Salary Cap Update – Lito is NOT a UFA

As I mentioned a few days ago, the NFL’s unexpected interpretation of the RFA rules (that a non-tendered RFA can be freely signed by a final 8 team) had cast doubt upon whether Lito Sheppard could be treated as a UFA loss if the Jets renounced their rights to him, as we had previously been told.

Jason from e-mailed us to say that he has finally got to the bottom of this:

I have it confirmed that Lito will NOT count as a UFA. The Jets refusal to not pick up the option does not void the contract as originally thought. His option is simply tied into the last year of his contract and that is it.

Unfortunately, this means that the Jets cannot sign a UFA to replace him, which is a shame because his cap number is likely to be higher than any of the UFAs the Jets have. (Remember, the cap number in the first year for anyone you sign cannot exceed that of the outgoing UFA).

We should therefore revisit my previous article about whether the Jets could sign a free agent in Dunta Robinson’s price range. As you may recall, it was Lito that I used in my example, with an estimated 2010 cap number of $3m. It does seem unlikely that any of the Jets current UFAs will command a first year cap charge that high. However, I am not prepared to tap out yet.

With teams likely to front load any short term deals in order to make most of the money fall into the uncapped year, a team could sign a $5.25m, three year contract with a $3m cap number in 2010 and still comply with the 30% and 50% rules. With Jay Feely having received $1.5m last year and apparently holding out for more than that (coupled with the fact that Sebastian Janakowski just signed a $4m per year deal), I don’t think it’s impossible that he signs a deal like this. Unfortunately, you cannot combine the cap numbers of more than one UFA loss to sign one replacement and the other potential losses (Douglas, Izzo, Dearth, etc) and less likely to sign a deal that big.

The Dunta article still serves as a good example of how a UFA they might get could be more expensive than the outgoing UFAs, who are mostly minimum salary-level guys. Do I think it’s likely they’ll get a free agent in Dunta’s price range? No. Impossible though? Not yet. I should also mention the slim possibility that the Jets could find a way to avoid the 30% rules (and increase the value of a contract with a big bonus payment), as some teams were able to do this season.

We shall continue to try to keep on top of these issues for you…