Inside the Jets’ commercial chase of Tyreek Hill, and how they bounced back

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — On March 18, New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas received a call from Tyreek Hill’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The Kansas City Chiefs had given Rosenhaus permission to buy the star wide receiver, and now he was reaching out to see if the Jets were interested.

They were. Very.

What unfolded was a five-day search that included a compensation deal with the Chiefs, an elaborate sales pitch for Hill’s camp and a contract proposal that would have made Hill the highest-paid player in league history. franchise, by far. The Jets knew it would be tough to get, but their hopes rose to the point where they felt it was a definite decision for Hill.

On March 23, Rosenhaus phoned Douglas with the news that Hill would be traded to the Miami Dolphins, the team he chose over the Jets. Douglas & Co. were disappointed. In fact, they performed an internal autopsy, retracing their steps to see if they might have done something different in the process.

“Sure, we would have loved to have him here, but I think things happen for a reason,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday.

“It was a very realistic possibility,” Rosenhaus told ESPN of a deal with the Jets.

Hill, who leads the NFL with 477 receiving yards, takes the Dolphins (3-1) to MetLife Stadium on Sunday (1 pm ET, CBS) for a key AFC East battle against the Jets (2-2). The Jets’ leader in receiving yards is rookie Garrett Wilson (255), who essentially became their alternate option after failed trade attempts for Hill and Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers.

How did the commercial proposal come about? Here’s how it played out and why the Jets’ offer fell short, according to sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

BEFORE FREE AGENCY, the Jets’ personnel department compiled a list of potential salary cap dropouts throughout the league. Hill was on that list. Heading into the final year of his contract with the Chiefs, due to having $21 million in the salary cap, his future in Kansas City was not certain. So the Jets listed him as a player to watch, which allowed them to begin their homework … just in case.

When the Jets got the initial call from Rosenhaus, they already had a full scouting report on Hill. They spent the next 48 hours on his background check, reviewing past incidents off the field. Comfortable with their findings, they entered into intense contract negotiations with Rosenhaus once they worked out a compensation package with the Chiefs.

The Jets agreed to trade two second-round picks (No. 35 and 38 overall) and one third-round pick (No. 69) to the Chiefs for Hill and one third-round pick (No. 103). It would have been too much to give up, but this proposal allowed them to retain both first-round picks.

Technically, the Jets and Dolphins weren’t allowed to trade Rosenhaus until the Chiefs agreed to his proposed trade package. So everything depended on a “yes” from Hill. He didn’t have a no-trade clause, but he gained clout once he was allowed to negotiate a contract with other teams.

The Jets wanted to travel to South Florida to meet with Hill at his home for a face-to-face recruiting trip, or at least take him to New Jersey, but those meetings never took place. They suggested a video call with some of the coaches, but Rosenhaus preferred to be the point man and relay the information to Hill. The Chiefs were sensitive to the idea of ​​teams talking directly to Hill. The Jets, who have a good working relationship with Rosenhaus, didn’t make a fuss.

For the most part, it was Douglas and Rosenhaus, one by one. David Socie, the Jets’ senior director of football administration, was involved in the actual contract negotiations.

The Jets’ sales pitch centered on their young, local talent and how Hill could have been the player who started it all. They want to become a destination team, and their feeling at the time was that a player of Hill’s magnitude could have set the trend. They put on an “impressive performance,” according to Rosenhaus.

Hill would have been their biggest wide receiver star since Keyshawn Johnson in 1999. Since then, they’ve only had one Pro Bowl season from a wide receiver: Brandon Marshall in 2015. Hill would have been a big box office hit for a franchise looking for one. identity.

“Tyreek was interested and heard a lot of good things about the coaching staff and the direction the team was going,” Rosenhaus said. “… We really felt, Tyreek, his family and I, that New York would be a great fit for him. Obviously, they needed another great playmaker and signature player at that point. He would have been the face of the franchise, which It was attractive. So there was a lot of exciting stuff about it. Ultimately, it came down to a close call.”

Rosenhaus did his own homework and contacted Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios, a client, for information on quarterback Zach Wilson. When a receiver picks a new team, the quality of the quarterback is important. However, it is not as important as the money, which usually drives the deal.

The Jets offered essentially the same deal that Hill signed with the Dolphins: a four-year, $120 million extension, a record for a receiver. It included $52.5 million in fully guaranteed money. The Jets were willing to go dollar for dollar with the Dolphins; they even offered a bigger Pro Bowl incentive than Miami. Rosenhaus characterized the Jets’ offer as “very competitive.”

