Jets’ Elijah Moore barely played vs. Patriots (for good reason): Will he have bigger role vs. Bills?

Jets’ Elijah Moore barely played vs. Patriots (for good reason): Will he have bigger role vs. Bills?

Jets head coach Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas both said this week that receiver Elijah Moore is still a huge and important part of this team’s future. But after he spent most of the Patriots loss watching from the bench, it’s unclear what his role will be Sunday against the Bills and beyond.

Moore, the talented but disgruntled 2021 second-round pick, was left at home two weeks ago for the Denver game after his frustration over a lack of opportunities boiled over into a shocking trade request three days before the game.

He returned Sunday against New England, but in a sharply reduced role compared to the one he was playing before the drama.

Moore played a career-low 10 snaps against the Patriots, 17% of the offense’s total, finishing with zero catches on one target.

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That’s a massive drop-off compared to just a few weeks ago. Moore played no fewer than 61 snaps and 87% of the offensive plays in the first four games this season.

Even once the Jets committed fully to the run, which meant more sets with multiple tight ends and fewer reps for all the receivers, Moore played 39 snaps (66%) in the win over the Dolphins and 32 snaps (58%) against the Packers.

So what gives?

Saleh was asked after the Patriots game, but didn’t provide much insight, saying it was “just a chance” to get rookie receiver Garrett Wilson more snaps with veteran Corey Davis out with a knee injury. He added that Moore’s reduction in playing time wasn’t related to his trade request.

That doesn’t exactly check out.

Since Moore and Davis both play primarily outside, that could have led to more opportunities for Moore. But those snaps went to Denzel Mims, who was inactive the first six games after requesting a trade in August when it became clear that he wouldn’t have a meaningful role in the offense.

Moore isn’t going anywhere – not for the next nine games, at least – after Tuesday’s trade deadline passed without a deal. He’s only 22 years old, with the speed and quick acceleration to make big plays every time he touches the ball – the Jets can’t let that kind of playmaker languish on the bench for most snaps in the final nine games.

Saleh admitted as much Wednesday, but he left the door open to Moore having a reduced role once again Sunday against the Bills.

“No, for sure we’ll find a way to make sure that it balances out the way we want it to,” Saleh said when asked about Moore’s lack of snaps against New England and his role going forward. “But at the same time … with Corey being down, getting Mims out there, keeping a bigger body out at the Z (outside/vertical wide receiver position), and Garett playing at such a high level right now to give him the opportunity to play football too, but you’re right we’ve got to make sure we find more opportunities to for E.”

So what’s really going on here? Let’s look at it logically. Two weeks ago, Moore had been first or second on the team in wide receiver snaps in each of the first six games – he led in receiver snaps the first three weeks and trailed only Davis in snaps the next three games after the Jets went more run heavy.

Then, he went public on social media with his frustration about his role in the offense, voiced his displeasure to the coaching staff a few days later and got sent home from practice, and then requested a trade with the team in the midst of its best start in more than a decade.

When he returned to action last week against the Patriots, Moore was fifth in wide receiver snaps, behind Wilson, Mims, Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith.

Saleh won’t say it publicly, but it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that he’s in the doghouse. And, honestly, that’s probably what’s best for the team right now. He’s not the only player in the locker room who is unhappy with his role. And he’s not the only one who went public with his dissatisfaction.

But he is the only player who handled his dissatisfaction with almost no regard for the overall good of the team. Yes, it was awkward when Mims requested a trade back in August and candidly spoke for the reason behind it: he felt like the coaches had already made up their mind that he wasn’t a starter on this roster.

His concerns were legitimate. And it had to be immensely frustrating when the Jets refused to trade him and made him a healthy scratch the first six games – denying him the chance to prove to anyone what he’s capable of or worth as he nears the end of his rookie contract. But Mims didn’t escalate it, he showed up to work and did what the team asked him to do.

Moore’s concerns were legitimate, too. He’s too talented to go an entire game without getting targeted, which is exactly what happened in the win over the Packers – the final game before Moore’s trade request. Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur needed to do a better job of getting him more involved.

But that became moot the moment Moore chose the nuclear option in the middle of a winning streak, creating a huge distraction by making his concerns and frustration more important than the team’s ultimate goal.

Jets players and coaches talk all the time, with great pride, about the new and better culture they’ve created over the past two years. But a winning culture is built on actions, not words – if you’re looking for evidence, check out the unmitigated disaster unfolding daily with the Brooklyn Nets.

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What kind of message would it have sent to the rest of the locker room had Moore returned against the Patriots, immediately restored to his previous role as a focal point in the offense as if nothing had happened? Certainly not a good one. And Saleh hinted that Moore could be in reduced role again Sunday when they play the Bills.

This can’t last forever. And it shouldn’t. Moore is a 22-year-old who made a bad decision. He shouldn’t have to pay for it for the rest of his life, or even the rest of the season. Moore is too talented, and the Jets have too much at stake in the final two months of the season to make him their No. 5 receiver.

At some point after the bye, they need to get him back to his usual role, and do a better job of getting him involved.

Sure, the Jets could use Moore playing a bigger role Sunday against the Bills. And Saleh will face criticism if Moore plays sparingly and they lose again. But losing the locker room would be a far worse fate.

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Andy Vasquez may be reached at [email protected].

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