For some, this period between free agency and the start of the season is the most exciting time in professional football. It is a time for hope and possibility. Before a cleat even touches turf, fans fantasize about what hot prospect their team may acquire and how they can improve the squad. With that in mind, we take a gaze at the New York Jets possible future using all the tools and educated guessing at our disposal. This article will account for salary cap (using the Salary Cap Calculator), average salaries, and signing bonuses (using SportTrac’s Records). It will also include a Mock Draft (DraftTek) and account for the rookie salary cap. For a better understanding of my logic see: Ranking Offseason Priorities for the New York Jets.
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Salary Cap (before all transactions): $21,011,558
First Order of Business – Cuts
It is a virtual certainty that some of the most iconic names from the 2009-12 Jets will be salary cap casualties before the start of free agency (March 11). Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes have likely played their last snaps in green and white. Sanchez will get a much needed change of scenery and a chance to earn himself a starting job. The mercurial Holmes will have to wait for a new contract, one that will likely not please the receiver. Antonio Cromartie, two seasons removed from a Pro-Bowl berth, played himself out of his current contract last season. Cromartie’s play dropped precipitously and is not worth the starting money he is currently set to make. Cromartie himself expects to be cut but expressed interest in returning to the Jets.
Salary Cap (after cuts): $45,801,558
In House Business – Re-Signings:
- Austin Howard: The first move the Jets will make will be to re-sign the big man. Though Howard is not a Pro Bowl candidate, he has solidified the right side of the line and proved to be a consistent presence. Howard has improved every year. He only gave up two sacks in 2013 and, though he has the occasional whiff, is a grinder in the run game. Contract: $4 million per year for 4 years, $3 million signing bonus with $750,000 prorated
- Antonio Cromartie: Cro wants to be in New York and New York wants him here. He has become a leader in the secondary and, when healthy, is one of the top corners in the game. The hope will be that his 2013 season was a fluke due to the lingering hip injury and that he will be fully recovered before the start of 2014. It would behoove John Idzik to not guarantee Cro’s contract and include a games-played incentive. Contract: $4 million per year for 2 years
- Calvin Pace: Though I imagine Pace’s signing comes late in the free agency period like last year, the Jets will resign the resurgent linebacker. Pace will be 34 next season and other teams will likely see his inflated sack totals as a result of the scheme and the dominant talent around him. That being said, Pace is consistent and deserving of another year in New York. Contract: $955,000 for 1 year
- Willie Colon: Colon provided the 2013 Jets with attitude and toughness upfront. He was an immediate leader and a positive locker room presence. Though the spot could (and should) be improved, Colon will be brought back to compete. Contract: $1.5 million for 1 year
- Nick Folk: Despite the Jets seemingly finding camp-fodder competition for Folk every year, he has been rock solid for New York. If Ryan Succop makes over two million per year then surely Folk deserves a raise. Simply put, pay the man! Contract: $2 million for 3 years
- Aaron Berry: Though this move may surprise some, it is a near certainty. Berry has been on the verge of playing serious snaps in his two seasons with the Jets but has been derailed by injury. He was put on injured reserve last season and was still being paid. If the Jets didn’t have plans for the cornerback then he would have been cut ages ago. That being said, don’t expect anything more than a one year deal with heavy incentives for playing time. Contract: $850,000 for 1 year
- Jeff Cumberland: Assuming Dennis Pitta stays in Baltimore, the 2014 free agent tight ends leave much to be desired. Brandon Pettigrew could be an option here but is already in talks with Detroit about a likely return. I think the Jets stick with the “devil you know” strategy and bring Cumberland back for another go around. However, Cumberland has proven he is no better than a secondary tight end in multiple tight end packages. He struggles to play in-line and is an ineffective blocker. The team will look to the draft a starter. Contract: $1 million per year for 1 year
*Note: I expect a team to outbid for Douzable and for him to start somewhere next year. Winslow, Reed, and Cribbs are done in New York.
Salary Cap (after re-signings): $32,791,558
And Now the Fun Part – Free Agency:
- Golden Tate: Tate is the most likely free agent wide receiver target for the Jets for a number of reasons. Decker will be overpaid and out of Idzik’s price range. Riley Cooper will be grossly overpaid. Jeremy Maclin will return to the Eagles. Anquan Boldin will return to the 49ers. Julian Edleman will return to the Patriots (Belichick will not make the Welker mistake twice). Hakeem Nicks and Emmanuel Sanders will not be options because, just, no. Furthermore, Tate fits Mornhinweg’s system well, Idzik was part of the room that drafted him, and he can automatically upgrade the return game. Tate is consistent, attacks the ball, and makes plays after the catch. Most importantly, he should be reasonably priced. Look for him to command around the same as Brian Hartline (≈$6.25 million per year) or Robert Meachem (≈$6.37 million per year). Contract: $7 million per year for 4 years, $10 million signing bonus with $2.5 million prorated
- Walter Thurmond III: At only 26 years young, Thurmond is at the top of his game. Some in Seattle regard him as as the best cover man in the Seahawks secondary after Richard Sherman. Thurmond excels at press on the outside but can shift inside and cover the slot. He is also incredibly scheme diverse. With questions about Cromartie’s health and Kyle Wilson’s long term viability, bringing a player like Thurmond in to compete is an adept move. His drug suspension, while worrisome, should drive his asking price down, similar to Mike Goodson last off season. A deal can be made that voids his contract if he is suspended for another drug related incident (recent precedent was set with Justin Blackmon’s contract). You can never have enough depth at cornerback, especially if you ask Rex Ryan. Contract: $4 million per year for 3 years with $3.33 million prorated
