In our first two parts of the Jets GM series I looked at the general manager and the head coach, now I’ll turn my attention to the Jets roster. The Jets are one of just two teams that projects over the salary cap in 2017 so there would have been work to do whether or not this team had been a success. Luckily for the Jets they had taken a glass half empty approach to many of their contracts which means the Jets can escape many contracts with little damage to their salary cap. The negative is that when we look at the money being saved it indicates how badly the team whiffed on their valuations of many of these players. I’ll break down the roster position by position with some thoughts on the players. Since it got longer than I thought Ill split this into part 3 and 4, with the offense in part 3 and the defense and overall thoughts as part 4.
The Jets have gotten some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL in 2016 and will be under pressure to make changes in 2016. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a free agent and will leave the Jets with a $5 million parting gift on the cap when the team decides to not extend him for 2017. It would be shocking if he returned. Geno Smith is also a free agent and it is also hard to imagine him being asked back, even at a cheap price
Personally I believe that the Jets starting quarterback next year will be Christian Hackenberg, the 2nd rounder most considered one of the biggest reaches in the 2016 draft. He hasn’t stepped foot on the field this year and I think that is intentional to prevent a ton of negative press from being written about him in March. Bryce Petty will get to be the fall guy to get the brunt of the “bad young QB” chatter in the offseason. There was an article written recently (I believe by Manish Mehta) that said the Jets don’t think their QB is on the roster and that would be a pretty damning indictment of the GM if they didn’t even give Hackenberg a chance.
Going into free agency for one of the released QB’s would be a mistake no matter how much pressure there will be to make a deal. Names will include Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor as “upgrades”. The Jets should just learn from their past mistakes and avoid any of these players. If you want to take a flier on a cheap veteran like a Mike Glennon or Nick Foles to play out the string if Hackenberg fails that’s fine, but the Jets did not lose in 2016 just because of Fitzpatrick. He was part of the reason but it’s the poor roster construction that caused a bad season. No expensive veteran is going to fix that especially from a list of players who have more or less not even played the last two years because they can’t stay healthy or were ineffective.
Of the Jets recent free agent signings I’d think that Matt Forte is the one they would like to have back. Forte hasn’t really fit in but the Jets had to guarantee his 2017 salary to get a deal done. I’d say the Jets should look to find a trade partner but teams weren’t willing to sign Forte at these numbers last year so I don’t think 1 year at $4 million will be that appealing, so he’ll probably be back. More likely we’ll see the snap counts between he and Bilal Powell flip next season. With so many holes in the offensive line it’s doubtful that an upgrade should be in the works.
The Jets will have some difficult decisions to make at the position. Brandon Marshall has had a down year and the team would save $7.5 million if they traded him. Clearly he wants to remain in NY, but the Jets could recover their draft pick they gave up to acquire him and given his age that may be the wiser choice. I’d probably first approach Marshall about signing an extension in which the team guarantees his $7.5M salary and in return gets a two or three year extension in the $5-6 million a year range. To keep him the Jets need him either locked up as the aging veteran target for a young QB for the foreseeable future or he needs to go. They can’t go into 2018 free agency with Marshall a free agent and the team worried about keeping him around for Hackenberg and overpaying for it.
Eric Decker is coming off some bad injuries and I don’t see the need to bring him back. The team will save $5.25 million in cap room if they cut him as well as his $7.25 million salary. It’s possible that Decker will qualify for slightly over $1 million in injury protection, but I’d rather lose that than the full amount. Quincy Enunwa should be able to replace him in the lineup and they will likely look to get more from Robby Anderson as well. One would expect the GM to also push for more playing time for Devin Smith if he can ever be healthy. You don’t want to be in a situation like the Giants were with Victor Cruz and I feel that is where the Jets will be if they stick with Decker’s contract.
The Jets pretty much nudged D’Brickashaw Ferguson into retirement and they may look to do the same with Nick Mangold. Mangold has a $9.075 million salary and cap figure, all of which will be saved if he is released. It’s possible they could trade him but he would likely need to agree to a lower salary on an extension to make that happen. He can still play but I don’t think anyone would pay him top of the market pricing at this stage, and $9 million is top market. I tend to think his Jets career is going to end similar to Kevin Mawae’s, finishing it out on the IR and then trying to find a home on a team like the Titans often looking for veteran bargains.
Ryan Clady should be one of the first cuts the Jets make. He hasn’t been healthy in some time and he wasn’t very good when he did play. Clady had great timing for signing his contract with Denver a few years ago as it has been one of the worst returns on investment in the entire NFL. The Jets create $10 million in cap space by letting him go.
I don’t understand why the Jets did not release Breno Giacomini this year but I’d really be at a loss if they don’t release him next year. They save $4.5 million by cutting him which sure seems like a no brainer.
Brian Winters will be a free agent and likely staring at $5-6 million on a new contract. Given the state of the offensive line I can’t see how they don’t sign him.
Simply put the Jets O-line is the biggest problem with the offense, and probably the entire team. It is easy to point the blame at the QB, the receivers or the running back because they are more prominent, but this unit is just a mess and nothing can function if the five in front can’t block. They have no tackles at all and the line is in the shape because of years of neglect. The Jets put no plan of succession on the line despite the age of their better players. Normally you would see more forward thinking teams draft a left tackle of the future and play him on the right side at the start and possibly a center that slots at guard for a year but the Jets did not try either. I know teams often focus on best available player in the draft but these needs are so glaring the Jets may need to jump on a lineman if one is there.
The Jets don’t use this position much so there is pretty much nothing to gain by cutting anyone, nor anything to lose by not re-signing anyone. If the Jets get a new offensive coordinator they probably should look for a professional veteran that can haul in 30 receptions as a safety valve for a young QB.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.