What you are about to read started out as a lengthy and detailed proposal of how the Jets should approach the coming offseason and try to build a better roster. And then Dalbin Osorio wrote up a plan that overlapped in a lot of key areas, but differed in a few others, and so I scrapped much of original one to focus on the ideas he didn’t. So, go read his. Okay, now that you’re back…
The New York Jets begin the 2020 offseason with $149 million in players under contract, under a salary cap estimated to go up $201 million. That gives the team $52 million in available cap space.
I concur that the Jets should cut Trumaine Johnson, clearing up $3 million in room under the salary cap. But the big catch is that the cap hit for cutting him, even before March 20, is $12 million in “dead money” and the dead money hit only gets worse after that date. At this point, it might make more sense to trade Johnson for anything – a 7th round pick, practice squad players – in exchange for paying some chunk of his base salary and getting the other team to pay any portion of it. If you can get another team to pay anything in next year’s salary, you’re freeing up the same amount of cap space as cutting him, at least getting a slightly lower hit to your expenditures, and you get whatever you gained in the trade. Some other team could get Trumaine Johnson at, say, $3 million a year in exchange for a late round pick or low-value player. I realize that a lot of general managers in the league would say Johnson isn’t worth anything, but… hey, give Dave Gettleman a call and sweet-talk him, see what happens.
In other words, not having Johnson taking up a roster spot is going to cost the Jets a lot, one way or another. The most depressing scenario is that Johnson’s cap hit in any manner that gets rid of him is such a hindrance that it makes more sense to keep him as the perpetually-inactive 53rd member of the roster. (Thanks a lot, Maccagnan.)
I concur on cutting G Brian Winters, CB Daryl Roberts, WR Josh Bellamy. Just by itself that frees up $15.4 million in cap room. I’d add S Mattias Farley to the cuts, free up another $1.2 million.
By my math, that creates $68.6 million in cap room.
I didn’t have cutting Quincy Enuwa among my original cuts, as Osorio recommends, but I didn’t count on him contributing, either. Maybe that $2.4 million in cap room can be better spent, but it all leaves $5.4 million in dead cap space. (The recurring theme of this entire plan is, “Thanks a lot, Maccagnan.”)
I really hated to do it, but I concurred with the recommendation to cut LB Avery Williamson before June 1, because that frees up $6 million in cap money. The drop-off to Neville Hewitt isn’t that terrible, and with Mosley back and Cashman in reserve, makes that just too much to invest in our second-best inside linebacker. For purposes of this exercise, I presumed the team could not renegotiate Williamson’s contract to make it more cap-friendly and that he wouldn’t take a pay cut.
Now we’re up to $77 million in cap room.
Then I would want to extend the players whose contracts are expiring and who we want to keep around. These guys are not big names and generally aren’t making big money:
- CB Brian Poole (current $3.5 million)
- OLB Brandon Copeland (current $1.45 million)
- ILB Neville Hewitt (current $1.5 million)
- OLB Jordan Jenkins (current $2.2 million)
- RB Ty Montgomery (currently $895,000)
- OG Alex Lewis (currently under contract $2 million)
- P Lach Edwards (currently $738,949)
- And just because he’s one of my dad’s favorites, attempt to resign OLB Frankie Luvu at $301,765.
For the purposes of this exercise, I calculated these players re-signed at sums slightly above their expiring contracts. That comes out to $12.75, let’s round up to $15 million. That gives you $62 million in cap room heading into the meat of free agency.
In free agency, you usually see teams spending a ton at those premium positions – offensive tackle, cornerback, and edge rushers, and sometimes wide receivers – and we happen to need upgrades at all of those positions. I’m going to do something of a hybrid approach – spending big at two positions and trying to address the remaining ones in the draft.
Osorio and Joe Caporoso recommend the Jets re-sign OT Kelvin Beachum; Osorio envisions a 3 year/$27M deal with $16.2M guaranteed. I don’t hate that move, but I’d really prefer to find an upgrade. As you might imagine, the options for free agent left tackles are slim pickings.
The only left tackle out there who looks like an upgrade is Anthony Castonzo of the Colts, who is entering his tenth season. But he’s playing like a top 6 or 7 left tackle in the NFL right now, and this is where I’m willing to break the bank. His last contract was a 4-year, $43.8 million contract with Indianapolis. Solid left tackles don’t come cheap. Let’s say three years, $49.5 million, coming out to $16.5 million per year. Remaining cap room: $45.5 million.
Then I go bonkers:
SIGN: Joe Thuney, left guard, age 26, New England Patriots. Current deal pays $2.2 million this year, four-year deal averaged just $803K. We offer $5 million per year for four years.
SIGN: Brandon Scherff, right guard, age 27, Washington Redskins – current deal averages $5.3 million, but it was really backloaded. We offer $6 million per year for four years.
SIGN: B.J. Finney, center and guard, age 28, Pittsburgh Steelers. He made $3 million this year; let’s offer $4 million per year for three years.
People are probably gasping that I’ve committed $30.5 million on the offensive line. But I’ve also just made it a new strength of the team and freed up flexibility in the draft.
I’m down to $30.5 million. The good news is that I have only one more offensive position I really need to address before the draft, wide receiver. (A speedy outside linebacker for the pass rush and at least one cornerback will have to wait until the draft, with one of our four picks in rounds two, three and four.)
Osorio suggests re-sign WR Robby Anderson to a 4 year/$52M deal with $26M guaranteed. My heart really wants to see Anderson stay in green and white. My head knows he’s probably going to get megabucks from some team and if I’m going to break the bank, I want to get a more consistent package. For the past two years, we’ve seen Anderson have great games, and then some quiet games. Rather than spend $13 or $14 million on Anderson, I’d rather offer $18 million – maybe even $19 million – to Amari Cooper. Let’s pencil him in for $19 million a year – a gargantuan sum, but now Sam Darnold has his indisputably number one receiver.
At this point, people might be gasping that the Jets are down to $11.5 million in cap room. But I’m not done yet!
I think the solid free agent cornerbacks will probably cost too much, so I’m going to have to address that in the draft. What I’m worried about is the backup quarterback; I know Gase loves Trevor Siemian but I just don’t feel like I’ve got a good sense of what he can do. If he is willing to re-sign for $2 million, fine. There are a bunch of interchangeable journeymen backup quarterbacks hitting the market next year – Chad Henne, Drew Stanton, Mike Glennon, Brett Hundley. The one name that stands out is the potential that the Titans don’t sign Marcus Mariota. I know he was benched for a reason, but just a year ago he completed 68.9 percent of his passes and a 92.8 passer rating. He strikes me as the kind of guy where if he has to come off the bench, you feel pretty good – and Darnold has missed six games in his first two years. Assume Mariota is willing to be a well-paid backup and pencil him in for a $3 million a year deal. That’s a lot for a backup, but as we saw this year, you lose your season if you lose your quarterback.
Now we’re down to $8.5 million, and people might be freaking out about running out of cap space. But there are bottom-of-the-roster cuts that can open up more space as need. Cutting OLB Jordan Willis saves $865,000. TE Ross Travis and DE Bronson Kafusi are currently on the books for $735,000 each. K Brett Maher is currently under contract for $660,000, as is RB Kenneth Dixon.
Every team in the league is assigned a rookie pool which is the maximum amount of cap room that can be used in the first cap year on rookies – which is based on the number of picks and how high they are. Last year in the NFL, the maximum was the Giants with $13.6 million and the Jets were $9.1 million. If the Jets need an extra million, they can also attempt to restructure a veteran contract here and there.
Then it’s on to the draft.
With the 11th pick, there are five options I like. Andrew Thomas, tackle out of Georgia; Jedrick Wills, tackle out of Alabama; Tristan Werfs, tackle out of Iowa, Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver out of Alabama, and CeeDee Lamb, wide receiver out of Oklahoma. In the draft simulator I’ve run, the only one remaining at the 11th pick is Lamb.
Using the draft simulator for five rounds, I selected Lamb; Julian Okwara, linebacker/edge rusher, Notre Dame; Jeff Gladney, cornerback, TCU; Trey Adams, tackle, Washington; Anthony McFarland, running back, Maryland, and Chase Claypool, wide receiver, Notre Dame. (If the 6th round pick turns into a contributor, wonderful; I’m not counting on it.)
Under my dream scenario, our depth chart/roster looks something like this:
QB: Sam Darnold, Marcus Mariota.
RB: Leveon Bell, Ty Montgomery, Anthony McFarland, Trenton Cannon or Josh Adams
WR: Amari Cooper, Vincynt Smith or Chase Claypool
WR: CeeDee Lamb, Braxton Berrios
WR: Jameson Crowder
TE: Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco.
LT: Anthony Castonzo, Conor McDermott
LG: Joe Thuney, Alex Lewis
C: B.J. Finney, Jonotthan Harrison
RG: Brandon Scherff
RT: Trey Adams, Chuma Edoga
LDE: Henry Anderson, Nathan Shephard
NT: Steve McLendon, Folorunso Fatukasi
RDE: Quinnen Williams
OLB: Jordan Jenkins, Terrell Basham
ILB: C.J. Mosley, Blake Cashman
ILB: Neville Hewitt, James Burgess
OLB: Julian Okwara, Brandon Copeland and/or Frankie Luvu
CB: Blessuan Austin, Brian Poole
CB: Jeff Gladney, Nate Hairston
FS: Marcus Maye, Blake Countess
SS: Jamal Adams
PK: Ficken, but I’m holding open auditions during camp looking for a better option.
P: Lach Edwards
PR: Braxton Berrios
KR: Vincynt Smith
Long Snapper: Thomas Hennessey
Pretty good, huh? Admittedly, this is not a perfect roster. We’ve had to spend big to plug holes at left tackle and wide receiver with Anderson gone, and we’ve seen free agents stink after getting their big contract (Trumaine Johnson). The depth is not where I’d like it to be; if the team has another year with 15 players ending up on injured reserve, they’re going to have another lousy year.
But you’ve got a much more solid offensive line, you keep LeVeon Bell, you’ve got three top-flight receivers for Darnold to throw to, and you’ve got a backup quarterback who can still win games if Darnold has to miss time. Darnold, with protection, throwing to weapons like Cooper, Lamb, Crowder, Bell, and either Herndon or Griffin should be a super-potent offense.
On defense, six of the front seven remain the same from one of the league’s best run-stoppers, with the hope that an addition like Okwara can add some more sacks coming around the end. In the defensive backs, the hope is that somebody like Gladney can step in and start on one corner and leave Gregg Williams with good options among Austin, Poole and Hairston. And Adams and Maye remain your foundation.
Probably the fairest criticism of this plan is that I’ve set up the Jets to have big headaches in a year or two with cap room. This plan doesn’t leave much room to extend Adams. We’re starting year three of Darnold’s rookie contract. But this is exacerbated by bad choices of the past: Mosley has to start producing big to justify the expense, and it’s fair to want to see more out of Bell. The contracts for Enunwa and Anderson look ridiculously bad from the perspective of today.
The philosophy I used in the scenario was, spend the money you need to get the players you want. Cap room is great to have on one day a year – the start of free agency – and then after a few days it becomes just a pile of money where a better player is supposed to be. We’ve seen the Jets have a ton of cap room for several consecutive years now. Cap room doesn’t get you wins; better players do. Bargain hunting at position A is only useful if it frees up funds for a player at position B.
One last point: as a team in the biggest city and media market in the country, the Jets should have a comparative advantage against other teams in free agency. The opportunities for endorsement deals, paid appearances, hobnobbing with celebrities and other perks of fame are bigger in New York City than anywhere else in the country, and only Los Angeles and maybe Miami come close. Players who want to be superstars should be gravitating to the Jets. The fact that they haven’t suggests that the other problems of the franchise are so glaring that they outweigh the benefits of being a star player in the Big Apple.
Eh, this is all a theoretical exercise anyway. It all assumes that NFL players want to play for Adam Gase.