Normally I would wait until next year to do one of these posts, but with the Jets 2012 season looking to be all but over and the focus turning completely towards 2013 and the minefield that awaits its time to look at how the Jets got here and what can they do to escape it.
What Went Wrong
Iíve always been impressed with the Jets front office and their handling of contracts. They have taken tough stances on players ranging from Chad Pennington to Justin McCareins to Darrelle Revis in order to benefit the team. Every time the Jets were accused of being in ďcap hellĒ, most infamously in 2009, it never happened. The Jets have always found ways to spend money and ways to improve the team. This has a different feel though.
Really what went wrong goes back to 2010, the uncapped season. While people often look at the contract structure of a player as a method to get maximum effort from the player for fear of a cut it also provides a financial constraint for a team. The Jets had their share of dead weight in 2010 that was going to be released in both 2010 and 2011. The budget was managed under the old cap structure which at that point was rising at about $6 million a year. With the lockout about to hit the Jets removed their financial constraints dumping a number of high priced players- Alan Faneca, Kerry Rhodes, Kris Jenkins, Damien Woody, and Vernon Gholston- with no ramifications. Has 2010 been a capped season the Jets would have faced a charge of about $10.2 million for the Faneca and Rhodes cuts and then a $8.62 million charge for the other 3 in 2011.
Without those charges on the books the Jets decided to make more plays in free agency to spend what would have been a reset to account for the decreased cap room of the new CBA. What happened after that was the Jets making a significant miscalculation of their own personnel evaluation. The Jets clearly thought that the window was still open for this team in 2011 and they were prepared to go all in on it. Rather than dealing with the financial constraints that would have been naturally imposed on the team they spent like crazy to keep the team intact, loading the roster with high priced talent in the form of David Harris, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, and Plaxico Burress. They had also chased Nnamdi Asomugha who luckily for the team chose the Eagles- Asomugha would have cost $4 million or so more a year than Cromartie and he isnít half the player Cromartie is.
What the Jets did was make the decision that it worthwhile to defer the cap charges for these players to later years, artificially keeping the cap hits low in 2011 so they could maintain as much of the 2010 roster as possible. Had they taken a different path it might have meant lessor players on the team in 2011 but more flexibility in the future.
The Jets further compounded the situation by getting certain veterans to take pay cuts in lieu of guaranteed salary in the future. This was a strategy that worked well for the Jets in the past. Often when contract disputes arose the Jets would offer guarantees in return for some concessions. None worked out better than the deal for Laveranues Coles where Coles saw an opportunity to make more money as a free agent and be willing to void his guaranteed contract with the Jets to take a chance in free agency. This time around the Jets didnít get so lucky with Bart Scott having no chance of getting deals outside of the Jets organization and the Jets being stuck with a player who played all of 11 snaps in their last game.
The CBA also played a role in all of this. Those dramatic increases in cap room were replaced by no cap movement in 2012 and a projection of a similar non-move in 2013. For a team like the Jets who were likely banking on an increase of a few million itís a crippling blow. With the expected increases in cap room internally the Jets would have likely planned on having an extra $9 million in cap room just from cap growth in 2013.
The Worst Move
If Mike Tannenbaum is to be fired it is going to be because he made the incredibly shortsighted decision to extend Mark Sanchez and guarantee his 2012 and 2013 salaries in return for cap relief. It was a move that did not need to be made since the Jets held so much contractual power over Sanchez. Iíve said over and over that his original rookie contract was a real winner for the Jets because of the frontended nature of it. The Jets threw that all away by guaranteeing those last two years. To make matters worse there is no offset in the contract meaning if they cut him and someone picks him up Sanchez earns a salary from both the Jets and his new team. I still cant wrap my head around the move.