In the end, the Dolphins sealed the deal, one of the biggest in a wild NFL offseason. It cost them five draft picks: a 2022 first-round pick (No. 29), a second-round pick (No. 50), and a fourth-round pick, plus fourth- and sixth-round picks in the 2023 draft Coach Mike McDaniel hasn’t stopped talking about Hill, saying the three-time All-Pro has capitalized on “an opportunity for him to take his game to another level in terms of leadership and tone.”

“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but we wanted to make a really strong offer to try and convince the player and the agent that this was a good place to be,” Douglas said at the time, calling it a “unique opportunity.” to acquire a premium player.

Rosenhaus traded with three teams: Dolphins, Jets and Chiefs. He revealed that Hill “seriously considered going back to Kansas City.” They were talking to the Chiefs about an extension, but Davante Adams’ new deal with the Las Vegas Raiders (five years, $140 million) altered the wide receiver landscape. In training camp, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach reflected on the trade, calling it “one of those tough decisions that’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”

Meanwhile, Hill loves life among the palm trees and the sun.

“It was very close to happening, but it was just those state taxes, man,” Hill told the South Florida media on Monday, explaining why he chose the Dolphins over the Jets. “I realized that I had to make an adult decision and here I am in a great city in Miami.”

Because Florida has no state income taxes, Hill saved millions on his contract. The Jets would have had to pay him roughly $58.75 million in guarantees to match the Dolphins’ $52.5 million, according to Robert Raiola, director of the sports and entertainment group at New York-based accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies. .

Aside from the money, Hill liked the idea of ​​playing for the Dolphins because he has a home in South Florida and works out there in the offseason, according to Rosenhaus, who said it was “hard to top that scenario.”

Still yearning for a playmaker, the Jets turned to the draft. That also caused some moments of anxiety.

Wilson was the No. 1 receiver on their board, slightly ahead of Drake London, and they were nervous about losing Wilson when the Seattle Seahawks were on the clock at No. 9. London was already gone: he was eighth to the Atlanta Falcons — and their intelligence told them the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints were looking to trade. (This was before the Eagles traded AJ Brown.) The Jets, sitting at No. 10, nearly traded places with the Seahawks. They stuck to their guns, a calculated risk that worked because they landed Wilson without having to put up working capital.

While the Jets’ front office considers Hill to be perhaps the most dangerous offensive playmaker in the league, they are absolutely thrilled to have the 22-year-old Wilson, who is much younger and cheaper than the 28-year-old Hill.

Wilson had heard about the Jets’ interest in Samuel, which came close to the draft, but didn’t know about Hill’s flirtation until a reporter mentioned it last week.

“Hopefully, over the next few years, I can show that they made the right decision,” Wilson told ESPN. “That comes with time. Those are proven veterans who come in and out every week and do it. I hold myself to a high standard. I’m not going to say that I feel like those guys are better than me or vice versa. At the end of the day I know what I bring to the table.”

Wilson is fast, but he’s not an extreme burner like Hill. Wilson’s superpower, as coaches like to call it, is an uncanny ability to use lower-body strength to break away from defenders. Zach Wilson said, “Sometimes it’s hard to throw the ball to him because he’s tricking me” with his movements. Wilson is second on the team in receptions (20) and tied with Corey Davis in receiving touchdowns (two).

But he is not the cheetah.

“He’s a little bit different; he races all over the world,” Garrett Wilson said of Hill. “That’s not me. I just can’t run for everyone. He’s a special talent.”

Hill might have been the most dynamic playmaker in Jets history, but the cost would have been steep. If the trade had gone through, they would have given up the picks that allowed them to draft first-round defensive end Jermaine Johnson and second-round running back Breece Hall. Both rookies have played significant snaps — Hall 137, Johnson 80 — helping contribute to a 2-2 record, the team’s best start since 2017.

Hill’s contract would also have altered his entire salary structure. His salary cap charges from 2022 to 2026 are a combined $90.6 million, compared to just $20.6 million for Wilson, an enormous amount of flexibility for the organization. Still, they were willing to take the plunge for Hill, in part, because they still have Zach Wilson on their rookie deal.

So everyone is happy, right?

“I think Miami is doing well, but they are ahead of the Jets in terms of their roster,” said a personnel executive who is not affiliated with either team. “The Jets are still in that rebuild, ‘who are we?’ They’re still formulating an identity with their staff. I’m a big fan of Tyreek Hill, but he wouldn’t have been the right fit for them.”

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