Analyzing New York Jets' Next Big Contract Decisions
Muhammad Wilkerson's future contract with the New York Jets has received the most analysis of any upcoming deal. It's unfortunate, because there are big contract decisions that John Idzik can't postpone by invoking a renewal option.
After the last snap of 2014, Idzik must decide the fate of key players whose departure could affect the team's depth almost anywhere you look. Many players will have completed one-year contracts. Some will have been franchise mainstays for years.
The mainstays are where most of the big decisions lie. They have drawn our cheers and boos for most if not all the Rex Ryan era. It's time to forget all that. It's time to put on the general manager's hat and ask the following questions:
- How much money does the player want? Idzik would learn that from the player's agent. We outsiders have to check out comparable players.
- Is the money available? Factors to consider here are the number of roster spots that need filling and the cap room available to fill them. Even now, the Jets' cap consumption for 2015 is $97.3 million for the top 51 contracts; $99.4 million for everyone signed. That will change by Week 1.
The next list of issues Idzik is contemplating are the focus of this slideshow:
- How much is the player worth? It's up to Idzik to determine if the player's performance matches the contract he wants. Dollars and cents aren't the only issue. Longevity and amount of guaranteed money are also points to ponder.
- Who else is available? Even if the player's demands match his performance, there may be a free agent or draft prospect who would upgrade the position. A younger, less expensive player on the roster might be ready for the job.
- What is the outlook for the player? This is the player's prognosis. Is he on track for stardom, winding down a long career or a fringe player who will battle each year for a veterans' minimum contract?
This list examines the chances of Jets' starters who become free agents in 2015 after completing multiyear contracts. The basis for ranking is the player's chance of wearing green and white in 2015.
The Jets have approximately $20 million of cap room. Releasing one of the listed players early will not have negative cap consequences. There's only a couple of 2015 free agents who are likely to dent it.
Idzik's decision process is just beginning. The Jets have a season to play before he gets the evidence he needs. There are players on one-year contracts who have never played as Jets. Their bargaining position may be much better by January.
The Real Question Marks
There's so much roster turnover every year that many players on one-year contracts have yet to play a game for the Jets. That doesn't mean we can't speculate about their future.
These players might all see significant action; some are probable starters.
Ford created a positive first impression in OTAs with his speed, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. If he builds on that through the season, both as a receiver and kickoff returner, there's a good chance he'll return, perhaps with a multiyear deal.
In 2013, Patterson intercepted four passes, despite playing only six games. If he doesn't surrender big plays in his pursuit of turnovers, adding that takeaway threat to the secondary will be a big step toward job security.
In the Jets' best-case scenario, Vick holds a clipboard for a year and mentors Geno Smith, as Smith grows into the role of franchise quarterback. Then Vick leaves as a free agent, having collected $4 million as an insurance policy.
If Vick has to play for any reason, his bargaining position improves. That's especially true if Smith self-destructs. The Jets will need a quarterback in 2015, and Vick would be the easiest short-term solution.
However, his injury history suggests that he won't get a huge contract even as a starter. The Jets will take things a year at a time while seeking a younger replacement, preferably a young free agent or early-round draft pick.
Other players on one-year contracts include Willie Colon and Leger Douzable. They don't present the same problem to Idzik because they played for the Jets in 2013. He has an idea of their capabilities.
It's time to look at the main list.
6. Kyle Wilson
Kyle Wilson's future with the Jets is the most uncertain. He might not last until free agency. Cornerback might represent the most open competition the Jets have, at least for the No. 2 outside cornerback and slot cornerback roles. (Barring injury, Dee Milliner will get the No. 1 role.)
We have yet to see many of Wilson's competitors in action. Dimitri Patterson has yet to play a snap in a Jets uniform. Rookies Dexter McDougle and Brandon Dixon have not seen an NFL snap at all. Veterans Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster, Ras-I Dowling and Johnny Patrick have minimal experience.
Wilson's average-per-year (APY) compensation is just under $2 million, good for 52nd-highest among cornerbacks. That may not be what determines his fate. Instead, Ryan, defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and defensive secondary coach Tim McDonald will evaluate each contender against the vision of what Ryan expects a Jets cornerback to be.
What He's Worth
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Wilson 72nd among NFL cornerbacks, significantly higher than both Milliner and Antonio Cromartie. Miller called Wilson "the type of player who keeps everything in front of him and rarely allows receivers to get behind him. He is at his best when playing off coverage."
The next part of Miller's review explains why Wilson may not remain with the Jets: "He will get pushed around at the line of scrimmage when in press coverage." That's not what Ryan likes. He wants his corners to excel at press coverage and not need help downfield.
