Heading into Monday night’s matchup against the Browns, the Jets had to know that the outcome would be in large part dependent on how well they could contain Odell Beckham Jr. It didn’t go great! Beckham caught six balls for 161 yards and a score in Cleveland’s 23-3 win. After the game, all the questions for head coach Adam Gase were about why he had who he had on Beckham, and he didn’t feel like giving answers.
Nominal CB1 Trumaine Johnson, who signed a five-year, $72.5 million contract just a year ago, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, matched up against Beckham for most of the game’s snaps was Nate Hairston, acquired for a sixth-round pick just three weeks ago in what was supposed to be a depth move. Hairston played every snap until leaving in the fourth quarter with an injury, and only then did Johnson first enter the game—for the final four snaps of garbage time.
“That was just our decision,” coach Adam Gase said when asked why Johnson didn’t play.
“We just decided not to play him.”
That’s not particularly enlightening. Maybe Johnson can explain?
“You would have to go ask coach Gase and my DB coach.
“I was going with the [starters] back and forth through the whole week in practice,” Johnson said. “I dressed up, so I figured I was going to play. I didn’t play.”
Gase did say that Johnson wasn’t benched for disciplinary reasons, which by process of elimination gives the answer: Johnson just hasn’t been very good. The high-priced free agent was pretty much a bust last year, and wasn’t a lot better in Week 1. Add to his disappointing play the fact that Gase eventually wants to clear out former GM Mike Maccagnan’s guys (and Maccagnan was inexplicably allowed to run this spring’s draft and free agency before being fired), and there’s not much of a role for Johnson in the Jets’ future.
But what exactly can they do with him? Johnson said after last night’s game that he wouldn’t request a trade, but that’s just academic. If he were tradable, the Jets would have done that already. Instead, New York is barely a third of the way through a deal that will pay Johnson $45 million over its first three years, before a palatable out after 2020. The Jets could move on from Johnson after this season, but that’d carry a hit of $12 million in dead cap space for next year—a savings of just $3 million in cap space.
So, more DNPs might be in Johnson’s future. Because in truth, Hairston wasn’t that bad last night. He just wasn’t getting a lot of help. For example, what more was Hairston supposed to do in man coverage when Beckham hauled in a 33-yard-pass with one hand? And, on Beckham’s 89-yard touchdown, the receiver lined up in the slot and outran the safeties; Hairston had nothing to do with it.
It’s not inherently bad that the Jets are sitting their third-highest paid player in favor of a guy they got in an afterthought of a trade at the end of the preseason. NFL teams chase sunk costs too often, and if Hairston should be the guy if he gives them a better chance to win. The problem is, teams that keep finding themselves in situations where they have to make decisions like this tend not to have very good chances to win in the first place.