As we continue to break down the New York Jets’ free agent decisions, we reach the worst position group on the team. The wide receivers and tight ends were a disaster for the Jets all season, due to injuries, inexperience and ineffectiveness. Jeremy Kerley led the team with 43 receptions for 523 yards, while Jeff Cumberland had a team high 4 TDs. None of those numbers ranked among the top 50 in the NFL. Needless to say, these players simply weren’t good enough, and major changes are coming.
There was quite a bit of rotation throughout the season, but the Jets ended the year with Kerley, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, David Nelson, Greg Salas, Clyde Gates, Josh Cribbs and Saalim Hakim at receiver, either on the active roster or injured reserve. The tight ends were Cumberland, Kellen Winslow, Zach Sudfeld and Konrad Reuland. There is no one in this group who is completely safe for next season.
Let’s start with two veterans who are near certainties to be released, Holmes and Winslow. The link between the two is very simple. They are both unproductive, injury prone and problems in the locker room. Winslow is an unrestricted free agent, and he will not be offered a contract. Holmes is a $10.75 million cap hit next season if he is on the team, but just $2.5 million if he’s released. Given that he only managed 23 receptions for 476 yards and 1 TD in 11 games, the decision to release him is an easy one. Cribbs is the other veteran who will not be brought back, but his only problems are age and being one-dimensional.
As far as keepers go, Kerley is the only player who can consider himself safe. He has one year left on his rookie contract, and he is a solid slot receiver. He will be back, and the Jets hope that he can take a big step forward next season. Nelson proved to be a very solid pickup, catching 36 passes for 423 yards and 2 TDs. The Jets will be better off if he is a No. 4 receiver, but Geno Smith trusts him and Nelson should certainly be brought back.
Salas, Gates and Hakim will probably all be in camp next season, though no more than one will likely make the roster. Salas is by far the best receiver of the group, but he will have to show some special teams ability. In reality, these players are a dime a dozen and it doesn’t make a huge difference. The same goes for Sudfeld and Reuland at tight end. They may both make the team, or they could easily be replaced. I think the Jets should retain and try to develop Sudfeld, but there is no reason to hang on to Reuland.
That leaves the two players that the Jets must make a tough decision on, Hill and Cumberland. Cumberland was decent this season, but he is an unrestricted free agent. There is a solid tight end market in free agency and a decent draft class, and the Jets should look for an upgrade. I believe Cumberland could be brought back as the No. 2 tight end, but only at the right price.
What to do with Hill is a big decision for the Jets. A 2012 2nd round pick, it is hard to call Hill anything other than a bust. He has just 45 receptions for 594 yards and 4 TDs in 23 career games, and he has huge struggles with basic receiver tasks like running routes and catching the ball. Hill is big, fast and a high draft pick, which will probably earn him one more year. However, I believe keeping Hill is the wrong decision and a waste of a roster spot.
Wide receiver is John Idzik’s highest priority this offseason, and the Jets must get better playmakers to support Smith. Expect the Jets to heavily invest free agent money and draft picks into their pass catchers, and their roster will look very different at the beginning of next season.