Versatility is, according to Miller, the part of Wilson's game that might help him keep his job. Miller concludes his review, "Rex Ryan loves Wilson’s versatility and will line him up all over the field, including some plays at safety."
Wilson, in other words, sounds like the Jets' equivalent of a utility infielder. He can play a few roles passably but no role outstandingly. That's a fine type of player to have, but he shouldn't be a former No. 1 draft choice, as Wilson was in 2010, and he should not earn $2 million a year.
The Jets have a long list of competitors for Wilson. With the exception of Patterson, all cost less. He's going to have to outperform everyone, except Milliner and Patterson, to keep his job in 2014.
If he completes his contract, his fate still depends on a combination of performance and price. He'll have to beat Patterson for the No. 2 job and be one of the NFL's 50 best cornerbacks to justify retaining a $2 million APY. He might have to drop to the veteran's minimum to remain financially competitive with younger players if he can't escape the utility-player role.
Wilson is truly on the bubble. His role has been more typical of a mid-round pick than a No. 1. Did the Jets pull a reach in 2010? Probably, but now Wilson may have to pay the price. He's either going to have to start playing like a first-round draft pick or accept the financial rewards commensurate with his performance. In other words, he'll fight for a veteran's-minimum contract, one year at a time.
5. Bilal Powell
Despite his lack of breakaway speed or intimidating power, Bilal Powell's contribution to the New York Jets' offense has grown in each of his three years with the team. So has the talent level in the Jets backfield.
Powell has withstood challenges before. In 2013, despite gaining nearly 600 yards from scrimmage and four rushing touchdowns, Powell's status on the Jets was uncertain. He owed his role as much to Chris Ivory's injuries and Mike Goodson's suspension as he did to his own achievements.
The average per year (APY) of Powell's contract is approximately $610,000, 113th-highest among NFL running backs. No matter how you measure his performance, he deserves a raise in 2015. The questions are which team will pay it and how much it should be.
What He Deserves
Powell's the kind of player whose achievements seem to outstrip his ability. His 697 rushing yards in 2013 ranked 27th in the NFL. That was good for second place on the team, as were his 36 receptions.
In 2014, the 27th-best APY of $3 million belonged to Knowshon Moreno and BenJarvus Greene-Ellis. Moreno's offensive role was significantly greater than Powell's role. Green-Ellis outrushed Powell but had fewer receptions and fewer yards from scrimmage.
Analysts, such as B/R's Miller, offer a different perspective on Powell's value. Miller ranks Powell as the 76th-best NFL running backs, citing his quickness and vision as principal assets while noting his lack of strength, power and speed.
Despite Powell's 36 receptions, Miller even criticizes that contribution. He prefers to note Powell's drops and lack of explosiveness, even if Powell represented the Jets' most productive receiver out of the backfield in 2013.
Miller's review concludes, "It's unlikely that Powell will ever be a full-time starter in the NFL, but he is smart enough and elusive enough to be part of a committee approach at the position."
In Miller's world, Powell ranks with running backs such as Jonathan Dwyer, Edwin Baker, Stepfan Taylor and Trent Richardson. The APYs of this group range from Baker's $495,000 to Richardson's $5.1 million. Dwyer's APY of $795,000 is 74th among running backs, closest to Miller's ranking.
Green-Ellis and Moreno are among the running backs who will hit free agency in 2015. Other leaders include Buffalo's Fred Jackson and San Diego's Danny Woodhead. There are plenty of bodies available at numerous price points should either Powell or the Jets decide it's time to try something new.
An early mock draft from DraftSite.com has three running backs go between pick No. 20 and pick No. 40. Georgia's Todd Gurley goes first, followed by Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. The Jets have options to weigh before they decide to re-sign Powell.
Powell's not the type of player to whom you offer a big long-term contract. He's the player you keep until something better comes along. That means his NFL future will probably consist of a series of short-term contracts, most for one year at the veteran's minimum.
Such an offer would net an increase in APY over his current deal, but a base salary of $730,000 and bonus of $65,000 would be less than his current base salary of $1.4 million.
Despite his steady improvement over his first three seasons, Powell will eventually lose his place with the Jets as superior talent asserts itself. It could even be in 2014 if Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Chris Johnson are all available and healthy.
Goodson's uncertain physical and legal status makes Powell's future with the Jets look brighter, but only at the veteran's minimum and for a couple of seasons at best.
4. Dawan Landry
One draft pick has made Dawan Landry's long-term future with the Jets far less secure. Landry was a workhorse in the secondary, the team's third-leading tackler and Ryan's field general. Nevertheless, Calvin Pryor's selection as the Jets' first-round pick may mean the end of Landry's Jets career after 2014.
