Braxton Berrios came into this season as something of an afterthought, especially given the way the Jets bolstered their wide receiver room in the offseason.
Five-plus months later, he has become one of their more important free agents to try to bring back this offseason.
As a do-it-all kick returner, punt returner, wide receiver and gadget-play specialist, Berrios has emerged as a versatile and dependable weapon for the Jets — answering his own pledge to do “whatever, whenever.”
After Sunday’s season finale against the Bills, the question will become whether Berrios’ “whatever” and “whenever” includes the Jets and future seasons in Florham Park.
“Obviously I’m strictly focused on finishing the season with this team,” Berrios said Wednesday, declining to reveal whether his camp and the Jets have started any talks about an extension.
“I’ve said it before, I love the organization here. The coaching staff, the people in the locker room, the chefs, the trainers, through and through. Obviously that is well on the table. I’d love to be here. But that’s something for I guess Jan. 10 and moving on.”
As they likely will again this year (beyond a potential extension with Berrios), the Jets made wide receiver a focus last offseason when they signed Corey Davis and Keelan Cole before drafting Elijah Moore 34th overall. They joined a wide receiver corps that already included Berrios, Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims.
Berrios, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a quad contusion that coach Robert Saleh was “not overly concerned” about, is the only receiver who has played in all 16 games. Davis and Moore are both on injured reserve, Crowder has missed time with injuries and COVID-19, and Mims has been a disappointment in his sophomore season.
The combination of those injuries has opened the door for Berrios, 26, to see more snaps at receiver and he has taken advantage, especially of late. Over the past four weeks alone, the budding fan favorite has caught 20 passes (on 29 targets) for 180 yards and a touchdown while taking five carries for 25 yards and two more scores.
Saleh was asked on Wednesday whether the coaching staff was too slow to realize how much of an impact Berrios could make.
“I don’t know about slow, but what I do know is he’s very, very smart,” Saleh said. “He can play every position. That trust and reliability aspect of his game is obviously there, but what he’s really carved out a role in is the fact that, because he’s so smart and multiple, usually if you got a guy doing all the little gadget stuff, they usually struggle to run routes. It’s a lot of information that’s happening for these guys and he’s able to do it all and he does it pretty darn well. He’s a grinder. He’s gotten better every week.”
Berrios, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate as a returner — he’s leading the league averaging 30.4 yards on kick returns — has also developed an important chemistry with Zach Wilson. The rookie quarterback said last month that Berrios was “one of the most trusting and reliable receivers that we have on our team.”
Along with Berrios, the Jets’ top in-house free agents this offseason include safety Marcus Maye, guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and tackle Morgan Moses. Crowder and Cole are also on expiring contracts.
Before putting himself in position to earn a payday in the coming months, Berrios spent his entire rookie year in 2018 on IR with the Patriots and then was among their final cuts in 2019. He admitted Wednesday that doubts crept into his mind early in his career, but a persistent attitude has kept him ready to finally take advantage of a real chance with the Jets this season.
“Sometimes patience is needed, especially in this game,” Berrios said. “A long way to go, a lot to improve on, but I think as a general consensus, I made good on those opportunities. Luckily I was patient with it. I was the same guy every day. And all that just came to fruition.”