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Percy, Santonio and Braylon: Jets Keep Giving Themselves Receiver Headaches

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterOctober 21, 2014

Rich Schultz/AP Images

The playmaking wide receiver became expendable just months after his Super Bowl heroics. He was shrouded in innuendo and scandal, and his production never really lived up to his reputation, save for one magical playoff push.

His employer seemed a little too eager to unload him, but the New York Jets happily traded a draft pick to take a risk on a super-talented puzzle piece for their always puzzling offense. They would spend four long years paying for the decision. 

This is not the story of Percy Harvin. It's the story of Santonio Holmes.

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it; if that is not the Jets motto, then it should be. The Harvin trade is a dead ringer for the Holmes trade. It's also a near-clone of the Braylon Edwards trade of 2009.

The Jets insist on making themselves a combination scrap heap/halfway house for unwanted, unmotivated, overvalued and troublesome wide receivers—not just Holmes and Edwards, but Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, big-name rentals who did little but occupy roster space and practice reps that should have gone to young prospects.

The Jets love bargain hunting for baggage-laden receivers, though they almost always end up regretting it. Harvin may not automatically fall into the same category, but he sure looks like he fits.

The Santonio Delusion

Santonio Holmes was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, with nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. The performance came at the end of his best season and marked the high point of a checkered career.

Holmes was arrested for marijuana possession and disorderly conduct early in his Steelers career. He was accused of domestic violence in 2006. After a nightclub incident and a subsequent Twitter tirade (Holmes claimed his account was hacked) in March 2010, the Steelers were fed up with a player who had been a constant source of on- and off-field frustration before the previous season's Super Bowl run.

The Jets traded a fifth-round pick for Holmes, who was already scheduled to serve a four-game substance-abuse suspension, in April 2010. The trade was easy to justify: The Jets were buying low, acquiring exceptional talent on the cheap.

It's hard to remember that the Jets were contenders just four years ago: A Holmes-level playmaker could conceivably push them into the Super Bowl, and the locker room culture had not yet approached romper room levels.

Holmes played well in 2010 and caught two touchdowns passes for the Jets in the playoffs. They rewarded him with a five-year, $50 million albatross of a contract.

Holmes' performance and attitude slipped badly in 2011. He dropped passes, fumbled, drew taunting penalties and made his dissatisfaction with coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterback Mark Sanchez an open secret.

Rex Ryan benched Holmes late in a meaningless season finale after arguing in the huddle and appearing to go through the motions on the field.

Kevin Rivoli/Associated Press

Holmes looked like he was finished in the Big Apple after 2011, but the Jets kept doubling down by handing him roster bonuses to stick around. Holmes became a mainstay on the injury report, with ailments both major (he needed Lisfranc surgery after the 2012 season) and minor (he sometimes pulled himself out of practices for aches and pains).

Holmes spent two seasons as Jets vaporware. After weeks of speculation about his status, he would suddenly appear in the lineup, sometimes playing with focus, sometimes shrugging as Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith passes flew just beyond what should have been his reach.

Holmes cost the Jets a roster space, lots of money and an incalculable amount of clubhouse chemistry for three full seasons; he has only been gone for seven months. There is a real danger that Harvin can do the same thing.

An impressive 2014 comeback by Harvin will lead to a new contract next year and an under-the-rug sweeping of all the Seahawks' allegations. The Jets outbid several Holmes suitors after the 2010 season. They may be tempted to do the same for Harvin, committing to an injury-prone receiver with impulse-control issues who Jason La Canfora was told couldn't get along with Russell Wilson, who has a little more personal fortitude than Geno Smith.

Holmes was not even the first problem-child receiver the Rex Ryan Jets traded for. When Holmes arrived in New York, another controversial, underachieving mega-talent was there to greet him.

Braylon Edwards and the Idiot Wind

Braylon Edwards—stop me if this story sounds familiar—was a critical cog in his team's passing game and a chronic migraine for his coaches and quarterback. The king-sized former first-round pick and focal point of the Browns offense complained about game plans and argued with quarterback Charlie Frye on the sideline.

He missed pregame meetings because he was late returning from college football games. He punched a nightclub promoter in an altercation reportedly spurred by Edwards' jealousy of Cleveland basketball sensation LeBron James. In between the dramas, he caught a lot of passes, but he also dropped far too many.

Two days after the LeBron fisticuffs in October 2009, the Jets traded two players and two mid-round draft picks for Edwards. Edwards displaced Jerricho Cotchery, a homegrown former fourth-round pick with a pair of 82-catch seasons on his resume, as the go-to receiver. Cotchery was not a great player, but he was dependable and affordable; Edwards (and soon Holmes) would push him off the Jets roster.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Edwards caught 53 passes for 904 yards and seven touchdowns for the playoff-bound Jets in 2010. He was also arrested for DWI that September. His season was marred by dropped passes, halfhearted attempts to catch inaccurate passes and on-field altercations with ex-teammates when the Jets faced the Browns.

