The New York Jets have plenty of work to do in free agency this offseason, both in keeping their own players and signing new ones. Their most important job will be finding thrifty pickups in free agency using their relatively small amount of remaining cap space.
While star cornerback Darrelle Revis will be a hot topic, decisions regarding him are unlikely to be made any time soon. The Jets' 2013 season will hinge more on how the Jets' front office deals with the platoon of unrestricted free agents that need to be re-signed and how certain key holes are filled on both offense in defense.
Everything you need to know as a fan this offseason is right here. Here is the complete guide to the Jets' 2013 free-agency situation.
The New York Jets have plenty of work to do in free agency this offseason, both in keeping their own players and signing new ones.
The key to understanding the Jets' cap situation is ignoring much of the noise floating around. The Jets' cap situation has been exaggerated by many, mostly due to ignoring some obvious points. New York had several players—most importantly Jason Smith and Calvin Pace—with gigantic non-guaranteed contracts that were designed to be terminated. These players were released on schedule, suddenly freeing up around $30 million in cap space that was already free for all intents and purposes.
The Jets have $114.6 million of active cap usage. The 2013 salary cap is reportedly being set to $123.9 million. The Jets also have $4.8 million in dead money, putting their current cap space at a relatively minimal $4.5 million.
Some of the contracts remaining are designed to be renegotiated or terminated during the course of the offseason. Nose tackle Sione Pouha's is a key one, with $3.8 million in potential cap savings, accounting for all the potentially dead money. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow is another likely cap casualty, with $1.1 million in potential cap savings.
The next most likely cap saving would come from a renegotiation with wide receiver Santonio Holmes, but that cannot be counted on. Thus, a conservative estimate would be $4.9 million in additional savings, putting the Jets cap space at $9.4 million.
Players Who Cannot Be Cut
Some players effectively cannot be cut, because cutting them would cause a negative cap savings. This occurs because for contracts with heavily guaranteed money, the dead money exceeds the base cap savings.
The primary player in this category is quarterback Mark Sanchez. Due to the structure of his contract, it would be much more financially wise to have Sanchez sit on the bench and earn a pay check than it would be to cut him. The nature of this contract is what makes it difficult to trade Sanchez. Thus, there is no chance at all of Sanchez being cut in 2013.
The Jets have a truckload of unrestricted free agents this offseason. I list them here based on how likely they are to return and how vital they are to the Jets' roster.
Almost Guaranteed to Return
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards is not a highly desirable wide receiver at this point in his career. He was dumped by the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks without receiving much playing time. With the Jets having one of the thinnest wide receiver groups in the NFL, it makes sense for Edwards to stay. New York is probably the only place he could receive playing time.
Kicker Nick Folk had a resurgent year and is likely to stay as well.
Important to Keep
Defensive end Mike DeVito is an unsung hero for the Jets, and the team should try its best to keep him. He plays primarily end but can also fill in at nose tackle, which he had to do when both Sione Pouha and Kenrick Ellis were injured in 2012. He is a high-effort player and is excellent against the run.
Safety Yeremiah Bell is also a vital asset to the team. Currently, both starting safeties are unrestricted free agents.
Former Pro Bowler and starting right guard Brandon Moore might be expensive to keep, but he is an anchor along the offensive line and should be kept unless his market price explodes.
Likely to Leave
Running back Shonn Greene is likely to be allowed to go to another team, perhaps the Denver Broncos or Atlanta Falcons. He had a disappointing season, and backups Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight can fill his role.
Tight end Dustin Keller had a great relationship with quarterback Mark Sanchez. However, with Sanchez's starting job in peril, Keller's value is diminished. Backup Jeff Cumberland was as effective in 2012 as Keller, who would require a much higher salary than Cumberland. Keller is likely to "hit the open market" (via Brian Bassett of TheJetsBlog.com and Brian Costello of the New York Post).
Left guard Matt Slauson is a tough one to call, but he might be hitting the open market as well. The Jets might not want to shell out money for both Moore and Slauson. It may be one or the other.
Should Be Let Go
Safety LaRon Landry is demanding an enormous contract and should be let go.
Wide receiver Chaz Schilens is not an NFL-quality receiver and should be gone in 2013, especially if Braylon Edwards stays. Schilens received playing time in 2012 only because of the multitude of injuries to Jets receivers.
Linebacker Bryan Thomas will probably be gone, especially if the Jets draft a linebacker. Thomas received heavily diminished snaps in 2012 due to his age. The only way he could stay would be on a minimum contract.
Fullback Lex Hilliard had a poor season in 2012 but might be kept on a minimum contract.
The Jets have four restricted free agents this offseason. The most important one to keep is tight end Jeff Cumberland. After missing nearly all of 2011 due to injury, Cumberland had a breakout 2012 season. He demonstrated that he is equal in ability to starting tight end Dustin Keller. If Keller leaves for more money, then Cumberland needs to be signed to fill in as the 2013 starter.
A second key player is right tackle Austin Howard. He can be tendered for as little as $2.02 million, so expect to see him back in a Jets uniform.
Linebacker Josh Mauga was a potential starter for the Jets before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. The injury means he can be re-signed cheaply and most likely means he will remain a Jet in 2013.
The fourth restricted free agent—Tanner Purdum—is the long snapper, an unheralded position. Long snappers do not garner rich contracts, so expect him to get only a modest offer from the Jets.
None of these four restricted free agents are blockbuster players. They all have value to the Jets, but none command major market attention.
The most important point regarding the franchise tag is that safety LaRon Landry cannot be tagged due to the details of his contract. Thus, anyone predicting Landry will receive the Jets' franchise tag is going to be disappointed.
The three players who reasonably might receive the Jets' tag are tight end Dustin Keller, right guard Brandon Moore and running back Shonn Greene.