It's too bad, because at an average per year (APY) of $1.5 million, it may be a bargain. Landry's pay is 52nd-highest among NFL safeties. If it weren't for Pryor, we'd assume the Jets re-sign Landry and discuss the amount of his raise.
What He's Worth
B/R's Miller ranks Landry 39th among NFL safeties, calling him "no more than an affordable fallback option for when you can’t find a high-quality starter."
Landry's strengths are his aggressiveness and football intelligence, which account for his proficient run defense and competent coverage. Still, more speed and athleticism at the safety position would help him contain runners in space and provide better deep coverage.
Woodson and Delmas have APYs between $2.25 million and $2.5 million. That would be a significant raise for Landry, if he continues to play his present role. Age and Pryor's ascension will work against that.
Landry might have trouble keeping a job with the team, regardless of the APY he wants. If the Jets reduce Landry's role enough, he might play for the veteran's minimum of $870,000 for a nine-year veteran.
The best scenario for the Jets is if Pryor takes over Landry's job. It won't happen immediately, but if Pryor demonstrates the capability of playing in both running and passing downs and learns to coordinate the secondary, he could relegate Landry to spot duty by season's end.
Landry's best case would be if Pryor fails to become a complete player. Assuming his own quality of play is no worse than 2013, he'll warrant a part-time role. Again, the amount of snaps the Jets anticipate he'll take is a factor in what the Jets might offer.
Landry's position on the Jets depends on how quickly Calvin Pryor picks up the NFL game. Pryor has been impressive so far, but it's only the end of OTAs. The speed with which Pryor becomes an every-down safety and turns his outspoken nature into field generalship, the more precarious Landry's status becomes.
Even if Pryor isn't ready to assume Landry's full responsibilities in 2015, he is still the Jets' future at safety. Landry could return as a part-time player and mentor, but he would do so for a year at a time. His name will come up in discussions like this each year until the end of his Jets career.
3. Jeremy Kerley
For the past two seasons, Jeremy Kerley has been the glue that has held the Jets' wide receiving corps together. He's been the Jets' leading receiver, despite catching in two seasons what many top-tier receivers catch in one.
From 2012 to 2013, Kerley caught 99 passes for 1,350 yards and five touchdowns. Five players exceeded that reception total in 2013 alone; a sixth made 98 receptions. Seven receivers exceeded Kerley's two-year yardage total in 2013, an eighth finished four yards short.
Kerley will make $1.4 million in 2014. Because of the relatively lean first three years of his contract, his average per year is a less impressive $556,000. That puts him 188th among NFL wide receivers. The question isn't if he deserves a raise, it's how much and for how long.
What He's Worth
Kerley's 43 catches placed him 58th among NFL wide receivers. He finished in a tie with Arizona's Andre Roberts; other receivers with similar reception numbers were Davone Bess, Washington's Santana Moss, Dallas' Terrance Williams and Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson.
He ranks 61st in B/R analyst Matt Miller's list of top NFL receivers. Miller called Kerley "among the best at looking the ball in and securing it each time," but didn't see top-flight speed or ability to gain separation. His conclusion:
Kerley has value as an ideal No. 3 wide receiver in most offenses. He can work the underneath routes and pick up tough yards over the middle. And there’s something to love about a guy who rarely drops a pass.
Eddie Royal has the highest APY among those receivers at $3.5 million. Bess is a free agent. Other APYs range from just under $500,000 to $1.2 million.
That $1.2 million belongs to Woods, about to start his second year. It isn't unreasonable for Kerley to exceed that, given the role injuries in the wide receiving corps has forced him to play.
Kerley has returned kickoffs and punts. He may lose those jobs to Jacoby Ford and Jalen Saunders in 2014. This page assumes that is the case.
Two of the NFL's best slot receivers, Randall Cobb and Wes Welker, become free agents in 2015. The Jets could also sign a free agent such as Demaryius Thomas or Streater and use a former outside receiver in the slot. Saunders is a promising candidate.
No one would question Kerley's re-signing in 2015 after how he has held the wide receiving corps together for the last two years. A three-year contract at $1.5 million a year with $1 million guaranteed sounds like a reasonable thank-you for the effort he has made.
At the same time, watch how the Jets use Saunders. If he gets a significant number of snaps as the slot receiver and does well, Kerley may be looking for work come the start of 2015. It sounds cruel and unfeeling, but it's also the way of life in the NFL.
2. David Harris
While David Harris has played a major role in the Jets defense since his rookie year, it's time to begin planning for his successor. He's still capable of playing a key role, but he needs help. He's one of eight players who are 30 or older.
