The New York Jets quietly made a roster move on January 31, re-signing veteran wide receiver and return specialist Diontae Spencer on a reserve/future contract. ESPN’s Rich Cimini confirmed the deal just after the Jets announced it, noting that Spencer spent parts of last season on the NYJ practice squad.
Going one step further, he became a bit of a confusing coaching staff favorite as head coach Robert Saleh and ST coordinator Brant Boyer brought him back several times throughout the year despite rostering a former All Pro returner in Braxton Berrios.
Jets’ Diontae Spencer Signing Could Be Bad News for Cut Candidate Braxton Berrios
Jets team reporter Ethan Greenberg detailed Spencer’s NFL career after the news broke, writing: “Spencer (5-8, 170) had four stints on the Green & White’s practice squad in 2022… Spencer was most recently with the [Denver] Broncos for the last [three] seasons and appeared in 42 games. He has 10 catches for 54 yards.”
As mentioned above, Spencer was more of a special teamer and returner in Denver than a wide receiver. According to Pro Football Reference, he registered 367 snaps on special teams and only 189 on offense during his three campaigns.
During that span, Spencer averaged 21.4 yards per kick return and 9.8 yards per punt return with one total touchdown. His career-highs came in 2019 (kick return average of 29.1 yards) and 2020 (punt return average of 15.8 yards).
Putting two and two together, this signing could mean trouble for Berrios — who has been labeled as a “likely” cut candidate because of his pricey 2023 cap hit and his lack of production last season.
The returner carries an $8.23 million cap hit this year with a $3.23 million dead hit if he’s cut according to Over the Cap. That’s $5 million in savings if the Jets choose to part ways, which is a very large amount for a primary returner.
Berrios also factored in Mike LaFleur’s offense in 2021 — and that certainly figured into his new contract last offseason — but this ended up being an overpay by general manager Joe Douglas when all was said and done. With LaFleur gone and Nathaniel Hackett looking for bigger-bodied receivers as a ground-and-pound offensive coordinator, it makes sense that the Green & White will move on from Berrios in 2023.
The Spencer insurance policy only increases that likelihood. For the record, Berrios’ career averages as a returner are better than Spencer’s (24.9 per kick return and 11.4 per punt return), but his contract is just too expensive at its current number.
Does WR Elijah Moore Fit Into Jets’ New Offense?
It’s fair to wonder if 2021 second-round draft pick Elijah Moore fits into Hackett’s new system. Historically, the new OC has utilized larger wide receivers that can run block on the outside.
That would bode well for veteran Corey Davis and 2020 second-rounder Denzel Mims, but not so much Moore. Still, the Ole Miss product’s dynamic speed and route-running ability does offer something unique, and Hackett could see the value in that too.
After all, Hackett has had some mild success with smaller slot/deep threat WRs like Dede Westbrook, KJ Hamler, Randall Cobb, Chris Hogan, and ex-Jet Keelan Cole throughout his career.
If Moore doesn’t fit into Gang Green’s new plans, however, he could still be a trade candidate this spring or summer after reports that the youngster cursed out LaFleur at practice in 2022. There’s no telling if Saleh and Douglas truly forgave that incident, or merely acted as if they did to increase Moore’s value.
We should find out Moore’s status with the franchise — one way or another — as Organized Team Activities (OTAs) begin in a couple of months.