Guest Post: Worst Case Scenario

While Bassett’s away communing with nature or whatever in Wyoming, we’ve asked some of the best writers on the web to step in and show TJB readers what real writing is about. Today’s guest post is from our good friend Jason of NYJetsCap.com, who we’ll be keeping close contact with over the next few weeks as we negotiate the minefield that is the impending onset of free agency. Thanks, Jason! Take it away…

With talk of the lockout’s end spreading like wildfire over the last few days, there have been a number of fans concerned about just where the Jets stand with the 2011 salary cap. There have been multiple rumored cap figures being thrown around from various reporters, such as ESPN’s John Clayton, and NFL Insiders, such as Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post. The figures range anywhere from about $120 million to about $130 million, depending on what concessions the Union made in the first year of the new CBA in an effort to keep the traditional high spending teams like the Dallas Cowboys from being forced to cut veterans left and right in order to comply with a cap figure that is probably $15 million lower than projected when contracts were all signed.


So let’s try and clear up a few things before getting all excited about the Jets cap situation, which was reported to be around $120 million by Clayton a few weeks back.

Here is how that number has been arrived at: The Jets currently have about $102 million in official cap commitments for 2011. That is the number for all the players currently under contract to the team. ILB David Harris signed a franchise tender, rumored to be for $10.2 million. The NFL is also tracking dead money for players released following the 2010 season. The Jets had three big names released and they account for about $8.6 million. When you add those numbers together, you come up with Clayton’s figure of $121.3 million.

The most important thing to note about the cap, as Bent has been stressing the last few days, is that nobody knows just what will and will not count against the cap in 2011.

The Harris tender was never recognized by the Union as a valid contract. New language in the CBA may change the way a franchise tag operates by making a distinction between the middle and outside linebacker position. If that proves to be true, Harris’ franchise value will drop by a few million.

With the exception of the people in the negotiating room, nobody knows how the league will treat the dead money created by the cuts made right before the lockout began. Had the Jets thought that money would remain in the cap calculations, at the very least they would have held onto T Damien Woody.

Those salary cap figures also include close to $4 million in workout bonus money that was never earned due to the lockout. How will that be treated? Nobody knows. The Jets had two players that tried to work out during the very brief lifting of the lockout, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and DE Mike DeVito, but both were turned away. Will any of that money count? Nobody knows until the CBA gets into the hands of the owners and players, at which point it will very quickly end up in the hands of the general public.

Even assuming the worst – which is very easy to do for a time-tested Jets fan who has been trained to not just assume, but expect, the worst – the Jets have a number of avenues to create cap room to allow them to sign their free agents and rookies. Let’s take a look at the obvious ways to do that:

Restructures/Renegotiations

Mark Sanchez – Sanchez signed a contract back in 2009 that was pretty much signed to force the Jets hand into a renegotiation in 2011, unless the salary cap exploded in 2011. The $17.7 million cap hit Sanchez carries is not unexpected and both the Jets and Sanchez should have expected to rework the contract around this time. A very simple way to rework the contract is to pay Sanchez a $10 million prorated bonus, add an extra year onto his salary and reduce his base salary to $4.75 million.

(Cap Savings – $7,500,000)

David Harris – For the sake of argument, let’s say the $10.2 million tender is valid. It is an unrealistic number for an inside linebacker and the offer was simply made to maintain exclusive negotiating rights with Harris. Personally, I don’t believe that Harris is a better player than Bart Scott, or more important to the team than Scott and I don’t think he will end up with a contract close to Scott’s 6-year $48 million market setter, but we will assume that is what the Jets will pay him. Under the original terms of Scott’s contract, Scott would have earned a first year cap charge of $5.45 million, a far cry from $10.2 million.

(Cap Savings – $4,750,000)

Jim Leonhard – The Jets have a significant amount of leverage with Leonhard, scheduled to count for $2.4 million in cap charges. Leonhard is in the final year of his contract and is coming off a major injury. If the team was to release him, he would only count for $330,000 in dead money. If the Jets offer him a one or two year extension with an opportunity to make back his salary this year down the line, he should jump at the opportunity. The Jets should be able to reduce his cap charge to $1.5 million.

(Cap Savings – $900,000)

Mike DeVito – DeVito has been a good soldier with the Jets, who quietly extended him in 2009. DeVito, totally unproven at the time, ended up with a contract with no job security that comes in the form of a signing bonus. He has developed into a solid rotational player for the team. He might be open to a two year extension onto his current deal where he gets the signing bonus needed for some job protection. I haven’t given his contract any thought, but a $4 million bonus now in lieu of some salary the next two years might get the job done.

(Cap Savings – $850,000)

Releases:

Bryan Thomas – Thomas has been a non-descript player for most of his career with the Jets, but has managed to remain with the team since 2002. The Jets do like his versatility, but the reality is they have been trying to replace him since he admittedly didn’t try very hard in 2007 after signing a new contract in late 2006. He’ll be given a take it or leave it ultimatum, with the take it offer probably not being much more than $1 million. My guess is that he will leave it.

(Cap Savings – $3,700,000)

LaDainian Tomlinson – I really enjoyed having Tomlinson on the team last year and he pulled off a miracle early in the campaign before tailing off at the end of the season. Expecting anything close to last year is just not realistic and with $3.1 million due in cash, it’s hard to see him on the team. The Jets have three other sets of much younger and fresher legs on the club, which should make him the odd man out. He seems to desperately want to be on the Jets, so when they give him the take it or leave it offer for the veterans minimum, he may just take it, but there is a good chance he will be released.

(Cap Savings – $3,125,000)

A Few Additional Notes:

NT Sione Pouha could also see his contract reworked if the Jets want to keep him beyond 2011. He is scheduled to count for $2.45 million, but the Jets may not want to extend him. They drafted Muhammed Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis to play on the line and are still high on Ropati Pitoitua, whose 2010 season was derailed by injury, who might be a lower cost and much younger version of Pouha … Calvin Pace will be asked to take a pay cut, but his high dead money charge gives him a lot of leverage. He will be in trouble if the dead money players from 2010 do not count against the cap in 2011, or if there is something of a one time cap free cut in the new CBA … Darrelle Revis will make $7 million in 2011 salary, but if the Jets were to prorate more money for him to reduce his cap charges in 2011 he would have the leverage in 2013 to get the crazy money he talked about when he held out last summer. No chance the Jets give him that leverage just to create a few million in cap room in 2011 …

Final Conclusion

If the Jets did all of the things outlined above, they would create an additional $19.8 million in cap room, once you factor in the replacement costs for BT and LT, to play with in the new league year. Using Clayton’s salary numbers, that will give the Jets around $18.7 million to sign their rookies and re-sign the key free agents.

Assuming rookies will effectively cost around $2.5 million in cap room, the Jets should have a budget of $14.2 million to play with in free agency, which would leave them around $2 million in wiggle room during the season. Is it enough to sign Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Antonio Cromartie? Maybe not, but it’s certainly a far better “worst case” scenario than most people seem to believe the Jets are in.

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Jason runs the unofficial NY Jets cap site, details from which have regularly contributed to articles across the internet over the past few years. Follow Jason on twitter – @nyjetscap.