Crowder couldn’t be blamed if he wanted to move on, but his return to the New York Jets shows further hints at excitement for the Saleh era.
Upon ceasing the Adam Gase era, the New York Jets did everything short of the process Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet used to outright forget each other’s existence in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The team spent this spring on a relative purge of the Gase era, starting fresh at several major outlets, including the almighty quarterback position.
Even the return of the most potent weapon on the team, the rare offensive silver lining, was highly in question.
No one in their right football mind could’ve found fault in a divorce between the Jets and Jamison Crowder. While Crowder (1,532 yards, 12 touchdowns) was the closest thing the Jets had to a consistent offensive highlight-maker, but that status probably said more about the state of the Jets than it did about Crowder. For his part, Crowder used the last two years to become one of the more reliable slot receivers in the league. But, set to turn 28 on Thursday, Crowder hasn’t reaped the true glory that the NFL has to offer. His career has been spent mostly in the football doldrums of Washington and Florham Park, his postseason endeavors limited to a single Wild Card weekend showing with former after the 2015 season.
Crowder’s co-workers are drastically changed as well, deskmates that could put a dent in the sizable numbers he has gotten used to. Instead of first-round also-ran Breshad Perriman and current lacrosse star Chris Hogan, Crowder now shares a playbook with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, each accoladed in their respective veteran and rookie fields. Topping that with another veteran arrival boasting slot experience (Keelan Cole), the $10 million in cap savings due to the Jets upon his trade or release, and the fact that the final year of Crowder’s contract had no guaranteed money left, an amicable parting seemed like the best way to go.
Instead, Crowder is coming back to help author a new chapter of the Jets’ rebuild.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network revealed on Monday that Crowder will be back in New York on a restructured deal. While official numbers have not been disclosed, ESPN’s Rich Cimini hinted that the Jets were seeking to convince Crowder to take “at least a 50 percent pay cut” on his $10 million salary. The extra money put toward the Jets’ $27 million in available cap space (third-best in the NFL behind Jacksonville and Denver) could possibly go toward blocking upgrades, as New York is rumored to be assessing Morgan Moses’ post-Washington situation.
It’s easy and fair to avoid sentimentalities and chalk up the gambit to a mere business decision. Crowder presumably gets a guaranteed salary and gets to view the 2021 season as a chance to make a highlight tape that will presumably end up on the desks of the other 31 NFL general managers as soon as the final seconds ticks off of the Jets’ Week 17…erm, 18…contest. One can also argue that moving elsewhere this late in the postseason would have severely limited Crowder’s potential destinations.
But as the Jets’ rebuild edges closer to immortality, it’s hard not to view Crowder’s re-upping, if only for a short while, as yet another sign of how much Robert Saleh has changed the culture in his short time at the New York helm.
Even Jets fans might be tired of hearing about the Saleh effect, especially considering we’re still about three months away from playing meaningful downs. Part of the Saleh allure, even if his worshippers don’t want to admit it, is indeed recency bias. Things became so garish under Gase that anything short of Rich Kotite’s return would’ve been seen as an upgrade. Observing the Saleh effect also doesn’t mean one views the new Jets’ boss as infallible. One would think, for example, that his reputation could’ve secured a stronger secondary lineup.
If Saleh’s prescience did play a role, though, it’s fair to assess the work he’s doing in combating the “Same Old Jets” moniker.
Even if things worked out in relatively favorable fashion, the Le’Veon Bell debacle should’ve set the Jets’ free agency endeavors back at least a few years. What self-respecting free agent was going to look at what Bell went through…rumors of in-fighting, mismanagement…and say “Yeah, I want in on that”? One could easily cast the blame of the Bell trouble entirely on Gase, but that doesn’t erase nearly five decades of football follies that gain extra attention, if only because there’s a Jets logo on it.
Had the Butt Fumble, for example, happened anywhere else, the sensation probably would’ve died down in a month. But because Mark Sanchez’s infamous turnover happened with a green oval on his helmet, it became a non-perishable. Joe Douglas deserves some credit in freshening up the free agency welcome wagon as well. When things didn’t work out, he sent some valuable pieces off to more attractive situations that also fit their on-field needs (i.e. sending Steve McClendon to the eventual Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay). But, from the moment he took the job, Douglas was fighting decades of jokes, many of them exaggerated, made at the Jets’ expense, one that painted (and frankly continues to paint) Florham Park as a football underworld.
The Jets stigma could’ve steered free agents, including Crowder, away. Even with so many improvements, asking the Jets to reach the playoffs is still going to be a tall task. Crowder would’ve been well within his rights to demand a trade to a contender or take his chances on the late offseason free agency market. After all, his skills as a reliable slot prescience could well complement a team at the cusp of a playoff spot or seeking to move further in the postseason.
Those unwilling to embrace the Saleh effect could further argue that, since Crowder has re-upped on a mere one-year deal and the prescience of young, lauded projects like Moore, he won’t be around to fully reap what the new guard is sowing. But, much like anointing Saleh (and/or Zach Wilson, for that matter) as the savior of green metropolitan football, it’s probably a bit too early to have any in-depth conversations about the future. If the Jets flash some hope beyond the expected improvement from a rock-bottom campaign and Crowder becomes further absorbed into the rebooted unit, a further commitment could be possible.
The most noticeable difference in Crowder’s New York career, at least from a leadership perspective, this time around is that of Saleh. The new head coach’s hire has earned vocal praise from players both domestically and abroad. Crowder’s decision to not only stay but return to a team eager to atone for a two-win campaign is, in part, another such statement.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags