It seems like the New York Jets still want to upgrade their WR unit
On paper, it would appear that wide receiver is one of the strongest positions on the New York Jets‘ roster. With a top-four of Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Corey Davis, and Mecole Hardman, wide receiver is not necessarily a “need” for the Jets – at least not nearly as much as positions like offensive tackle, center, and free safety.
Despite this, it seems like the Jets aren’t fully satisfied with the group.
New York made an aggressive run at Odell Beckham Jr., although Joe Douglas clearly was not desperate to land Beckham, as he allowed the Baltimore Ravens to swoop in and take Beckham with an absurd offer that clearly surpassed the Jets’ offer by a longshot.
From here, it will be interesting to see where the Jets go next at the wide receiver position. Was their pursuit of Beckham an indicator they are eager to make a big-ticket addition to the wide receiver group? It wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea. While the unit can be considered “good” or even “very good” as it stands, it certainly isn’t the best unit in the league, so perhaps the Jets are aiming for the stars and want to construct the absolute best possible unit for Aaron Rodgers to work with.
Or, was the Beckham pursuit solely related to Beckham himself? The Jets may have simply seen an opportunity to snag Beckham at a great value, or they may have pursued him because of his friendship with Aaron Rodgers. If either of these is true, perhaps the Jets’ pursuit of Beckham was not necessarily a sign of the Jets’ overall plans at wide receiver.
But let’s just say the Jets’ pursuit of Beckham was an indicator of the organization’s desire to add another weapon to the wide receiver unit. If that is the case, here are five players they could pivot to after missing out on Beckham.
With the Arizona Cardinals bringing in a new regime and preparing for a rebuilding season where they will likely be without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins seems like a fish out of water in Arizona. Soon to be 31 years old, Hopkins could be traded to a team where he can compete while Arizona dumps his salary and adds draft compensation to add the rebuild.
Despite his age, Hopkins still played like a star this past season – which is something that could not be said about Beckham, who has not put together a full season of star-level play in many years. In 2022, Hopkins averaged 7.1 receptions per game (4th among WR) and 79.7 yards per game (10th) despite playing much of the season with a backup quarterback.
Hopkins won’t be cheap to acquire from a salary perspective. He is entering the first year of a two-year $54.5 million contract extension. Some of the money would be taken on by Arizona, but nevertheless, he’d be costly for the acquiring team – he’s due $34.37 million in base salary over the next two years. This could diminish his cost on the trade market, however.
Mike Evans is in a similar situation as Hopkins. He will be 30 years old in August and is on a rebuilding team that doesn’t seem to have any hopes of competing. The Buccaneers’ actions in their first post-Tom Brady offseason suggest they have no plans of making a serious run for the Super Bowl this year.
Evans is as consistent as they come in the NFL. He has eclipsed 1,000 yards in all nine of his NFL seasons, also recording 683 receptions (5.0 per game) and 81 touchdowns (9.0 per season). In 2022, he caught 77 passes for 1,124 yards and six touchdowns.
Evans is entering the last year of his contract, where he will have a $23.7 million cap hit. His contract-year status and lucrative cap hit could allow him to be acquired for a low cost on the trade market. Hopkins will also likely be affordable on the trade market due to his contract. It seems unlikely the Jets would have to give up anything more than a future third-round pick at the very most to get either player (just look at the Jalen Ramsey trade package). Even a fourth-round pick might get it done.
Jerry Jeudy was the subject of trade rumors ahead of the deadline in 2022, and his name has continued to come up here in the 2023 offseason. The Broncos are already committed to a long-term deal at wide receiver after signing Courtland Sutton and they also have a new regime coming in, which could mean the team is looking to make some substantial roster changes.
Jeudy, a 2020 first-round pick, has put up solid numbers in his career but hasn’t lived up to his status as the 15th overall pick. The 2022 season was his best, as he caught 67 passes for 972 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. He did this despite awful quarterbacking in Denver.
Reports indicate the Broncos want a first-round pick for Jeudy, but interested teams like the Cowboys and Patriots have balked at that price. The Jets definitely wouldn’t give up a first-rounder for Jeudy. However, if his price comes down, perhaps the Jets would be willing to get involved.
Brandon Aiyuk just completed his third season, which means he’ll be looking for an extension soon. In the 2022 offseason, we saw a bunch of star wide receivers sign contract extensions after their third season, such as Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, and A.J. Brown. The 49ers will exercise Aiytuk’s fifth-year option for 2025, but Aiyuk will likely be seeking a contract extension regardless.
Despite playing in a run-heavy offense, Aiyuk caught 78 passes for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He is one of the most dynamic receivers in the league when he has the football in his hands, as he ranked fourth among WRs with 16 missed tackles forced in 2022. His after-the-catch skills would make him a great fit in New York’s offense.
The 49ers are running out of long-term cap space after already signing numerous players to contracts that rank among the most expensive in the league. In terms of guaranteed money, San Francisco has the seventh-highest-paid WR (Deebo Samuel, $58.2M), the third-highest-paid LT (Trent Williams, $45.1M), the highest-paid RB (Christian McCaffrey, $36.3M), and the highest paid TE (George Kittle, $40M). Because of this, they are currently projected for the third-least cap space in 2025.
Aiyuk has also been caught liking pictures on social media that depicted him in a different team’s uniform.
This one might be a longshot, but it’s worth keeping in mind. San Francisco could look to jump the gun on Aiyuk’s contract talks and trade him while his value is high rather than trying to extend him. The 49ers already have a history of doing this; in 2020, they traded DT DeForest Buckner to the Colts instead of extending him, although that was after Buckner’s fourth season.
If the Jets aren’t interested in the trade market, they could shift their attention to the draft for a big move at wide receiver.
Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba is in the conversation to be the first wide receiver selected. There is a chance he could be there for the Jets at No. 13, though Smith-Njigba will certainly be a strong candidate to go in the top 12.
Smith-Njigba led Power 5 wide receivers with 1,606 receiving yards in 2021 as a 19-year-old true sophomore. He had more receiving yards than his elder Buckeyes teammates Garrett Wilson (1,058 in 11 games) and Chris Olave (936 in 11 games), who each went on to become first-round draft picks in 2022.
Injuries limited Smith-Njigba to three games in 2022, but his 2021 season was strong enough on its own to suggest he has superstar potential in the NFL.
Unless New York adds another offensive tackle prior to the draft, it is hard to imagine the Jets would pass up on a tackle such as Paris Johnson Jr. or Broderick Jones at No. 13 in favor of a wide receiver. But if they are truly serious about building an unquestionably elite wide receiver unit for Rodgers, adding Smith-Njigba would accomplish that mission.
Joe Douglas tends to lean towards drafting the best player available rather than reaching for needs. If Smith-Njigba is high on the Jets’ board, he cannot be ruled out as a possibility.
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