Robby Anderson is reportedly interested in returning to the New York Jets
In an article published on Friday, Feb. 18, DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News reported that Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson sees the New York Jets as “his preferred designation” if he were to be traded, per a source. Bien-Aime adds that Anderson “feels like he has unfinished business in New York and likes Zach Wilson’s talent.”
Anderson remains under contract in Carolina for the next two seasons. Bien-Aime reports “[t]here’s speculation the Panthers could move off Anderson now” after a down year in 2021.
The former Jet is entering the first year of a two-year, $29.5 million contract extension that runs through the 2023 season, which he signed prior to the 2021 season. It added on an extra couple of years to the two-year, $20 million deal that he signed with Carolina ahead of the 2020 season.
Anderson will have a cap hit of $16.8 million in 2022, which is set to rank 10th-highest among wide receivers. His cap hit will drop to $15.8 million in 2023, currently poised to rank 12th-highest that year.
There is no safe way to escape Anderson’s contract this year. It would cost Carolina $15.7 million in dead money if they released him now. However, his team can get out fairly smoothly after the 2022 season. At that point, Anderson can be released to open up $12 million in cap savings, although his team would still have to eat $3.8 million in dead money.
If the Panthers traded Anderson now, they would be on the hook for the $7,673,334 in remaining prorated bonus money on his contract, which includes $3,836,666 in 2022 and $3,836,668 in 2023. That would provide Anderson’s new team with some relief, lowering his cap number down to $13 million in 2022 (currently on track to rank 19th among WR) and $12 million in 2023 (on track to rank 17th).
There’s the contract situation with Anderson. He’s being paid quite handsomely.
Should the Jets look to pursue him?
I don’t think there is much rocket science that needs to be done here. At his cost, there is no way the Jets should consider trading for Robby Anderson.
Anderson is coming off of a 2021 season in which he was one of the worst starting wide receivers in the NFL. In 17 games, he caught 53 of 110 targets for 519 yards and five touchdowns. Here are some of his efficiency rankings out of 91 qualified wide receivers (50+ targets):
- Yards per route run: 0.83 (88th)
- DVOA: -33.8% (89th)
- Catch rate: 48.2% (89th)
- Yards per target: 4.7 (90th)
While poor quarterback play in Carolina certainly played a part in Anderson’s downfall, much of it was his own fault. His 8.6% drop rate ranked 72nd out of 91 qualifiers. His 23.8% contested-catch rate ranked 85th.
It was odd to see Anderson have such a poor year after he enjoyed a breakout season with the Panthers in 2020, which earned him his contract extension. That year, Anderson posted career-highs of 95 catches (8th among WR) and 1,096 receiving yards (13th among WR) over 16 games.
So, Anderson showed some great potential with the Panthers in 2020 that does make him appealing. He proved he can be a top-15 producer at the position. We also saw throughout his four years with the Jets how explosive of a deep threat he can be. Anderson’s deep prowess is an element the Jets offense currently lacks.
Regardless, we have to go back to the contract aspect of this equation. Anderson would not be a cheap acquisition. He’d be getting paid like a top-20 receiver despite coming off of a season where he was one of the worst starting receivers in football. His new team would be taking a major gamble that he could make a one-season transition from brutal to borderline-elite to justify his cap number.
If the Jets were to acquire Anderson, he would have to be utilized as a starter. You’re not paying $13 million for a backup. That would leave the Jets locked into a starting trio of Anderson, Elijah Moore, and Corey Davis in 2022.
That’s a nice group with the potential to be solid if Anderson returns to his peak form, but is that unit really the absolute best that Joe Douglas could do for Zach Wilson? It feels like settling for “good” rather than “great” for the sake of nostalgia – and that’s only if Anderson returns to his absolute peak.
If Anderson is who he was in 2021, the Jets would be wasting a lot of cap space to build a wide receiver unit that likely ranks in the league’s bottom half. A high-risk, moderate-ceiling move like that is not the one New York needs to make in order to ensure the strengthening of Wilson’s supporting cast.
Adding Anderson would make sense for the Jets if they were bringing him in as a low-cost free agent to be their No. 4 receiver who specializes in the deep game. That’s not the case, though. He’d be a trade acquisition on a high cap number who would have to start.
Perhaps a trade could work if the Jets got Anderson to re-negotiate his contract to a much more reasonable number or if Carolina absorbed a large portion of the money. That would make an Anderson trade feasible.
But even in that scenario, the Jets would have to make sure they still have plans for a bigger move at wide receiver. Anderson is probably not the answer they’re looking for in the starting lineup. They need to shoot higher than that.
We also have to consider scheme fit when it comes to projecting Anderson in the Jets’ starting lineup. New York’s scheme calls for excellent YAC ability, route-running, and run-blocking from its wide receivers. Anderson is rather poor in all three areas. His only plausible fit in this offense is as a situational deep threat.
If Anderson comes in, it has to be at a reasonable cost for him to be a backup/No. 4 and nothing more (Keelan Cole-type role and money). It’s going to be hard to get his number down that far, so, even if they do get his number down, it will still probably be mid-tier starter money, and that’s not worth it for the Jets. At that price, he’d either be an overpaid backup or a middling starter who does not provide the sizable upgrade the Jets need.
Ultimately, the risk-reward just doesn’t line up for New York to pursue Anderson. The Jets need someone who is more talented, more reliable, and a better scheme fit to be the final piece to their wide receiver trio, and Anderson is too expensive to be brought in for the No. 4 role that suits him best for the Jets’ current situation.