If you were to scour the premises of the New York Jets’ vast facility, you’d find that a certain small in stature but sizable hole in the wide receivers room as the Jets kick off their rebuild on the shoulders of second-overall selection Zach Wilson.
And although voluntary up to this point, the absence of Jamison Crowder through New York’s offseason workouts has become an eye-opening series of events as he enters a contract season in 2021.
You’d be far-fetched to find anyone who agrees that the soon-to-be 28-year old is etched into the future plans of newly minted head coach Robert Saleh. While Crowder’s production hasn’t been anything to scoff at, it’s a case of the common rebuild as prior standing, aging talent slowly maneuver their way out of town for younger, cheaper, schematic puzzle pieces. The Jets haven’t been shy in adding talent on the boundary this spring, signing pass-catcher Corey Davis to a three-year, $37 million deal which includes $27 million of guaranteed cash, and drafting versatile target-hog Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss at the top of the second round; both moves, inherently spelling trouble for Crowder, who enters his third season in the Big Apple.
While looking into a player’s absence from optional workouts—in this case, a six-year league veteran—could be deemed foolish, the additions of Davis and Moore plus the return of Denzel Mims convolute Crowder’s presence as he enters one of the most important seasons of his careers; his role moving forward in what looks to be a high-flying Jets offense begins to fuzzy.
By no means has Crowder, the Jets leading receiver in 2020, been kicked to the curb. He remains one of, if not the top target in New York’s Wilson-led offense when projecting Wilson’s development and progression studying the acute details of an NFL playbook. If Crowder is able to replicate his 2020 performance (59 receptions, 699 yards, six touchdowns), his occupancy, or lack thereof as we near camp, could be irrelevant. If Mims continues to progress and Moore flashes the same electricity that caused general manager Joe Douglas to take Moore Day 2, then, well, let the mind run free.
As the offseason trudges on and rosters begin to mold, Saleh has gone public with optimism surrounding Crowder’s return to practice saying, “[Crowder] definitely has a role on this team;” but money talks, and with roughly $27 million currently in cap flexibility, Crowder’s future in New York could ride on the willingness, or frugal approach to spend elsewhere and save money by Douglas to get Crowder to ultimately reduce his $10 million salary he’s currently owed for the 2021 season. But, if Douglas cuts Crowder, he would free up $10.3 million in salary-cap space that could roll over to 2022 where the Jets could hone in on signing another headline-grabbing wideout in free agency next spring. If it were me in Douglas’ shoes, I would do everything I could to get Crowder back in pads. Among the key contributors to the importance of Crowder’s role in the Jets offense is his ability to dominate out of the slot, sitting in open spaces, finding the soft spot in opposing defenses, while offering vertical ability that surely will be used to the Jets advantage with Wilson’s arm arrogance.
Crowder, absent from just four games the last two seasons combined, has remained a consummate pro throughout his tenure in New York, totaling over 200 targets and 12 touchdowns in his first two campaigns while the Jets have stumbled their way to a 9-23 record during that span. There’s reason to be excited over the potential success of Davis, Moore, and Mims, along with first-year talent Michael Carter in the backfield, one of the cardinal mistakes bad teams have made is undervaluing their own talent. While their status as one of the league’s worst offensive units is sure to soon change, the fact remains that the Jets finished dead-last in total offense last year, so it could be easy to come to a conclusion where Crowder’s presence could be massively undervalued if Douglas and Saleh were to focus on the big picture; it's a similar mindset the Jets sustained which led to the lowballing of Robby Anderson just a year ago.
While Crowder’s future in New York remains up in the air looking past this fall, the decision to keep him in town or not is really a look into the operational foundation from newly hired Jets brass. While accelerating a rebuild involves consistently making tough decisions, this would be a case of attempting to fix what in fact isn’t broken.