FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It was always fair to wonder how the New York Jets planned to use Corey Davis after they added three veteran wide receivers in free agency this offseason.
But this certainly was never part of the plan.
Davis announced his retirement on Wednesday, an unexpected decision by a 28-year-old who still had something left in the tank. He was once the fifth overall pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2017, and the Jets pounced at the chance to sign him as a free agent in 2021, giving him $37.5 million over three years.
When Davis was healthy, he gave the Jets what they needed: maturity and production to help fix one of the league’s worst offenses. The issue: Davis was rarely healthy. He missed seven games in 2021 and four in 2022, and he left three others early with injuries in two seasons. His final stats in a Jets uniform: 66 catches for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns in 22 games. Davis was serviceable, a valued locker-room presence and quality run blocker — but considering how much the Jets paid him, he didn’t quite live up to his contract.
Corey Davis’ announcement on IG that he’s retiring: pic.twitter.com/lG2KJdRP8G
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) August 23, 2023
That’s why many assumed the Jets would move on from him this offseason for cap savings. They almost certainly would have, had Odell Beckham Jr. joined them. But when that pursuit failed, the Jets decided to keep Davis, even as it was unclear what his role would be in an offense that added three veteran wide receivers (Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Mecole Hardman) to a group that already included Garrett Wilson, plus deep tight end and running back rooms.
Now the Jets move forward without Davis. And all of a sudden, what seemed like a deep position group 48 hours ago now feels like it’s an injury away from some issues.
Ultimately, Davis’ retirement shouldn’t have a significant impact on the Jets’ offense this season, positively or negatively, but it does remove a quality wide receiver from a team that is trying to win now.
Here is everything to know about Davis’ decision, how it impacts the roster, the salary cap and where the Jets go from here.
Explaining Davis’ decision
The only one who can really do that is Davis, and he hasn’t spoken outside of the statement he posted to Instagram. Davis has battled various injuries throughout his career and his wife recently had their second child. He also has banked more than $50 million in his six-year career, according to Spotrac.
Davis had missed a handful of recent practices “dealing with a personal matter,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. As it turned out, he’d been considering calling it quits.
“We were aware of it and just tried to support him and his family in any decision they decided to go with,” Saleh said. “Selfishly, we’d love for him to play. He’s an unbelievable man, he’s an unbelievable player, but at the same time, he’s an unbelievable father and an unbelievable husband and friend and all that. So excited for him in this new journey … but (we want) him to know that he always has a family here.”
Cobb said: “Life is bigger than football. This is what we do but it’s not who we are. I wish him well. I’m going to be in his corner.”
Thank you for everything you've given to the Jets organization, @TheCDavis84.
Wishing you the best, CD 💚
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 23, 2023
Salary cap implications
The Jets placed Davis on the reserve/retired list, which means they technically retain his rights through the end of his current contract, which ends after this season. In terms of the salary cap, the impact is essentially the same as if the Jets were cutting him.
So, they’ll save approximately $10.5 million. According to Over the Cap, that gives them around $19.5 million in cap space. The Jets had approached Davis about a pay cut this offseason, though it’s unclear how that conversation went. Either way, Davis’ retirement does give them a little more breathing room under the cap, and general manager Joe Douglas more leeway to make a trade at some point. That’s largely why Aaron Rodgers gave back $35 million in guaranteed money over the next two years, to allow Douglas to make another splash move if needed. Davis’ retirement only makes that even easier to accomplish.
This also will allow the Jets to avoid restructuring linebacker C.J. Mosley’s contract, at least for now. He has a team-high $21.47 million cap hit this offseason.
Wide receiver room
Now that Davis is gone, the Jets have four players (Wilson, Lazard, Cobb and Hardman) locked into roster spots at wide receiver. The Jets signed Lazard with the idea that he’d be a better version of Davis anyway — a big-bodied receiver, quality run blocker and downfield threat — with the added bonus that he already has a relationship with Rodgers from their time together on the Green Bay Packers.
Wilson will be the No. 1 target and get a healthy, Davante Adams-esque target share, but that was always the plan.
Cobb’s role should increase. It already felt like that was happening over the last week or two, even before Davis started missing practice. Cobb has been getting more targets and reps with Rodgers and the starters than Hardman, which is notable considering those are the two primary options at slot receiver. Rodgers obviously has built-in chemistry with Cobb, and that goes beyond football. Rodgers is the godfather to one of Cobb’s sons, and both of Cobb’s sons call him “Uncle Aaron.” Cobb isn’t as quick as he used to be, but he has experience in this offense, reliable hands and positional versatility. Hardman has some chemistry with Rodgers but is still learning how to play with him.
Talent-wise, Hardman should and will still get on the field. Nobody on the roster is as fast as him, after all. But don’t underestimate how much the 33-year-old Cobb will be involved in the offense, especially since he brings more in the run game than Hardman, which theoretically should help to minimize Davis’ loss in that area.
The flip side of Davis’ decision is what it does for the wide receivers fighting for roster spots. Before, it was unclear if the Jets would keep five or six receivers. Now they only have four locked into roster spots.
If the Jets don’t look outside of the roster for replacement options, this bodes well for the competition between undrafted rookies Jason Brownlee and Xavier Gipson, as well as Malik Taylor, who played with Rodgers in Green Bay.
Right now, the Jets don’t have an obvious backup for Lazard, which could help Brownlee (6-foot-2) and Taylor (6-foot-3), who have both been more productive in the preseason than the diminutive Gipson (5-foot-9). Gipson’s edge: He’s flashed some talent as a kick and punt returner.
If Douglas looks to add another wide receiver, I wouldn’t expect it to be a significant splash (at least not yet). Hold off on buying your Davante Adams or Mike Evans Jets jerseys for now. It’s more likely an addition will come via the waiver wire after roster cuts or in a low-cost trade for a receiver from a team that has a surplus.
The Panthers — with whom the Jets practiced earlier in camp — added DJ Chark, Jonathan Mingo and Adam Thielen this offseason, which doesn’t leave much of a role for Terrace Marshall Jr. or Laviska Shenault. Marshall is 6-2 and averaged 17.5 yards per catch last season.
The Cardinals starters will likely be Marquise Brown, Zach Pascal and Rondale Moore, and Arizona also drafted Michael Wilson in the third round. So speedy former Jet Greg Dortch — 467 yards last year — could be a waiver-wire option, though he’s only 5-9.
Some other intriguing potential 53-man roster cuts: Kendrick Bourne (Patriots), Cedrick Wilson Jr. (Dolphins), Collin Johnson (Giants), Equanimeous St. Brown (Bears), Tre’Quan Smith (Saints) and Nelson Agholor (Ravens).
The most notable free agent currently available is Jarvis Landry, though he’s more of a slot receiver.
(Photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)
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