ideal, but, remember, the cap is supposed to make a big increase in 2023. That extra $10 million could really help in free agency.
7. Kid and the GOAT: Some people were critical of Brandin Echols for having his interception ball autographed by Tom Brady after last week’s game, but I think it was a cool gesture that illustrated the rookie’s respect for one of the all-time greats. Echols said he’s been watching Brady since he “started to realize what football was.” And it was nice of Brady to sign.
Believe it or not, they have something in common: Draft position. Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft; Echols was 200th in the 2021 draft.
“I knew he was a sixth-rounder. I’m a sixth-rounder,” Echols said. “He overcame a lot of obstacles throughout his career. That’s what I’m hoping to do as I go on with my career.”
8. Heading west: It sounds like Zach Wilson‘s personal quarterback coach, John Beck, hired in November as an offensive assistant, is returning to private business in the offseason. It’s unclear whether he will be back for the 2022 season. Had he remained with the Jets in the offseason, he would’ve been prohibited by league rules from working with Wilson during the down period from January to April. This way, he can. Interesting.
9. Long shots: You would be hard-pressed to find any similarities between the current Jets and the 1992 Jets, but this game against the Bills reminds me of their ’92 game against them because of the massive point spread — 17 points then, 16 now.
Playing for fallen teammate Dennis Byrd, who was hospitalized after breaking his neck the previous week, the Jets stunned the Bills, 24-17. A tight end named Mark Boyer, reminded afterward of the long odds, gave me an all-time quote: “You can’t put a point spread on the human spirit.”
So you never know.
10. The last word: “If you’re scared to come here because you think you might lose, then don’t come. … If you want to be part of something special and believe in something special, then the door is open for you.” — Mosley on how he will recruit free agents