The New York Jets and Joe Douglas likely had some justification for standing pat at the trade deadline
New York Jets fans, you can stop your frantic refreshing and scrolling. The trade deadline is over, and… nothing. A team that has Randall Cobb or Xavier Gipson starting in the slot and Xavier Newman as their current center decided to punt on acquiring anyone better.
It’s easy to lambaste Joe Douglas for this inaction. In fact, an hour before the deadline, I did just that.
An hour left before we see if Joe Douglas can officially be crowned Billy Eppler 2.0
— Rivka Boord (@rivka_boord) October 31, 2023
Eppler is the now-former Mets general manager who made paltry moves to reinforce the team at the 2022 trade deadline. As a result, a roster that could have contended for the World Series instead went down with barely a whimper in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, this Jets roster is not quite like that Mets one. With the injuries to Aaron Rodgers, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and other key players, they are not serious Super Bowl contenders. Still, with another piece or two, Douglas seemingly could have beefed up the ailing roster for a possible playoff run.
I believe Douglas had some solid reasoning behind standing pat, though. Much as it’s frustrating to Jets fans, there’s a reason that not too many moves happen at the NFL trade deadline. For this team, there’s a very delicate balance between present and future. Douglas needs to walk that tightrope carefully.
What is the future?
There’s a legitimate debate about what the direction of this Jets franchise should be. Should they really go all-in on Aaron Rodgers in what will likely be his last year in 2024? Coming off an Achilles tear, it’s hard to know how effective Rodgers can even be, particularly since making plays outside the pocket is still a non-trivial part of his game.
On the flip side, the team should be looking to lock up Bryce Huff to a big deal sooner rather than later. Players like Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Breece Hall will want to get paid after the 2024 season. Shouldn’t the Jets try to make one last big run before their salary cap becomes too out of hand?
It’s really a tough call. To keep the Jets solvent beyond 2024, Douglas needs to keep his options open, as well as retain some draft capital. It’s bittersweet that the Jets will still have their first-round pick in 2024, but they still don’t have their second-rounder. They do have a third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, and a six-rounder remaining. That’s not too many assets to work with.
Yes, the Jets are 4-3, but their team is in a tenuous spot right now. Their offensive line is in shambles, which blew up their entire offense against the Giants. They also have only one legitimate receiving weapon.
Perhaps Douglas could have tried to reinforce the line and/or acquire a receiver, but at what cost? Were the Jets going to give up draft assets in 2024 or 2025, plus draw their salary cap situation even tighter, for a mid-level rental?
For example, Hunter Renfrow was the most likely option out there. It seemed like the Raiders were trying to get someone else to pick up more of his salary. I assume that potential suitors, which may have included the Jets, wouldn’t bite.
Trading for Renfrow straight-up would have meant that the Jets would pick up $4 million of his cap hit for the remainder of 2023. He would have counted $11 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2024. The Raiders were unwilling to pick up any portion of his 2023 salary, per reports.
How much was Douglas going to go all-in for mid-level options when the Jets’ direction is so questionable, to begin with?
Two realistic options
That being said, there were two players dealt at the deadline that Douglas should have been in on.
Following Kirk Cousins’ season-ending injury, the Vikings traded away guard Ezra Cleveland to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. Cleveland is in the final year of his rookie contract, and his remaining cap hit is $1.66 million. Pro Football Focus has graded him as an above-average tackle in all four of his NFL seasons, although he was below average as a pass-blocker from 2020-22. In 2023, though, his pressure rate is 3.8%, which is better than average, and his 72.3 PFF pass-blocking grade ranks 11th out of 60 qualified guards.
This is a trade that Douglas should have made. Even if Joe Tippmann returns soon, he will be playing center for the foreseeable future. That means the Jets’ starting right guard will now be Billy Turner, who last played guard in 2019 and had a brutal 6.6% pressure rate. Cleveland would have undoubtedly been an upgrade. It would also have meant that Turner could be the primary backup tackle instead of Carter Warren (at least until Duane Brown returns).
Had the Jets offered their sixth-rounder, chances are that they could have acquired Cleveland. The Jaguars are 6-2 and leading their division with Trevor Lawrence at the helm, while the Jets are 4-3 with Zach Wilson under center. The Jets’ sixth-rounder is likely to be a better pick than the Jaguars’.
The Browns traded receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones to the Lions for a 2025 sixth-round pick. Peoples-Jones is also in the final year of his rookie deal and will cost the Lions $1.5 million this season. This would have been an even easier trade for the Jets to make, as they have two 2025 sixth-rounders thanks to the Mecole Hardman trade.
I could see the argument against Peoples-Jones; he has only eight receptions for 97 yards this entire season. Still, he’s one year removed from a 61-catch, 839-yard effort. It also takes very little for a player to be an improvement over the Jets’ third receiver options of Randall Cobb and Xavier Gipson.
In the case of both Cleveland and Peoples-Jones, I believe that the price was worth the player. Sixth-round picks are such dart throws, anyway, and the salary investment was negligible.
What about Cook and Lawson?
The short answer is that he probably couldn’t. Both players are due more than $3 million for the remainder of the season. Lawson has a poor 4.7% pressure rate, while Cook is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. There was little reason for any team to be interested in paying for that lack of impact, even if the Jets ate most of the salary.
The wisest thing the Jets can do is to keep both players inactive but available in case of injury. It’s what they did with Bryce Hall for most of 2022. Izzy Abanikanda can likely do a better job than Cook simply because of his speed, even though he’s very raw in every other area.
At the very least the #Jets should know Izzy Abanikanda would provide a big speed upgrade. Per NGS Izzy reached 15+ mph on 5 of his 25 runs in the preseason, a 20% rate that ranked 5th-best of 37 RBs. Cook has hit 15+ mph on 3 of his 41 runs, a 7.3% rate that ranks 47th of 59.… pic.twitter.com/ZNlHCTcSed
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 31, 2023
The other player whom the Jets could have considered trading is Bryce Hall. Their former starting cornerback is in the final year of his deal. In his two games started this season, he showed that he still has the ability to cover in the NFL.
Hall allowed 6 of 11 receptions for 81 yards and an interception in those two games. One poor missed tackle added 39 of those yards, but nevertheless, those are more than acceptable numbers when one of the opposing receivers was A.J. Brown. To add to the appeal, Hall’s total cap hit for the season is $1.1 million, and a team acquiring him would have owed him roughly $475,000.
Even though Hall probably could have brought back a fifth-round pick, the Jets have never seemed willing to trade him. If they were going to, 2022 was the time to do it, as he was inactive for 12 games. Still, I believe they keep him around for exactly the reason that we saw when Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed were both out — injury insurance.
Grading the trade deadline
Obviously, Douglas did make a minor deal in sending Hardman back to Kansas City together with a seventh-rounder to acquire a sixth. The Jets didn’t make any other trades. Because of the Cleveland and Peoples-Jones moves that could have been made for relatively cheap, I would give this deadline a C+. It wasn’t atrocious for the reasons mentioned above — namely, finite future resources and an uncertain goal — but there was something left on the table.
What do you think, Jets fans? From a rational (not emotional) perspective, how would grade Douglas’ deadline?
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