<
>

Jets did homework on Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but risk-reward doesn't add up

The dash cam from a Florida Highway Patrol vehicle captured images of Austin Seferian-Jenkins' traffic stop and arrest. Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol

The New York Jets' decision to pick up the troubled Austin Seferian-Jenkins was surprising on two fronts.

It shows they still actually care about the tight end position, their version of the 12th man. The bigger story, though, was they chose to address the deficiency by taking on a player who was sitting in a jail cell only three days earlier.

Seferian-Jenkins was arrested and charged with DUI last Friday morning -- his second DUI arrest since 2013 -- and he was promptly fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A short time later, an embarrassing video surfaced on the internet -- taken from the police car's dash cam -- in which he actually talked himself into the arrest by rambling to police and making crude comments about having to go to the bathroom.

It's a bad optic for the player and the Jets, who, under the current regime, have a conservative track record with regard to players with character issues.

Yes, the Jets were aware of the video before claiming Seferian-Jenkins on waivers. Yes, they vetted him, digging into his past by talking to former coaches as far back as college. Truth be told, they've been targeting him for several weeks because they thought he might not survive the final roster cutdown at the end of the preseason. This wasn't a case where they started scrambling for intel as soon as he was released -- from jail and by the Bucs.

The Jets know this is a calculated risk, but they feel comfortable with it because there's no financial downside (none of his $677,000 salary is guaranteed) and because they believe their support staff in the organization will help Seferian-Jenkins with his issues. They also know he's subject to league discipline, but they're not sweating it because the league usually moves at a glacial pace, waiting for cases like this to be adjudicated before handing down a suspension.

No doubt, the Jets will try to defend the move by pointing to linebacker Erin Henderson as a player who overcame his issues with alcohol and turned around his life and career. But here's the difference between Henderson and Seferian-Jenkins: Henderson went to rehab and was out of football for a year, a period of soul-searching that taught him humility and allowed him to reorganize his priorities.

Seferian-Jenkins? He gets a new job immediately, with a chance to earn the same wage as he did from his previous employer. The Jets are sending a poor message by hiring someone who allegedly drove while intoxicated -- and made a fool of himself afterward. Seferian-Jenkins needs time to focus on his life, not football.

Off-the-field transgressions aside, he was considered a high-maintenance player by the Bucs' current coaching staff, which threw him out of practice in June because he wasn't prepared, according to coach Dirk Koetter. They didn't like his pattern of behavior and ran out of patience. I've talked to people who know Seferian-Jenkins, and they described him as a talented player who lacks maturity and a passion for the game.

As a rookie, Seferian-Jenkins was fined $11,000 by the league for his so-called "Captain Morgan" touchdown celebration. He placed one foot on the ball and posed like the Captain Morgan character in the rum company’s advertisements. Later, he posted on Instagram: “Everybody has a little captain in them.” He got an earful from then-coach Lovie Smith.

Is he worth it? Will he transform the tight end position? Seferian-Jenkins was a second-round pick in 2014, so you know there's talent.

"It's been the same story since he came out: talented coming out, but issues," an opposing personnel director said. "It's Year 3 now, and you're still waiting on the talent. You wait a little more, but the full dividend hasn't come yet. There are flashes of it, but he's not a difference-maker. He won't impact the running game, but he has some receiving ability."

Seferian-Jenkins, a 6-foot-5 target, has seven career touchdowns in 18 games, including a 30-yarder this season. But we all know tight end isn't a high-priority position for the Jets, who opted to stand pat last offseason, perhaps hoping Jace Amaro would blossom. Well, he didn't and now he's gone, so they're taking a flier on Seferian-Jenkins, who was drafted 11 spots ahead of Amaro in the same year.

Mike Maccagnan is a thoughtful and deliberate general manager, but apparently everybody has a little risk-taker in them.