Rex Ryan (left) and John Idzik might still be able to land a quality free agent or two.
In under six months, John Idzik has transformed the New York Jets from a team that was choked by the salary cap to one that can afford a free-agent spending spree. What's more, there are still available free agents who can address team needs that previous signings and the draft did not.
They can use roughly $5 million to sign their top picks
That's the total estimated amount of base salary and proratable bonuses applicable for Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson and Geno Smith, based on their draft positions. (NOTE: After the first round, ignore the row numbers in the source table.)
Later round pick and undrafted free agents are still unsigned
Sixth-round pick William Campbell and promising UDFAs like WR Zach Rogers, C Dalton Freeman and TE Chris Pantale are still unsigned. However, their impact on available cap room will most likely be minimal as their base salaries should be close to the rookie minimum of $405,000.
Not every signing counts against the cap—yet
Until the season begins, only the top 51 contracts, plus all other player bonuses, count. If there are ties, only the contracts needed to reach 51 contracts are used. For example, at publication, the Jets have nine players earning a base salary of $480,000 and no bonus. These contracts are the 45th-highest through 53rd-highest in value. However, because of this "top 51" rule, only seven of these contracts count against the cap.
Players who sign for less don't count against the cap unless they make the 53-man roster. Players who sign for more displace one of the $480,000 contracts from the cap calculation.
Example: If first-round pick Dee Milliner's cap value ends up as the projected $2.3 million, the net effect on the Jets cap would be about $1.82 million. Milliner's signing would reduce the number of $480,000 contracts in the Jets' top 51 from seven to six. On the other hand, if sixth-round pick William Campbell's cap value is the projected $433,000, that won't affect the team's cap at all, because it is less than the $480,000 cap value of the 51st-most valuable contract.
Not every veteran counts for his full cap amount
If a veteran with at least four years' experience signs a one-year contract for his time of service's minimum base salary, his cap value is that of a second-year player at minimum wage. Other limitations, such as on bonus amounts, apply.
On the Jets, Nick Folk's contract invokes this benefit.
So let's give John Idzik and the Jets between $7.5 million and $8 million of cap room after signing draft picks. That's not every dime. They might want to hold some in reserve.
With this cap room, the Jets can try to fill some of the gaps the draft and previous signings did not. They can pursue a veteran wide receiver, safety or tight end. They can pursue credentialed players who can contribute on the field while bringing some much-needed experience to the locker room.
Even better, the Jets don't have to pinch pennies.
The cap room Idzik created makes any of the players on the following slides affordable, based on their 2012 compensation. Of course, the longer they're unemployed, the lower their price may go.
However, some of these players may have an agenda beyond price. They may want to sign with a team they perceive as playoff bound. That will work against Idzik and the Jets and may make negotiation more difficult.
The important thing is that the Jets have options. Here they are.
Free agent status: Spotrac.com Free Agent Tracker
Jets' salary cap: Spotrac.com New York Jets' 2013 Salary Cap Hits
Player statistics: Pro-football-reference.com
Although John Abraham had 10 sacks in 2012, the Jets have greater needs than defensive line.
Idzik and the Jets have money to spend, but they shouldn't use it to pursue players in positions where the team is strong, no matter how good those players might be. Nor should they bring aboard players with a turbulent past. They can afford to avoid such risks.
Here are some representative examples:
John Abraham, DE
Abraham has compiled impressive sack numbers since leaving the Jets. However, adding another defensive lineman when the Jets have needs in other areas would be putting the team's money in the wrong place.
It may have been a mistake to lose Abraham to free agency. It would also be a mistake to re-sign him. However, if Abraham is available should injuries decimate the defensive line, he would make a terrific midseason replacement.
Titus Young, WR
His achievements on the field are irrelevant. The Jets don't need another distraction like Mike Goodson. The Detroit Lions disciplined Young several times for insubordination and violence towards teammates. More recently, he's been arrested on various shoplifting, burglary, assault and DUI charges.
Enough of that. On to better prospects.
No. 33 Eric Smith and LB Nick Bellore during 2012 loss to San Francisco
Could Eric Smith follow Calvin Pace's example and return to the Jets?
He won't if he's looking for the $2.4 million base salary and $3.0 million in cap value he was supposed to make in 2013. That was why he got cut.
However, Smith compares well to some safeties who have been playing under the veteran minimum salary benefit. Compare, for example, Smth's 2012 numbers with those of former Baltimore Ravens' safety Sean Considine, who played under the benefit in 2012.