A second DWI charge after a minor accident during the 2011 labor lockout sealed his fate; the Jets decided to overspend on the slightly less combustible Holmes. But the Jets had not seen the last of Edwards.

Both the 49ers and Seahawks quickly soured on the increasingly injury-prone receiver over the next two seasons. While still playing for the Seahawks in December 2012, Edwards blasted the Jets organization, blaming "the idiots calling shots" on Twitter for the team's offensive woes.

The Seahawks released Edwards, and the Jets (who inquired about trading for the receiver early in the season) claimed him off waivers just days after the "idiot" tweet. You cannot make this stuff up.

Edwards played three forgettable games for the post-butt fumble 2012 Jets, then clogged the team's depth-chart arteries for all of 2013 training camp. Cotchery, it must be pointed out, is still an NFL regular. Edwards still chirps about Jets' team chemistry, unironically.

It is easy to see a little of Edwards and Cotchery in Harvin and Jeremy Kerley, respectively.

Kerley actually has more receiving yards (1,825) since the start of 2011 than Harvin (1,794). His career yards-per-catch rate is higher: 12.4 to 11.4. Kerley and Harvin play the same offensive role—screens, slot routes, kick returns and trick plays—and while no one would suggest Kerley possesses Harvin's talent, Kerley is affordable, durable and a model citizen.

Instead of building around a valuable role player, the Jets are going out of their way to displace him.

Acquiring high-risk veterans not only marginalizes current contributors but can cut off the supply of future prospects. The Jets offense became a punchline not just because of Holmes and Edwards, who were at least effective when healthy and happy, but because of some last-legs old-timers the team rented when it should have been developing young talent.

Free Mason and the Plaxico Principle

For 14 seasons, Derrick Mason was the reliable version of Harvin, or a Kerley who found his niche. Mason was a gifted slot receiver and returner, but he was also durable—the 190-pounder went eight seasons without missing a game—and he became a security blanket for Steve McNair, then the young Joe Flacco.

By the time the Jets acquired Mason in 2011, he had lost much of his speed and nearly all of his desire. Mason flew home from New York to Nashville between games to spend a few days with his family; on Sundays, the veteran often looked unsure where to line up.

He found time in his travel schedule to complain about the Jets offense, both in postgame comments and (reportedly) behind closed doors. Mason was demoted to the scout team by early October. He was traded to the Texans after Week 6 of the 2011 season.

Mason was supposed to be the Jets' insurance policy in 2011. The team signed Burress days after the end of the 2011 lockout, swooping in to offer the recently incarcerated receiver over $3 million during that July's mad signing frenzy.

Signing a player with a literal self-inflicted gunshot wound turned out to be a bad omen for the Jets, who again were just months removed from the AFC championship game and thought they were loading up for a Super Bowl run.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Burress caught eight touchdown passes for the 2011 Jets, most of them jump balls in the red zone. But he was an expensive, unreliable situational player for an offense that collapsed late in the season.

Burress was rarely open, often banged up and sometimes disgruntled. Like Mason and Holmes, he was frustrated with the offense and eager to leave. By December, the rookie Kerley was catching more passes than Plaxico or Holmes; Mason was already gone.

Veteran receivers have gummed up the Jets' depth chart since Edwards arrived five years ago. Meanwhile, the Jets rarely bother to draft and develop prospects.

Stephen Hill was an obvious bust, but he was also the only receiver taken higher than the fourth round since 2011. The Jets drafted three receivers in the fourth round or later this year. One (Shaquelle Evans) is on injured reserve. Another (Quincy Enunwa) is on the practice squad. Jalen Saunders, the most promising of the group, was released after muffing a punt. Rookies get only one chance; veterans can call the front office "idiots" and get offered a contract days later.

That kind of environment is self-perpetuating. The Jets just perpetuated it.

The Harvin Continuum

RICH SCHULTZ/Associated Press

Harvin is better than the Jets rookies. He is better than the Chris Owusu and Greg Salas types who round out the bottom of the bench. Harvin, Eric Decker and Kerley make a credible receiving trio. But for how long, and at what cost?

If Harvin becomes a two-month rental, a player too expensive, injury-prone or mercurial to retain, the Jets have just traded lots of practice reps and game opportunities for a handful of highlight-reel screen passes, with some locker room discontent likely thrown in as a bonus.

The Jets keep going out of their way to acquire headaches, then wonder why they feel sick. They spend money and resources on distractions and disappointments, then wonder why they are always distracted and disappointed.

Maybe Harvin will be different. But Harvin has never produced a 1,000-yard receiving season, and the Jets have not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Cotchery.

Harvin's last two employers seem pleased to be rid of him. Harvin is so much like Holmes and Edwards (and, in a broader sense, like Mason and Plaxico) that it is hard to find a reason to believe that this trade will turn out any different from the last ones.

The Jets need to stop bargain hunting. They have spent half a decade getting far less production and far more hassles than they bargained for.

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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