However, it is relatively unlikely that any of these players will receive it. Keller and Greene will probably be allowed to test the open market. Moore—even if he is kept—can likely be signed for less than the franchise tag would cost. Currently, the franchise tag cost for an offensive lineman is $9.8 million, which is far more than Moore deserves.
The franchise tag cost is so high for Moore because the tag is fixed for all offensive linemen in the NFL. That means that a left tackle or center gets the same tag price as an offensive guard. For this reason, it is not often wise to franchise tag a guard.
More likely than not, the Jets simply will not tag any of their players this offseason.
The New York Jets' biggest need as a team is at the quarterback position.
The trio in 2012 of Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy was arguably the worst in the NFL. However, given the nature of this year's draft class and free-agent market, there might not be any major splash here for the Jets.
Sanchez's contract is structured to keep him on the team for one more year before he can be easily released. As such, the Jets' next franchise quarterback might be signed in 2014 rather than 2013. Expect to see a handful of inexpensive pickups and a competition in training camp.
Right tackle is a clear team need. With established veterans at the other four offensive line positions (counting Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson who are free agents), right tackle is the weak spot.
Austin Howard did a passable job in 2012 but not an impressive one. He might be kept as an inexpensive starter, since he is a restricted free agent. However, he could also be replaced by a better, veteran option.
Linebacker is the Jets' biggest source of need on defense. With no clear-cut starting linebackers on the roster, expect the Jets to spend a high draft pick (probably a first-round pick) on a linebacker.
The most likely outcome of this offseason is that Demario Davis will earn a starting linebacker job, and two other starting jobs will go to players not yet on the roster.
If players like Bart Scott or Calvin Pace are kept or re-signed, it will more likely than not be in only situational roles.
Garrard seems to be one of the camp bodies that the Jets are willing to bring in and his price would be right, but he would offer a real shot for the Jets as a starter. Garrard though has had health issues that have prevented him from playing the last two seasons, and he’s 35 now. While he’s big, physical and able to read progressions and coverages and can be accurate with the football, it seems risky to chance the Jets 2013 season on him being able to play 16 games.
An 11-year veteran, Garrard has been an above average starting quarterback for the bulk of his career. However, injuries have prevented the 2009 Pro Bowler from playing in the regular season these past two years. If healthy, he is a clear upgrade over Mark Sanchez.
Former first-round draft pick Brady Quinn is not showing a lot of promise at this point in his career. His interceptions still outnumber his touchdowns for his career.
The Jets have expressed interest in giving him a tryout. However, given that the Jets are looking to bring in at least five quarterbacks to compete this offseason, it seems unlikely that Quinn would do more than add temporary competition. Brian Bassett of the TheJetsBlog.com questions the seriousness of this pursuit:
It’s hard to gauge how serious the team’s interest is in Quinn. Quinn flourished in a [West Coast offense] during his college days at Notre Dame but was never able to translate his weight room work to the field in the NFL. Quinn has a poor feel for the pass rush and holds the ball too long. Quinn can struggle to diagnose coverages and can’t throw deep passes with accuracy.
With Ryan Tannehill likely to be the quarterback in Miami for at least a few seasons, Matt Moore is most likely going to take his talents elsewhere. He flashed some promise for about half a season in 2011 but has not accomplished much in the NFL yet.
Prior to injury, David Garrard outperformed both Moore and Tannehill in 2012, so if Garrard joins the Jets, then Moore might not be good enough to earn a spot.
The Jets have not yet pursued Moore explicitly, but the journeyman's name is often thrown around as a cheap veteran option for teams like the Jets in need of short-term quarterbacks.
Former first-round draft pick Jason Campbell is arguably the most talented quarterback in the 2013 free-agent class. Despite having a disappointing 2012 season, he is someone to whom the Jets are likely to at least pay attention. According to Brian Bassett of the TheJetsBlog.com:
[Jason] Campbell is a strong quarterback with good size and athleticism. When given time in the pocket, he can be accurate, but that breaks down when pressured and scrambling. Campbell is able to read coverages, go through his progressions. Campbell though signed a deal with the Bears in 2012 that made him $3.5 million, and so he might look for more than the Jets would be willing to give.
$3.5 million would be too much for Campbell unless he were going to start. However, if he fails to find a starting job elsewhere, he could consider a job in New York for less.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would have been a fantastic option if he had been released. However, it has been reported that Smith will likely be traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. If that deal goes through, then Smith will be off the table.
If Bruce Gradkowski stays in Cincinnati with the Bengals, he will almost certainly spend another season as a backup. The opportunity to compete for a starting job could potentially lure him to New York. As reported by Joe Reedy of Cincinnati.com:
With [Bruce] Gradkowski being a free agent, the odds look good that the Bengals would try to re-sign him, but Robinson has two years of experience with the offense too. If the Bengals wanted to go in another direction other than the status quo, they could let Robinson and a middle- to low-round draft pick compete.
Expect Gradkowski to either stick around as a backup in Cincinnati or join the quarterback competition in New York.
The New York Jets' 2013 free-agency saga will hinge mainly on the plethora of small decisions that must be made. While all of the big stars are already signed, many lesser-known players need to be re-signed. Additionally, a few key holes can be filled with moderately-priced veterans.
Expect to see interesting moves made especially regarding the quarterback and linebacker positions. These were the most glaring holes on the offense and defense respectively in 2012, and the Jets have already shown active interest in making moves at those two positions.
New general manager John Idzik is an active executive and will probably make myriad moves in his first offseason as the primary decision-maker for an NFL team.
It looks to be an eventful offseason and one that will determine whether the 2013 Jets reach the playoffs or face a third consecutive disappointing season.