Smith: 12 games, two starts, one interception, four passes defended, one fumble recovery, 11 tackles, four assists.
Considine: 15 games, one tackle, one assist.
It looks like if the Jets could get Smith at the right price, he'd return more than many bargain-basement players. Plus, he knows Rex Ryan's system.
Smith would be entering his eighth season. Under the CBA, an NFL player entering his eighth season is entitled to a minimum base salary of $840,000. Apply the minimum salary benefit rule and his salary cap value becomes $555,000, the minimum base salary for a third-year player. Adding the maximum bonus this rule permits of $65,000 would make Smith's 2013 cap value $620,000.
That's slightly over half the cap value of his 2012 base salary. It might be a bargain worth pursuing.
Although Dallas Clark is probably not the player he was in his Pro Bowl year of 2009, he probably has enough left in the tank to help the Jets.
Clark played for the Indianapolis Colts from 2003 to 2011. In 2009, Clark started and played in all 16 regular-season games. He caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards, averaging 11.1 yards per catch, and scored 10 touchdowns. That earned him a Pro Bowl invitation and a First-Team All Pro selection.
Injuries plagued Clark throughout 2010 and 2011, He played in a total of 17 games, catching 71 passes for 699 yards (9.8 yards per catch), and he scored five touchdowns.
In contrast, Dustin Keller's best season was 2011, in which he played in all 16 games, starting 12. Keller caught 65 passes for 815 yards (12.5) and scored five touchdowns.
All of you itching to point out that Clark worked with Peyton Manning from 2003 to 2010 while Keller worked with Mark Sanchez throughout his Jets career would be absolutely right. Let's fast-forward to 2012, when Clark was working with Josh Freeman at Tampa Bay.
Clark played all 16 games, which he hadn't done since 2009, and started seven. He caught 47 passes for 435 yards (9.3) and four touchdowns. In short, while he didn't set the world on fire, he was good for almost three catches and 28 yards per game.
Last year, Keller and Jeff Cumberland combined for 57 catches, 676 yards, averaged 11.9 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns.
Clark earned $2.7 million in base salary last year ($1 million guaranteed) under a one-year contract with Tampa Bay. That won't qualify him for the veteran minimum salary benefit. The Jets could afford it, but they might not want to spend that much on a declining tight end. However, if Clark doesn't get a situation he wants, he may very well retire.
Hopefully the Jets can persuade Clark to postpone retirement. Signing him could be an effective way to provide the Jets an experienced receiving threat at tight end and a mentor for newcomers Chris Pantale and former rugby player Hayden Smith.
Lloyd at the 2012 season's AFC title game against Baltimore
If the Jets learned one thing from 2012 it should be this: You can never have too much depth at wide receiver.
Injuries to starting wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill were among the factors that stifled the 2012 offense. Their replacements, Clyde Gates and Chaz Schillens, couldn't supply the offensive firepower the Jets needed to sustain drives nor were they a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
There's no guarantee that Holmes' foot will heal in time for Week 1 or that Hill will improve over his rookie year. That's why when a veteran like Brandon Lloyd is available, the Jets should at least be talking to him.
He had a Pro Bowl season with the Denver Broncos in 2010, catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averaged a sparkling 18.8 yards per catch.
While his 2011 and 2012 seasons were not up to that standard, they were still the second- and third-best years of his career. In each of those two years, Lloyd caught at least 70 passes, gained over 900 receiving yards and scored at least four touchdowns. He did so in 2011 despite playing on two different teams.
Lloyd had completed the first year of a three-year, $12 million deal with New England. His 2012 cap value was $2 million based on a base salary of $900,000, one-third of his $3 million signing bonus and other bonuses totaling $100,000.
John Idzik may not want to give a $3 million signing bonus to a 31-year-old receiver. However, if Lloyd still needs work when training camp opens and is willing to negotiate, he could be a valuable member of the Jets' receiving corps.
Safety Kerry Rhodes played for the Jets from 2005 to 2009. Rhodes' last season with New York was Rex Ryan's first.
That could be what keeps Rhodes out of green and white.
There were hints of tension between the two men as far back as November 22, 2009. That's when Ryan benched Rhodes during a 31-14 loss to the Patriots. Ryan followed up in his book with more criticism of his former safety.
However, if Ryan and Rhodes could reconcile, the Jets secondary would be the real winner.
Rhodes did a little of everything in 2012. In 15 games, all starts, he recorded a sack, four interceptions, 11 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, 59 tackles and six assists. He's the same age as the Dawan Landry, the safety the Jets acquired through free agency this offseason, but boasts an additional year of experience.
If Rhodes' old feud with Ryan doesn't keep him from signing with the Jets, money might. Rhodes' base salary in 2012 was $3.5 million and his cap value was $5 million. It's difficult to see John Idzik spending that kind of money on one player. The Jets could afford it, but signing Rhodes at that level would cut cap room to around $3 million, reducing the likelihood of additional free-agent signings.
Still, if Rhodes reconciles with Ryan and works out a reasonable deal, he and Landry could give the Jets a safety tandem that rivals if not surpasses that of 2012.
An alternative to Kerry Rhodes might be former Minnesota Vikings free safety Madieu Williams. Williams could offer a skill set similar to that of Rhodes at a lower price tag.
In 2012, Williams recorded a sack and an interception, which he returned 24 yards for a touchdown. He also defended against six passes, made 65 tackles and added 33 assists.
in 2012, Williams cap hit was $890,000, which included a 65,000 signing bonus. $200,000 was guaranteed. His base salary was the veteran's minimum.
He could be another bargain worth adding to the Jets secondary.
Braylon Edwards is airborne in the Jets' 2012 season finale.
Looking at Braylon Edwards' Twitter page might convince you he was already back with the Jets. Edwards calls himself "New York Jets ProBowl WR #17."
Problem is, he and the Jets have yet to reach a deal.
In his post, ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini quoted general manager John Idzik who described Edwards' status as "under consideration." However, when Idzik earlier this offseason replaced the retired David Garrard with a wide receiver, he did not sign Edwards.
Obomanu's receiving achievements over five years match what an elite receiver might accomplish in one: 87 catches for 1,209 yards and seven touchdowns. Obomanu compiled most of these numbers from 2010 to 2011. He played in 31 games, starting 13, and caught 67 passes for 930 yards and six touchdowns.
In addition, Obomanu returned kickoffs in 2007, 2009 and 2012. His best kickoff return year was 2009, when he returned 11 kickoffs for 293 yards, averaging 26.6 yards per return.
Edwards has never returned kicks. However, his 2010 season with the Jets roughly matches Obomanu's best two years. In 2010, Edwards caught 53 passes for 904 yards and seven touchdowns. His problem is the years thereafter. From 2011 to 2012, Edwards caught 33 passes for 380 yards and a touchdown. Ten of those catches and 125 of those yards came in the last three games of 2012, which he spent with the Jets.
If Edwards maintained the productivity of those three games for a full season, he'd finish with around 53 catches for almost 663 yards. That's more than Obomanu has ever achieved in one season.
Whether that justifies his return depends on who you ask.
Alfred Epps of rantsports.com is pro-Edwards, writing, "Bringing Edwards back is the best bet for this offense because he has familiarity with the coaching staff and your quarterback Sanchez."
Ganggreennation.com's Scott Salmon disagrees. He cites as reasons not sign Edwards the receiver's declining performance since 2010 and the loss of practice repetitions for young receivers that Edwards' presence would cause. Then there's the off-field incidents, such as Edwards' DUI arrest with two teammates in the car and his involvement in a bar fight shortly after becoming a free agent.
In other words, according to Salmon, Edwards is neither a solid performer nor a positive locker room influence.
Both arguments have holes, and that may justify Idzik's hesitation. Epps assumes that Sanchez will start in 2013. If Geno Smith starts instead, the "familiarity with your quarterback" argument no longer holds.
Moreover, because there is new offensive coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg, the "familiarity with the coaching staff" point is also not completely valid. However, Edwards also had to adjust to Tony Sparano's system in 2012.
On the other hand, Salmon ignores the percentage of Edwards' post-2010 production that he achieved in three games with the Jets. There's also something intangible about Edwards' association with the Jets that brings out the best in his play, which deserves som acknowledgement.
If that's not enough, Edwards played for the veteran's minimum in 2012. Should he sign a one-year deal at the eight-year minimum of $840,000, the minimum salary benefit would ease his burden on the Jets payroll.
Nevertheless, it looks like if Edwards wears green and white again, it will be as a midseason replacement. Hopefully he's still around should the Jets need him.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid