It may seem early to talk about the New York Jets and free agency when the playoffs are not yet over. Nevertheless, the first free-agent deadline comes less than two weeks after the Super Bowl.
February 15 is when the Canadian Football League free-agent season begins. Mock it if you like, but stars like Miami's defensive end Cameron Wake owe their professional starts to the CFL, as does Jets reserve linebacker Garrett McIntyre. McIntyre spent two seasons in the CFL before coming south in 2011.
The point is not to extol the CFL. It is to explain why a team would contemplate the free-agent market in the midst of the NFL playoffs.
Despite this article's title, assessing the free-agent market is more than defining a wish list. That is probably the easiest part. The next easiest is projecting available salary-cap space. The most difficult step is determining if there are free agents available who will address a team's needs within budget.
We begin by addressing the Jets' salary-cap position.
The projected unadjusted cap for 2014 is $126.3 million. The Jets will add a rollover (surplus) from 2013. That could be anywhere between $1.5 million and $2.8 million. Using the $1.5 million gives the Jets a 2014 adjusted cap of $127.8 million.
The Jets have 41 players under contract for 2014 that represent a cap value of $101 million, which leaves $26.8 million available.
From that $26.8 million must come money to pay draft picks, the so-called "rookie cap." The amount varies based on both the quantity and placement of a team's selections.
The Jets get the 18th pick. They should get an extra third-round pick from the Darrelle Revis trade plus compensatory picks for the free agents they lost in 2013 such as LaRon Landry, Mike DeVito, Matt Slauson, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene and Yeremiah Bell. Because of the potential for multiple extra picks, we will make this pool $10 million. That leaves $16.8 million available.
Cutting the following players adds more cap room:
- Antonio Cromartie: $9.5 million
- Mark Sanchez: $8.3 million
- Santonio Holmes: $8.25 million
- David Harris: $5 million.
Those cuts add $31.05 million to the salary cap pool. Spare Harris, and the Jets still save $26.05 million.
In other words, the Jets could have between $42 million and $47 million of cap room to use this coming free-agent season. Even if they only cut Holmes and Sanchez, the moves most widely predicted, they would still have over $33 million available. That is a huge improvement over this time in 2013, when they had to make cuts to achieve cap compliance.
One more thing: Whatever cap room the Jets have must eventually accommodate the 53-man roster, practice squad and any injured players whose compensation continues to count against the cap. During the offseason, only the top 51 cap figures matter; however, that changes soon after the teams announce their final cuts.
Now that the budget talk is done, here is a look at the grading system. Each position or function receives one of the following grades:
- A: No free-agent signing needed
- B: No free-agent signing needed if key personnel re-sign
- C: Minor-to-bargain free-agent signing
- D: Veteran free agent needed to compete for starting job
- F: Impact starter free-agent signing needed
These grades consider the state of the free-agent marketplace as well as the Jets' level of need.
For example, many might give a grade of "F" to the Jets' quarterback position, hoping that a high-profile veteran can take over unchallenged. If there are no free-agent quarterbacks available who have earned that privilege, a grade of "F" would be unrealistic. The appropriate grade in this scale would be "D," signing a veteran who might be capable of starting but would have to win the job in training camp.
Do not be alarmed by the lack of "A" grades. That reflects the uncertainty over if current starters and key backups will return.
Unlike last year, however, the Jets are financially capable of making competitive bids to keep starters like Austin Howard, Nick Folk, Calvin Pace and Willie Colon as well as reserves like Leger Douzable, Jeff Cumberland and McIntyre. Free-agent Jets who join other teams in 2014 will do so because the Jets have no plans for them, not because of the salary cap.
It is time to move from discussing ground rules to assessing each position.