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