Pondering whether the New York Jets should bring back Braxton Berrios at his rumored demands
ESPN’s Rich Cimini recently reported that an agent at the Senior Bowl speculated Braxton Berrios may be looking for a contract worth around $9 million per year.
Should the New York Jets re-sign Berrios at that cost?
In my opinion, the answer to that is a hard no.
Allow me to present my case.
Looking purely at Berrios’ volume production, a contract worth $9 million per year would be a massive overpay compared to his track record.
A salary of $9 million would currently rank 24th-highest among all wide receivers, per Spotrac. It would rank eighth-highest among wide receivers who primarily line up in the slot. Berrios’ production comes nowhere near those levels.
Here are Berrios’ ranks among wide receivers over the past two seasons:
- Receptions: 59th (83)
- Yards from scrimmage: 79th (894)
- Touchdowns: 46th (8)
And here are Berrios’ ranks among wide receivers in 2021:
- Receptions: 52nd (46)
- Yards from scrimmage: 74th (471)
- Touchdowns: 36th (5)
It would be quite the reach to make a player with those rankings one of the 25 highest-paid wideouts in football.
Return game effect
Of course, Berrios adds more than just his abilities on offense. He’s also an All-Pro kickoff returner.
The problem for Berrios is that being a good returner doesn’t add a whole lot of value on the free-agent market – or at least it doesn’t add nearly enough value to fetch a top-25 contract for a wide receiver who barely cracks the top-75 in scrimmage yards.
Cordarrelle Patterson is an excellent comparison for Berrios. Before his incredible breakout year with Atlanta in 2021, Patterson was a similar player to Berrios for most of his career. He was a situational offensive weapon as both a rusher and receiver while providing high-level returning ability.
Patterson averaged 388.0 scrimmage yards per season from 2013-20, which is very close to Berrios’ 447.0 yards over the past two years. The return-game edge goes to Patterson, who is arguably the greatest kickoff returner of all time (he is tied for the all-time lead with eight kickoff return touchdowns and is third all-time with 29.4 yards per kickoff return).
While producing similarly to Berrios on offense and providing some of the best kickoff return ability in history, Patterson never fetched a contract worth more than $5 million per year. His two-year, $10 million pact with Chicago in 2019 was the best he could get.
That deal was signed after a 2018 season in New England where Patterson put up almost identical numbers to Berrios’ 2021 season. Check out Patterson’s 2018 season versus Berrios’ 2021 season:
- Patterson 2018 (NE): 15 games, 475 scrimmage yards, 4 scrimmage TD (3 receiving/1 rush), 28.8 yards per kickoff return, 1 kickoff return TD
- Berrios 2021 (NYJ): 16 games, 471 scrimmage yards, 4 scrimmage TD (2 receiving/2 rush), 30.4 yards per kickoff return, 1 kickoff return TD
What has Berrios done to warrant earning nearly double what Patterson ever earned?
Former Jets returner Andre Roberts is another example of the lack of value placed upon return impact in free agency. In 2018, Roberts had an All-Pro season of his own, performing even better as a returner than Berrios did in 2021. All he could get out of it was a two-year, $4.6 million deal with $3 million guaranteed.
Teams just don’t pay all that much extra money for return-game impact, no matter how good you are.
There is also an outlier risk with Berrios’ 2021 return performance. He averaged a league-leading 30.4 yards per kickoff return in 2021, but over his first two seasons, he averaged an abysmal 16.5 yards per kickoff return.
Berrios is not going to average 30.4 yards per kickoff return over the rest of his career. That would give him the second-best average of all time behind only Hall-of-Famer Gale Sayers. I feel pretty confident saying that Berrios isn’t in his class.
All in all, while Berrios’ return impact is a surefire asset that would be huge for the Jets to have back, it does not add many dollars onto his free-agent valuation.
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If the Jets do what they’re supposed to do this offseason – go all-out toward supporting their franchise quarterback, Zach Wilson – then they’ll add another wide receiver who is significantly better than Berrios. That player would join Elijah Moore and Corey Davis in the starting trio, leaving Berrios as the WR4 and kickoff returner.
Paying $9 million per year to a WR4/kickoff returner is bad business.
Sure, if the Jets project Berrios as their starting slot receiver and the third member of their primary trio with Moore and Davis, then a $9 million salary is reasonable for a player in that role.
But would the Jets really be doing everything they could to maximize the talent level around Wilson if they settled for Berrios as a starter instead of shooting for the moon?
The answer is no, they wouldn’t be. This player has 940 receiving yards in four years since being drafted and has never had 500 yards in a season. He’s a useful piece but you have to aim higher if you are attempting to give your developing quarterback his absolute best chance to succeed.
Berrios’ role long-term role on this team is as a backup and returner. You cannot pay $9 million per season for that.
Lack of top 10 upside
As I mentioned above, a salary of $9 million is reasonable for a starting slot receiver. If the Jets sign Berrios to that number with the intention of featuring him in the offense as a starter, then the number works from a role perspective.
The question would be whether Berrios has the talent to warrant such a salary. It would be one of the 10 highest salaries in the game for a receiver who primarily works out of the slot.
Here are the top 10 yearly salaries among wide receivers who lined up in the slot on over 50% of the plays in which they were targeted in 2021 (or 2020 in the case of Curtis Samuel, who was hurt for most of 2021) – the first number listed is their salary rank among all wide receivers:
- 3. Keenan Allen, Chargers ($20 million per year)
- 6. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs ($18 million)
- 13. Cooper Kupp, Rams ($15.8 million)
- 15. Jarvis Landry, Browns ($15.1 million)
- 19. Curtis Samuel, Commanders ($11.5 million)
- 22. Tyler Boyd, Bengals ($10.8 million)
- 23. Sterling Shepard, Giants ($10.3 million)
- 24. Randall Cobb, Packers ($9 million)
- 25. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers ($8 million)
- 29. Cole Beasley, Bills ($7.3 million)
So, Berrios would be tied with Randall Cobb for the eighth-highest salary among slot receivers.
Could Berrios be a top-10 slot receiver?
There isn’t much evidence to suggest he could be.
Here are the top 10 wide receivers of 2021 when it came to receiving yards out of the slot:
- Cooper Kupp (1,402)
- Christian Kirk (772)
- Tyler Boyd (748)
- Chris Godwin (722)
- Tyreek Hill (659)
- Cole Beasley (624)
- Keenan Allen (610)
- Davante Adams (608)
- Hunter Renfrow (601)
- Cedrick Wilson (567)
Berrios’ efficiency is not on par with that bunch. On average, those 10 players had a yards-per-route-run rate of 2.06 when lined up in the slot. Berrios fell more than 25% short of that number. He averaged only 1.51 yards per route run out of the slot in 2021, which ranked 32nd out of 57 qualified wide receivers. Braxton picked up 293 receiving yards out of the slot on 194 routes run.
Despite playing a limited role (small samples provide a chance at inflated efficiency numbers) and getting a fairly high number of designed touches drawn up for him (plays where he is essentially guaranteed to gain yardage), Berrios has only produced at a middle-of-the-pack level of per-play efficiency out of the slot.
If a player has great efficiency on low volume, it makes sense to believe that he may thrive in a more substantial role. He’s shown you that he can play like a star in spurts. All he has to do is maintain that level of play over a larger sample. While easier said than done, it’s conceivable based on evidence, and therefore worth trying.
However, when you have a player like Berrios who handles a small role but does not have special efficiency, it would be irrationally optimistic to believe that he will start producing at a high level of efficiency in a bigger role. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it’s unlikely, and therefore not worth betting a lot of cap space on.
Berrios’ per-play efficiency is average. That makes him a useful piece for any NFL offense and better than quite a few players in the league, but it does not suggest he has a good chance of providing the high-quality production that is necessary to warrant a $9 million contract.
Concerns with Berrios’ game
Berrios is very skilled with the ball in the open field and showed much-improved hands in 2021 but I don’t think he has the route running ability to play at a high level as a full-time slot receiver.
To put yourself over the top as a guy who truly adds value to the offense beyond what is schemed up and blocked up for him, you’ve got to be a good route runner; someone who creates options for the quarterback.
Berrios doesn’t really do that. He is great at maximizing the opportunities that are created for him, but he doesn’t create opportunities by himself – and opportunity creation is what makes wide receivers great (and rich).
Obviously, the 5-foot-9 Berrios doesn’t create opportunities with his frame or catch radius. While fast, he isn’t much of a deep threat, either, since he cannot beat press coverage. He’s got to be an excellent route runner to make up for those things and be an above-average receiver.
But I just don’t see many examples on film of Berrios straight-up beating a defender to create an option for the quarterback. Check out any highlight tape of Berrios’ 2021 season and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many examples of Berrios making a play that involved him running a good route to beat a defender and get himself open. Most of his production comes on plays that are designed for him (screens, jet sweeps, trick plays, etc.) or uncovered short throws.
Another concern regarding Berrios’ game is the sustainability of his hands. Berrios’ strong hands were a big part of his appeal in 2021 but we still aren’t completely sure if they are actually an asset going forward considering he struggled in that department prior to 2021.
Berrios only had one drop in 2021, giving him a 2.1% drop rate that was well below the league average for wide receivers, 6.6%. He also caught five of his six contested targets, an 83.3% rate. The 2021 league average for wide receivers was 46.8%.
Those are fantastic numbers, but can we be certain Berrios will continue to play that way going forward? Prior to 2021, his hands were poor. From 2019-20, Berrios had a bad drop rate of 10.4% and a contested-catch rate of 37.5% (3-of-8).
It’s possible that Berrios’ improved hands are here to stay, but we cannot be entirely sure about that. Regression to the mean could be in his future. The drop and contested-catch numbers he posted in 2021 are elite and will be very hard to maintain – especially if the Jets project him into a larger role.
What can $9 million buy?
The $9 million tier is fairly high on the NFL ladder. You can get a proven high-quality starter for that money.
Here are just a few players who signed for close to, but less than $9 million per year in 2021.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (1 year, $8M): Despite being a 24-year-old wideout who just caught 97 passes and nine touchdowns in 2020, Smith-Schuster could only muster up a one-year pact for $8 million.
OG Kevin Zeitler (3 years, $22.5M): Zeiter has been a solid starting guard on a yearly basis for a long time. He had just turned 30 prior to signing his three-year deal with Baltimore but was still playing at an above-average level in 2020.
OT Eric Fisher (1 year, $8.4M): Fisher may not have fulfilled the potential that made him a No. 1 pick but he was still a solid starting left tackle in Kansas City. He ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 10th-best left tackle in 2020 prior to signing a one-year, $8.38 million deal with the Colts.
SS Rayshawn Jenkins (4 years, $35M): Jenkins was a productive 26-year-old starting strong safety who started in all 31 of his appearances with the Chargers from 2019-20. He had the third-most stops of any safety in 2020 with 35.
EDGE Haason Reddick (1 year, $8M): At 26 years old, Reddick had 12.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2020. He also placed 11th among edge rushers with 56 pressures.
Berrios simply has not accomplished enough to reach this pay grade.
A $9 million salary for Braxton Berrios is hard to justify
Ultimately, I think the clear answer is that $9 million per year is flat-out too much for Braxton Berrios.
The Jets should be setting the bar high when it comes to supporting Zach Wilson, and that means ideally they add another starting wide receiver and Berrios is their WR4/returner. That’s too small of a role for $9 million per year. The same money can be used on legitimately good starters with proven track records of quality performance.
Berrios is a good player who brings valuable traits to the table. He is just not good enough for a $9 million salary at the moment, even if the Jets project him into a starting role.
I think a deal worth $5-6 million per year is fair for what Berrios would bring to the Jets.
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