The Big Questions that Face the Jets

Are the Jets Really Moving on From Wilkerson?

Things would sure seem that way. I’ve said for nearly two years now that the fanbase seems to have a higher opinion of Wilkerson than the Jets front office. The Jets tried for over a year to sign him and nothing happened which likely means a giant divide. The team is now two GMs past when he was drafted and who knows what the current GM really thinks of him. If the Jets really wanted him long term there would at least be rumors of him signing. Instead it’s just silence.

I would expect the trade talk to ramp up this month. The Jets have to be careful though not to overplay their hand if they want to move him. Part of the game is what they did with Darrelle Revis a few years back. The Jets need to find a team with a high second round pick that seemed to strike out in free agency. The Jaguars would be the top option. They were rumored to be hot after Olivier Vernon for huge money and he went to the Giants. They sure seem to be a team that would have to consider him. Indianapolis may not have a very high pick but that is another team to look at. If the 49ers were a team to consider it that would likely involve Kaepernick.

But they cant be like the Chiefs a few years ago with Branden Albert and come away with nothing. The Chiefs tagged Albert with no intention of a long term contract but when Miami would not budge on compensation the Chiefs got stuck. Two years later the Chiefs ended up with a 3rd round comp pick, something the Jets might not even get.

It’s strange to me, and maybe its because of the freak injury at the end of the year, that there is no real buzz around Wilkerson. He is a far more accomplished player than either Olivier Vernon or Malik Jackson, both of him scored big in free agency. I know the franchise tag takes some of that talk away, but generally you hear some things if a player is deemed to be available. In that respect he is probably closer to an Albert than a Revis and the best the Jets may be able to hope for is a high 2nd and a mid tier player in return.

Carrying Wilkerson at $15 million on their cap this year is very difficult, especially once they plan on signing a quarterback. It’s just not feasible to do if they want to keep long term flexibility. The Jets kind of backed themselves into a corner here and have to do all they can to move him now. If he does play the year on the tag then I think the Jets really messed up the whole situation.

What’s the Future of D’Brickashaw Ferguson?

Ferguson currently counts $14.1 million against the salary cap with a $10.4 million salary which just seems unreasonable unless the Jets are just going to play nice with him because of his years of service. I can’t discount that seeing the contract they gave to David Harris last season, but I don’t believe it’s likely given the Jets cap situation. Ferguson has had a good career with the Jets but his last two years have clearly trended down. His play level is really no better or worse than Donald Penn who is a $5 million a year type of player. Cutting him would save $9 million in cap room which would pay for a quarterback this year.

Ferguson’s only leverage in this situation is the same as Fitzpatrick’s.  What will you do without him? The Jets have nobody on the roster capable of replacing him. Whatever faults he may have you can generally count on him to play 16 games, to be a good locker room presence, and give the team a passable performance more often than not.

I get the feeling that his future is tied more into the draft than current roster moves. The Jets already bypassed Kelvin Beachum and Russell Okung so they will likely be looking at the draft for talent. You hope this doesn’t become an Alan Faneca situation where they draft a player and then call the veteran and say you are out since Ferguson does have a big history here.  But I think that is where the Jets get their leverage.   My guess is at some point he will agree to drop his salary to around $7 million, similar to what he made last year.

Is the Jets Cap Situation Really Bad?

I currently estimate the Jets to have $3 million in cap room, 4th least in the league. That number does not include contracts for Erin Henderson and Jarvis Jenkins, neither of which were processed when I wrote this. The other day they had to restructure the contract of James Carpenter just to fit Steve McLendon on the cap. They also have no starting quarterback under contract.

Right now the Jets are a byproduct of the bad drafting that occurred at the tail end of the Mike Tannenbaum regime and both years of the John Idzik regime. When you draft poorly you have to go out of the organization to bring in talent. The Jets roster was so bad they had to do it at every level from 1 to 53. When you do that you are going to eat away at your salary cap.

That said if you look at what the Jets have done this offseason and last I think it seems clear that they are doing what they can to make sure they don’t get into any long term cap trouble. The Jets made a decision last year to generally go with no signing bonuses for the older veterans to maintain long term flexibility versus short term cap health.

They very easily could have touched the contracts of Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold, and Darrelle Revis for cap relief in 2016 but they haven’t. Instead they got what they needed from Carpenter. I would expect next up to be Skrine and then Gilchrist. You touch the smaller deals with players that are younger rather than completely compromising themselves on players who could fall off a cliff at any second. Fighting with Fitzpatrick over a contract is a long term vision as is trading Wilkerson.

I think the Jets see this group as having, at the most, two years. They will build around the Marshall’s, Forte’s and Harris’ and hope those draft picks develop between now and 2018 to supplant them. They will also want the flexibility to bring in some younger free agents in 2017 and 2018. If they start restructuring deals they are killing those free agency chances and also losing the chance to cut ties with players in 2017 if things go bad this year.

They will continue to tinker with contracts as they need to and walk a cap tightrope this year, but they are doing it to prevent a bad cap situation in the future. As strange as it may sound the Jets will be more healthy with their cap by staying around $3 million in room all year rather than restructuring multiple contracts to gain more room or signing Fitzpatrick and/or Wilkerson to salary cap backloaded contracts.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc