Breaking Down the New York Jets Salary Cap: Where Is the Money Best Spent?

John Shea@real_johnsheaContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2013

Breaking Down the New York Jets Salary Cap: Where Is the Money Best Spent?

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    A bounty of potential franchise-altering decisions are imminent for the New York Jets this offseason.

    The team still hasn't hired a new general manager to lead the charge in determining how next season's 53-man roster will be assembled, although the Jets' most critical offseason priorities have already been set forth.

    The Jets need to add an influx of fresh talent to a suddenly depleted roster hindered by outrageous veteran contracts. They need to eliminate the Tebow stigma and acquire players capable of immediately delivering on offense, under an offensive coordinator yet to be named.

    The Jets essentially need to reinvent themselves under the leadership of a man seemingly undeserving of a head coaching job, and it won't be easy.

    ESPN's John Clayton has professed that the Jets are about to endure the worst salary cap situation in the entire NFL, which subsequently points toward a team apparently desperate just to scrape by in 2013.

    Still, New York's boisterous leader and former vocal enthusiast is in a dire must-win dilemma headed into next season.

    Will the dichotomy separating head coach from GM further pummel the Jets into the football abyss? The division between decision-makers is reluctantly on level with what needs to be done fiscally.

    The Jets currently sit $17,045,333 over the estimated $120 million NFL salary cap for the 2013 season, according to NYJetsCap.com.

    They can create $30.7 million in cap space by cutting ties with LB Bart Scott, LB Calvin Pace, S Eric Smith and OT Jason Smith, although the corresponding transactions would result in just ten starters under contract for the 2013 season.

    The following explains which areas of player personnel the Jets should spend their limited funds on over the course of the offseason:

5. Wide Receiver

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    The Jets are devoid of playmakers at multiple offensive positions, but the area most clearly lacking talent (other than quarterback) is wide receiver.

    Embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez was abnormally bad in 2012 but was also deprived of a receiving corp with playmaking ability. The Jets needs to allocate a chunk of limited funds toward bolstering the team's talent pool of receivers.

    At this juncture, it seems like a no-brainer to re-sign Braylon Edwards. He's a formidable wideout, capable of slanting across the middle of defenses or streaking down the sidelines to snag catches. From the Jets viewpoint, Edwards should be a low-risk, high-reward brand of player.

    The Jets would have a balanced foundation at wideout if they re-sign Edwards, if Santonio Holmes can approach past production (654 receiving yards, eight touchdowns in 2011) and if Jeremy Kerley fulfills his promise (56 receptions, 827 receiving yards in 2012).

    Still, the Jets are desperate for speed, but Cleveland Browns free-agent receiver Josh Cribbs could fix that problem.

    Cribbs is an explosive player who can alter the complexion of a football game. He was phased out of Pat Shurmur's defunct offense last season, pulling in just seven receptions for 63 yards.

    Cribbs has expressed frustration in not being utilized on offense after eight seasons of being limited to the roles of kick and punt returner.

    The Jets need to be creative in adding talent to their roster in 2013. Edwards and Cribbs are affordable offseason targets capable of igniting a defective passing attack.

4. Offensive Line

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    The Jets' offensive line was spotty at best in 2012, allowing 47 sacks to rank among the least efficient fronts in the NFL.

    Sanchez was forced into a multitude of pocket-collapsing situations, which encouraged the turnover-prone quarterback to commit mistakes. The offensive front failed to effectively open up running lanes for featured back Shonn Greene, resulting in a stagnant rushing attack.

    The Jets will retain left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold in 2013—two building blocks in reconstructing a formidable OL.

    The rest of the line is in limbo, though.

    Long-time Jets right guard Brandon Moore is unlikely to return to the team in 2013 after ten seasons in green and white. His counterpart, left guard Matt Slauson, is also free agent eligible and expected to seek a multi-year contract.

    Right tackle Austin Howard is a restricted free agent. The first-year starter showed flashes of improvement throughout the season and could reclaim his role as right tackle for the Jets next season.

    Pro Bowl offensive lineman aren't cheap, so it's unrealistic for the Jets to land a premier free agent like Kansas City Chiefs OT Brandon Albert. Still, there are several impact lineman hitting free agency this offseason, and the Jets need to replace at least one offensive guard and ideally upgrade the right tackle position.

    Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre and New York Giants' guard Kevin Boothe are among potential suitors to replace Moore. The Jets should look toward the draft to upgrade at tackle, although it wouldn't be ghastly for Howard to reclaim his starting role.

3. Defensive Front

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    The Jets failed to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout the entirety of the 2012 season. They also suffered gashing defeats at the cost of bad run-tackling en route to surrendering an unacceptable total of 133.6 rushing yards per contest last season.

    Still, the Jets boasted a defense that ranked eighth overall—courtesy of a monumental effort from the secondary, which excelled despite the absence of Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.

    The defensive front is a cornerstone in Ryan's blitz-oriented scheme, which means the team needs pass-rushers capable of coming off the edge and penetrating the backfield. This is why the Jets' top free agent priority this offseason is Mike DeVito.

    The 28-year-old beast is about to command significant interest in the free-agent market, but he ought to be most valued by the Jets. DeVito combined for 52 tackles in 2012 and also tallied three stuffs, two forced fumbles and one sack.

    He's a staple in the Jets defense.

    In addition to retaining DeVito, the Jets need a new nose tackle. It's expected that the Jets will cut ties with veteran Sione Pouha, who represents over $6.1 million of the team's 2013 salary cap and who battled critical injuries last season. Second-year player Kenrick Ellis hasn't emerged as a capable replacement, so expect the Jets to draft a future nose tackle, such as Purdue DT Kawann Short.

    Short would be a terrific value if he drops to the Jets in the second round, which is a distinct possibility depending on his performance in the scouting combine. Short is outrageously strong, able to squat over 600 pounds and bench press more than 400 pounds. His 315 pound body and enormous strength, combined with his ability to occupy two blockers in the trenches, could make him a perennial force on the defensive front.

2. Safety

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    Last season was bad for the Jets, but it would have been uglier if the team didn't benefit from standout seasons from several defensive backs.

    LaRon Landry emerged as one the best free safeties in the NFL, registering career highs in a few vital defensive categories. Landry played all 16 games for the first time since 2008; he recorded 99 combined tackles, eight pass deflections, four forced fumbles, three stuffs and two interceptions. His market value is about as strong as a safety's stock could possibly be heading into free agency.

    The Jets' devastating salary cap situation will prevent the team from retaining DeVito and Landry. Two of their best defensive players are up for new contracts in an offseason where the Jets will be forced to be innovative just to fill the 53-man roster.

    At this juncture, it's apparent that DeVito ranks higher on the team's free-agent wish list than Landry, but that won't deter the Jets from at least attempting to snag a hometown discount. After all, Landry flourished in Ryan's brand of defense.

    Expect the Jets to retain veteran safety safety Yeremiah Bell, who had a terrific season in 2012, rivaling Landry's excellence. Bell registered 89 combined tackles, three fumble recoveries and two stuffs last season. He's affordable, dependable and should net another one-year contract with the Jets.

    In the absence of Landry, the Jets will look towards finding a replacement with similar attributes—a hard-hitter with premium open-field tackle ability.

    Bills' FS Jairus Byrd (76 tackles, five INTs) and St. Louis Rams' FS Craig Dahl (71 tackles, one INT) are potential fits. Dahl has already indicated he doesn't intend on returning to the Rams, according to ProFootballWeekly.com.

1. Linebacking Corps

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    The Jets' front office needs to be creative if it expects to revamp multiple, critical areas of the team. The defense is the forefront of Ryan's coaching concept, making it paramount for the brain trust to completely reignite the team's front seven on defense.

    It's expected that the Jets' future GM will cut ties with several distinct trademarks of Ryan's formerly brutish defense, such as Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace and "Can't Wait" phenomenon Bart Scott. Those decisions combined with others will free up moderate cap space for the Jets to compile a full roster.

    The Jets need to find a new cornerstone for Ryan's specialized defense. How can that be accomplished while also leaving adequate cap space for the team to fill other critical areas of need?

    The Jets need to land Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the 2013 NFL draft.

    There's a high likelihood that the Jones will become unavailable when the Jets are on the clock on April 25, although Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.com charts Jones as being selected by the Jets in his 2013 NFL Mock draft.

    Jones is the type of immediate impact player whom the Jets need on defense. His strength and agility enables him to break off the edge to pummel ball-carriers and drop back into coverage. He's a perfect fit for the Jets' 3-4 base scheme and is the type of player Ryan would drool over.

    Drafting Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft would immediately alter the direction of the Jets.