Reevaluating New York Jets' Worst Player Contracts

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Reevaluating New York Jets' Worst Player Contracts
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
They've wrapped up 2013, time to decide who stays and who goes

Five players—cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, center Nick Mangold and quarterback Mark Sanchez—consume almost $58 million of the New York Jets' 2014 salary cap. That's the ninth-highest such figure in the NFL.

That may change soon. General manager John Idzik will most likely cut three of those five, Cromartie, Holmes and Sanchez saving $26.05 million in cap space. The sixth-highest cap consumer, linebacker David Harris, may go as well, saving another $5 million.

Ferguson and Mangold are safe. They consume almost $19 million of cap room, but cutting them would remove the most stable elements of the Jets' offensive line. It would also reduce the Jets' available cap by $100,000.

That brings us to this article's subject, the Jets' worst player contracts.

Here's the basis for analysis:

Market value: Regardless of how good a player is, there is a practical limit to his compensation. If his contract breaks the bank for his position, he'd better be Canton material. Otherwise, he may do his team more harm than good by consuming salary-cap resources that could help fill other needs.

Darrelle Revis' $16 million average (compensation) per year (APY) is an example. He earns about 60 percent more per year than any other cornerback. Players such as Denver's Champ Bailey, Dallas' Brandon Carr and St. Louis' Cortland Finnegan come closest to Revis, with APYs around $10 million.

In doing so, Revis consumes roughly 12.7 percent of the estimated $126.3 million salary cap for 2014. Maybe he's worth it, but the Jets' bean counters are happy that it's Tampa Bay's problem. The Jets have no such issues in 2014.

Check that, maybe one. It depends on if you view Mark Sanchez as a starter or reserve. He's overpaid in either case, but as a backup quarterback, his current contract breaks the bank.

Flexibility: To be effective, a contract must be flexible. The player must receive the promised funds if he plays well and face removal from the team if he does not. Some contracts work against this. They pay large signing bonuses up front that count against the cap in equal installments.

You've probably heard the term "dead money." Dead money is money that the player has received that has yet to count against the cap. Should the player leave the team before the contract expires, all of that money counts against the cap that year, in other words, the installment plan ends.

If dead money exceeds other cap elements such as base salary and annual bonuses, releasing a player actually decreases available cap space. The Jets faced that situation in 2013 with Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes. Unless you think the Jets should cut Quinton Coples, Ferguson, Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson or Geno Smith, dead money is not an issue in 2014.

There is, however, another flexibility issue the Jets must face: bonus timing. In addition to signing bonuses, players often receive annual roster and workout bonuses. Releasing players who would earn the largest such bonuses before their due dates is key to maximizing cap savings.

The Jets' current roster bonus obligations round to $10.8 million; their workout bonus obligations round to $2.7 million. Of that $13.5 million, Cromartie, Harris, Holmes and Sanchez consume just over $9 million, $8 million of which are roster bonuses.

Those bonuses typically come early in the league year, which begins on March 11. The roster bonuses are usually due within a few days of the league year's start. Workout bonuses are due sometime in May, after players complete an optional offseason workout.

If a team delays its decisions on a player and has to pay a roster or workout bonus, it's probably because they're trying to work out a trade. Darrelle Revis collected his roster bonus from the Jets in 2013 for that reason.

Price vs. Performance: This is the Jets' biggest contract issue in 2014. Players who negotiate huge deals have an obligation to produce. To put it another way, you would hope that the Jets' top five cap consumers were ninth-best in productivity as well as in price. Otherwise, the team officials who negotiated those contracts deservedly come under fire. That's part of what sealed Mike Tannenbaum's fate. Had Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes had elite seasons, their contracts would have experienced less scrutiny.

Those are the factors that determine a contract's suitability. There are plenty of other talking points, such as the percentage of guaranteed money, that we could add to the discussion. Nitpickers will also find the salary cap discussion doesn't dot every "i" and cross every "t," but there are better places to don the green eyeshades and discuss the fine print.

Players under their rookie contracts aren't included here. The rules that govern those contracts result in top performers, such as the Jets' defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, playing for a discount.  Wilkerson will undoubtedly resolve that, if not through a contract extension this year, through testing the free-agent market in 2015.

That's enough prequel. It's time to look at some contracts.

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