- James Jones: It has been reported that the Jets organization will look to upgrade not just the top level talent but the depth of the wide receiver position in free agency. Jones is the perfect candidate because unlike the aforementioned free agent crop, Jones comes with zero question marks and will not be overpaid. At age 30, Jones will still prove to be an upgrade at little cost and with low risk. Though it may be unpopular, this would be a very Idzikian move that would lessen the immediate need at the position when the draft rolls around. Contract: $3 million per year for 2 years
- Jon Asamoah: The Jets will look to create a four or five way competition at guard. Brian Winters, WIllie Colon, Oday Aboushi, and Will Campbell will all be in consideration. However, while this free agent guard class is not outstanding, there are upgrades to be had. One could liken signing Asamoah to the Peterson signing last offseason but with more upside. Asamoah is young (26) and before being benched last season, showed the talent to start at this level. Because of his benching, Asamoah will likely come cheap and could lessen the need for Winters to start if he is still not ready. Asamoah won’t top Matt Slauson’s contract with the Bears ($3.2 million per year). Contract: $2.5 million per year for 2 years
- Chad Henne: Make no mistake, Geno Smith will likely be a 16 game starter for the Jets next season. However, the depth behind him is non-existent and should he struggle or get injured the Jets would be in a bad spot. Henne could spot start and push Smith in camp. Another passer may be an option (e.g. Shaun Hill) but Henne (28) makes the most sense as a long term backup/spot starter. Contract: $1 million per year for 2 years
Salary Cap (after Free Agency): $12,363,225
The Ones that Got Away:
There is a very high demand for a safety upgrade in New York. However, the board doesn’t seem to be breaking in the Jets favor. TJ Ward, if he hasn’t inked a new contract before the franchise period ends, will be tagged. Donte Whitner has expressed serious interest in returning to the Bay and a willingness to be tagged or even take a hometown discount. Stevie Brown, who would be a cheaper upgrade, is on the verge of re-signing with the Giants. I expect the Jets to take a serious run at Jarius Byrd but alas, will be outbid. Byrd wants to be the highest paid saftey in the NFL, a title currently held by Eric Berry who is set to earn $50,045,000 with a whopping 51% guaranteed. Byrd’s new contract will exceed nine million dollars per year (Polamalu made $9,866,667 last year, Berry made $8,340,833) and be way out of the Jets price range. Byrd will also require a signing bonus that, on the low end, will be approximately ten million dollars. That would require the Jets spending over twenty million dollars on him this year alone (leaving the Jets with under two million dollars in cap space for the rookies). Let some other team take that hit. Landry, Allen, and a rookie safety will do fine for another season.
The Rule of 51 and the Rookie Salary Cap
As part of the new CBA, the Rule of 51 states that only the 51 richest contracts on an NFL roster count towards the salary cap. This rule allows teams to have the average 90+ players enter camp. Teams can sign veterans to reasonable contracts, only to cut them in camp. Because their salaries don’t count until the final 53 is decided, if a veteran is outplayed by a cheaper player, the vet can be cut with few cap implications (e.g. Antonio Garay and Braylon Edwards). Further more, it means that most rookie salaries don’t count towards the cap. In fact, when you account for the average rookie salary by round, only first and second round picks (≈$1.5 million in the first year) would count towards the 51. Therefore, you only need to account for ≈$3 million for rookies. Speaking of rookies…
- Round 1 – Pick 18: Marquise Lee – WR
- Round 2 – Pick 49: Kyle Van Noy – OLB
- Round 3 – Pick 69: Ahmad Dixon – S
- Round 3 – Pick 80: CJ Fiedorowicz – TE
- Round 4 – Pick 111: Donte Moncreif – WR
- Round 5 – Pick 142: David Fales – QB
- Round 6 – Pick 179: Michael Campanaro – WR
- Round 7 – Pick 211: Dri Archer – RB
*Jace Amaro, Odell Beckham JR, and Allen Robinson were still on the board at 18 but I like Lee’s ceiling the most and was impressed by what he has been able to do with inconsistent QB play.
**Amaro, Austin Seferian Jenkins, and the rest of my first and second round rated WRs were taken by 49. Van Noy was tremendous value that late in the second and could be an immediate starter opposite Coples.
***I took Dixon as he was my BPA and had good value at the spot. I took the risk that Fiedorowicz, who I considered at that spot, would be available with the second third rounder.
**** Fales (5th round) and Archer (7th) were both amazing value picks. Fales was considered a first rounder in some circles and Archer has drawn favorable comparisons to Gio Bernard. I doubt Archer will be there in the 7th but if he is the Jets should jump. Archer could be a game changer and Fales would provide good depth and competition for Smith.
Salary Cap (after the Draft): $9,353,225
The approximately nine million left over allows the team extra flexibility (see camp cuts/extensions) and good cap space for the next 3 seasons:
- 2015 – $37,085,830
- 2016 – 63,884,083
- 2017 – $92,914,000
One thing to remember is that with Colon/Asamoah, Cro/Thurmond, James Jones/Rookie(s), the chances are that some of these signings don’t make the final 53.
Without Further Ado – Final 53:
- QB: Smith, Henne, Fales
- HB: Ivory, Powell, Goodson, Archer
- FB: Bohanon
- WR: Tate, Lee, Jones, Kerley, Nelson, Moncreif, Salas, Campanaro
- TE: Fiedorowicz, Cumberland, Sudfeld
- OL: Mangold, Ferguson, Howard, Winters, Colon, Asamoah, Ijalana, Aboushi, Schlauderaff
- DL: Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison, Ellis, Coples (DE/LB)
- LB: Harris, Davis, Van Noy, Pace, Barnes, Bellore, Mauga
- CB: Cromartie, Milliner, Thurmond, Wilson, Berry, Walls
- S: Landry, Allen, Dixon, Bush
- Specials: Folk, Quigly
Sound off in the comments!