The New York Jets have a logjam at tight end that could be solved with a trade
Joe Douglas spent considerable resources upgrading the New York Jets‘ tight end room last off-season. Going from Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin to Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah is a noticeable upgrade.
The upgrade in production was noticeable as well. In 2021, the Jets’ TEs produced 51 catches for 534 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers jumped to 80 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. With improved quarterback play in 2023, those numbers are expected to continue climbing.
What’s unclear right now is who’s going to be catching those Aaron Rodgers bullets. Last year, the Jets broke camp with four tight ends on the roster: Conklin, Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, and Lawrence Cager. There’s a chance they could do the same this year, but there’s also a chance that the Jets may elect to carry an extra wide receiver or offensive lineman, leaving just three spots available.
With seven tight ends currently on the roster for camp, at least three are going to be on the outside looking in.
Conklin won’t be going anywhere. The former Viking made up the majority of the Jets’ TE production, accounting for 72.5% of the catches, 70% of the yards, and 60% of the touchdowns. Inexplicably, Conklin only received five red-zone targets all season – one of many reasons Mike LaFleur was let go. Three of those five targets resulted in touchdowns.
Uzomah is perhaps the most interesting name in the room. The former Begal’s first season as a Jet was underwhelming. His receiving yardage was less than half his 2021 total, falling from 493 to 232, and his touchdown total fell from five to two.
Obviously, going from Joe Burrow to Zach Wilson and Mike White has to be taken into consideration, but Uzomah is set to earn $6.7 million this year and $11.2 million next season. To warrant those numbers he’ll need to be more productive on the field. We all know what a great teammate he is and what a good leader he is and that obviously can’t be completely discounted.
But if some of the other TEs make a statement in the preseason, the Jets could look to trade Uzomah. They can’t do anything until after June 1, but after that date the dead money and cap-saving balance tips in the Jets’ favor. With a post-June 1 trade, the Jets would save $3.5 million this year, $8 million in 2024, and $1.5 million in 2025. The Jets restructured his contract this off-season pushing money into future void years.
In order for that to even be a consideration, other TEs are going to need to step up. That’s where Jeremy Ruckert comes in, a third-round pick of the Jets in 2021.
Last season was a redshirt year for Ruckert considering he received just two targets all year, but year two should be the year he starts to push for playing time. With his athleticism and ability to block on the move, his skillset perfectly suits the zone running scheme and west-coast offense the Jets want to run.
If Ruckert can’t step up then you look to the uber-athlete Zack Kuntz, who while extremely raw, has a ceiling as high as any TE in the league.
If not Kuntz, then maybe one of the undrafted free agents make a name for themselves. Middle Tennessee’s Izaiah Gathings is coming off a year where he caught 76.9% of contested catches and had a minuscule 3.2% drop rate, although Georgia Tech’s E.J. Jenkins had a case of the dropsies in college with an 18.8% career rate.
Maybe it comes from Kenny Yeboah, but Yeboah has been with the Jets for a few years now and failed to stake a claim.
I’m not saying Uzomah should definitely be traded. I love his personality and teams need that, and I fully expect him to be closer to his 2021 numbers with Aaron Rodgers under center.
But if the Jets envision Conklin dominating the snap share, and they need to create some cap space to sign a certain defensive tackle, trading someone like Uzomah makes sense if you have suitable replacements. They just need to find out if they have suitable replacements. That’s what training camp is for.
Can Kuntz kick?
This isn’t the year to trade him. This is a year they keep all the professional depth they possibly can. He stays, and if someone outplays him then that guy will get snaps and Uzomah will be insurance.
The way I see it, they are not going to bet on many youngsters without insurance this season. Next year they will lose some guys, get some of those compensatory picks and take some shots with younger guys filling roles. But, for now, they want every base covered, and in some cases, covered twice.
Trading Uzomah made more sense before they restructured his contract.