Harris' $9 million average-per-year (APY) compensation is fourth among NFL inside linebackers. He is finishing a four-year deal in 2014. The Jets will want him, back but neither for that long nor that much.
What He's Worth
B/R's Miller ranks Harris the NFL's 23rd-best inside linebacker. Miller views Harris' run defense as the best part of his game, despite observing a diminished range and athleticism from earlier years. Those issues negatively impact Harris' pass defense as well. Factor in 13 missed tackles to complete the picture of an athlete whose best years are behind him.
Don't bury Harris yet. Miller doesn't mention that Harris was on the field for 1,098 of a possible 1,100 snaps. He may have displayed diminished speed in 2013, but the solution may lie in more inside linebacker depth. Too much work may have drained Harris as 1,039 snaps may have drained Muhammad Wilkerson.
San Diego's Reggie Walker and the Giants' Jameel McClain, Spencer Paysinger and Jon Beason got similar rankings. APYs range from just over $1 million for Walker to almost $5.7 million for Beason. Since it's in the same market and the players graded similarly, Beason's APY could work for Harris, especially because of his time of service in green and white.
The Jets drafted Jeremiah George in the fifth round. They have yet to see if he can take the starting inside linebackers' job should Harris pursue free agency.
Leading free agents include Brandon Spikes, Bruce Carter and Jerrell Freeman.
Draftsite.com inserts two inside linebackers in its mock draft's Round 2: Alabama's A.J. Cann and Georgia's Ramik Wilson.
The years of getting anything more than a two-year deal are gone for Harris. So are the days of the $9 million APY. He may find himself closer to Beason's level, which would give Harris between $5 million and $6 million a year for two years.
He might see the percentage of guaranteed money fall from its current level of nearly 70 percent to around 50 percent. Beason's guaranteed percentage is around 35 percent.
The best way to prolong Harris career is rest. If George makes the team and can take between 10 and 15 snaps a game from Harris, it might restore some spring to Harris' step and make him more effective overall.
1. Damon Harrison
Damon Harrison is the Jets' latest Horatio Alger story, an undrafted free agent who emerged as one of the best at what he does in 2013. If he plays as well or better in 2014, there's no question that he'll return. He will be a restricted free agent. The only issue is the size of his offer.
Whatever they do should be a big raise for Harrison. His average per year of $482,000 is 182nd among defensive tackles. Quadrupling that amount is the least he should expect.
What He's Worth
B/R's Miller rates Harrison the NFL's 12th-best defensive tackle. It's largely because of his run defense, his "36 run stops in just 272 snaps against the run in 2013." That more than compensates, according to Miller for his "minimal impact as a pass-rusher." His vision for Harrison is "limited to base and run-stopping defensive packages due to his lack of ability as a pass defender."
That role could limit Harrison's earning power.
It shows in playing time, where his 497 snaps in 2013 (45 percent of a possible 1,100) were far less than Sheldon Richardson's 880 and Wilkerson's 1,039. ESPNNewYork.com blogger Rich Cimini's explanation is that "the Jets were in nickel about 60 percent of the time." That means approximately 660 snaps were in nickel. Harrison missed 603.
If he plays for 45 percent of the Jets' defensive snaps and on special teams, Harrison would merit a second-round tender. He'd have to approach Sheldon Richardson's snap count, become a three-down lineman and make the Pro Bowl to earn the first-round tender.
Values for 2015 aren't available, but think of a second-round tender as $2.2 million and a first-round tender as $3.1 million, using 2014 numbers.
Alternatively, the franchise tag is available. 2014's value of $9.6 million would be a real windfall for Harrison. The Jets will not pursue that route.
Let's say the unthinkable happens and another team gets Harrison. The Jets have another free-agent nose tackle, Kenrick Elle, whom Pro Football Focus dubbed the team's "Secret Superstar." Re-signing him would assume a higher priority.
That's an unlikely scenario. It would still be a good idea to keep Ellis, as he does well on third downs and other passing situations.
Harrison is worthy of a second-round tender based solely on his play in 2013. If he finds a way to be a three-down lineman as well as a premier run-stopper, he could merit a trip to the Pro Bowl and a first-round tender as well.
There's only one downside to this approach; it's brevity. The Jets would conclude 2015 with two free-agent defensive linemen, Harrison and Wilkerson.
It's actually better that way. Let Wilkerson's deal set the standard. The line's leader deserves the best package. Work everyone else's around it. Just make sure that Harrison has a long-term future as a member of the "Sons of Anarchy."
Over The Cap is the source for contract information, unless otherwise specified.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.