On Monday, Kerley and the Lions agreed to terms on a contract, per ESPN's Adam Schefter and Adam Caplan. Caplan also reported that Kerley's one-year deal is worth "just over" $1 million. The Lions went on to confirm the deal.
Newsday's Kimberley A. Martin noted how Kerley's value has plummeted in recent years:
Kimberley A. Martin @KMart_LI
Kerley got a 4yr, $16M extension from ex-#Jets GM John Idzik during the 2014 season https://t.co/CE0DXvJR6w2016-3-21 14:50:55
In the space of three seasons, Kerley went from the Jets' leading receiver to a complete afterthought. In 2012, he caught 56 passes for 827 yards and two touchdowns. This past year, he had just 16 receptions, 152 receiving yards and two touchdowns. His value came almost exclusively in the return game, as he returned an NFL-high 48 punts for 411 yards.
Last September, NJ Advance Media's Dom Cosentino explained why Kerley had fallen so far out of favor:
It's mostly about Kerley's limitations as a receiver. During minicamp, receivers coach Karl Dorrell told me he wanted all of the Jets' wideouts to be like interchangeable parts, to be able to play every position. The idea, in [Chan] Gailey's offense, is to move guys around to create mismatches, especially when the Jets go to three- and four-receiver sets, which they'll do often. That's why we saw a lot of Eric Decker in the slot against the Browns, but that Brandon Marshall will sometimes move inside, too. Kerley is a decent enough player, but he's too narrowly a possession receiver who plays inside. [...] This is about how Kerley fits what the Jets are doing. Right now, he doesn't.
While Kerley certainly deserves a large share of the blame for his failure to capitalize on his encouraging second season, he—and the Jets' other receivers—suffered as a result of erratic quarterback play. Below are New York's yearly passing leaders from 2011 to 2015. Also included in the table is each QB's DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement), courtesy of Football Outsiders:
|New York Jets Passing Leaders (2011-15)|
|2011||Mark Sanchez||3,474||56.7||26||18||-53 (31st)|
|2012||Mark Sanchez||2,883||54.3||13||18||-593 (39th)|
|2013||Geno Smith||3,046||55.8||12||21||-371 (43rd)|
|2014||Geno Smith||2,525||59.7||13||13||-33 (32nd)|
|2015||Ryan Fitzpatrick||3,905||59.6||31||15||541 (13th)|
|Sources: Pro-Football-Reference.com, Football Outsiders|
The irony for Kerley is that once the team finally found a competent quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick), it came too late for him to reap the benefits; the addition of Marshall only pushed him further down the hierarchy.
One could argue to a certain extent that the Jets didn't put Kerley in a position to succeed. First, they failed to provide him and the rest of the receiving corps with an NFL-caliber starting quarterback. Then, he was all but phased out of the offense after Gailey's arrival.
Calvin Johnson's retirement left a major hole in Detroit's passing game. In addition to being the best wide receiver in Lions history, Johnson is one of the greatest pass-catchers of his generation. A ready-made replacement wasn't going to be found in free agency this offseason.
The team signed Marvin Jones to a five-year, $40 million deal earlier in the month, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra). While Jones will take Johnson's spot in the offense, it will be unrealistic to expect him to produce like Megatron.
As a result, Detroit was smart to target a veteran such as Kerley to further bolster the wide receiver position. He'll provide Matthew Stafford with a nice security blanket out of the slot when opposing secondaries are blanketing Jones and Golden Tate.
With that said, Kerley has a definite ceiling; this isn't a case of the Lions stumbling upon a hidden gem in the free-agent market. Kerley's numbers might improve in 2016 but probably won't jump a considerable degree.
This year's free-agent class of wide receivers was generally underwhelming, and with many of the top names off the board, finding value is becoming increasingly more difficult. At least with Kerley, Detroit is getting a cost-effective veteran who can not only play out of the slot but also deliver in the return game.