With the ink barely dry on the four-year, $16-million contract extension he signed midway through the 2014 campaign, Kerley entered this year with high expectations of how he’d be utilized in Chan Gailey’s new offense.
The issue? As the year went on, Kerley found out his role in the offense was non-existent. And now, it seems awfully likely the versatile slot wideout’s first year playing on his new deal will also be his last.
“We’re gonna see,” Kerley said Monday as he cleaned out his locker. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Kerley quickly supplanted himself as the Jets slot receiver, and an awfully good one at that. After catching 29 passes for 314 yards and a touchdown as a rookie, Kerley burst onto the scene in 2012. The wideout led the Jets in receptions and yards, setting career-highs in both marks with 56 catches for 827 yards. At that point, it appeared as if the Jets had a budding star on their hands.
Over the ensuing two seasons, though, Kerley was never able to match that same production, but was still a solid option for a Jets offense struggling due to poor quarterback play. In 2013, Kerley caught 43 passes for 523 yards and three scores in 12 games. In 2014, he brought in 38 catches for 409 yards including a touchdown.
But this year, his first with Gailey, Kerley was rendered an afterthought.
Standing just 5-9 and weighing 188 pounds, Kerley doesn’t really fit the build of a “big” wideout, which is something Gailey prefers. As a result, he was buried on New York’s depth chart dating back to organized team activities. In three-wide sets, the Jets chose to put the 6-3 Eric Decker in the slot with Brandon Marshall outside. The second receiver was a rotation as injuries depleted the position. While Chris Owusu, Devin Smith and Kenbrell Thompkins all got their shots outside, Kerley never did.
Kerley finished this season with career-lows in catches (16) and yards (152). He was relegated to strictly special teams duty, where he returned 48 punts for an average of eight yards per return.
“He has to work himself in there,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said of Kerley's role with the team. “Obviously, we had guys that played and made some plays. We have all the confidence in the world in Kerley, but we just don’t have enough balls to go around.”
If Kerley is on the Jets roster next year, he’ll count $3.1 million against the team’s salary cap. With the guys like Damon Harrison, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and more set to have their contracts expire, and the Jets on tap to have just $14 million in cap space prior to any roster transactions, Kerley could find himself as a cap casualty.
Cutting Kerley would free roughly $1.3 million, per OTC.
“It’s all business at this standpoint,” Bowles said. “We have to put everything together and see what we can come up with and hopefully have the right guys on our team.”