No Luck for the Jets
While the bottom line in the league is always results and when moves fail the GM is going to take a hit the Jets have been hit with an incredible string of unlucky moves. Though the Jets did defer the cap charges for so many players the deals were all constructed in ways to give the team possible outs in the future similar to how they got out of the Coles deal a few years back. Who would have ever thought that Holmes, Harris, Sanchez, Scott, Pace, and Pouha all would have been so bad? The only move that worked out was Cromartie. Just by dumb luck someone else should have worked out. Holmes getting hurt was a nightmare. At the least the Jets needed a good statistical year from him to open up the trade talks. Now its going to be difficult to do.
Where from Here
The easy ones are what are the no-brainer cuts: Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Jason Smith, Eric Smith, and Sione Pouha. Those 5 moves should save the team $34,543,332 in cap dollars. With a cap of about $122 million that will give the Jets about $14.5 million in cap room to work with. They will end up carrying over an extra $4 million or so this year so very quickly cap hell turns into $18 million in cap room.
Sounds great right? The problem is that the roster is so top heavy that even with all that money its still a barebones roster. That would be a roster of only 35 players. The roster would now be without 2/5 of their starting 2012 offensive line, starting tight end, starting defensive end, starting nose tackle, 2 starting linebackers, and 2 starting safeties. Now itís a bad team so maybe those actual player losses are not terrible but it means you need to find starters. With $5 million earmarked for the draft, of which you hope to get 4 guys who stick you are looking at $13 million to spend for 14 roster spots. And that is just to fill the 53 man. Most of the guys on the current projected 53 man are guys who are minimum salary players that have yet to play a meaningful offensive or defensive snap in the NFL. Not to mention that have Darrelle Revisí contract hanging over their heads and a need to extend him before the end of 2013 if the Jets intend to keep him in 2014 and beyond.
The big decision for the Jets is whether or not they want to try for the bandaid patch fix or just decide to blow things up. Clearly that isnít enough money to do anything in free agency that will help the team. Regardless of the choice the Jets will be actively shopping players. I have to imagine the Jets will dangle Harris, Holmes, Cromartie, and Sanchez out there hoping someone bites. They will be willing to split the costs to do it as it would save the Jets cap and cash by doing those moves. I would think each is a longshot since Harris and Sanchez have performance issues, Cromartie has a mouth teams will shy away from, and Holmes has both set of problems.
Scenario A: Keep On Trucking
If the Jets are willing to defer the cap problems to the future they can do it. Moves might include:
Convert Santonio Holmesí guaranteed money to a bonus creating $4.75 million in cap room in 2013. The negative is they will face $2.5 million more in cap charges in 2014 and almost guarantee a roster spot for him in 2014.
Extend David Harris by two voidable years and convert guarantee to bonus. This creates $7.125 million of cap room. Of course that is going to mean higher charges in 2014 and a dead hit in 2015 when the deal voids of $4.75 million- Long term pain for a short term gain.
Convert $2.3 million Antonio Cromartie roster bonus into prorated bonus to save $1.15 in 2013. I wouldnít go deeper in on Cromartie than that because of the style he plays, but you could create more if necessary.
Convert Nick Mangoldís $3 million roster bonus to prorated bonus- This saves the team $2.4 million in cap in 2013 and only adds $600,000 per year to each year thereafter on his deal. Of all the moves this will be done in any scenario.
Total Savings: $15,425,000
Add that onto to the original savings and you now have a team that can at least replenish the roster with starting players. For the most part you are banking on the fact that by the time you are forced to pay the cost of these moves, which would be in 2014 and 2015 you get all the cap relief that you need by drafting wisely and filling the roster with contributing rookies
Scenario B: Blow it Up
Release Holmes- The Jets are going to have to cut Holmes a pretty hefty check to get him to go but it does create an additional $1.25 million in cap room in 2013 but more importantly gets him off the books in 2014 where he is set to count for $2.5 million in dead cap if the Jets did not tinker with his deal. Woody was willing to pay Faneca to go away and its doubtful the owner stands in the way here. Because Holmes has an offset in his contract they will also get a credit for whatever salary Holmes earns from another team making this a reasonable move.
Eat the cost and Trade Sanchez- Easier said than done, but there has to be a market for a former top 10 draft pick that by all accounts is a hard worker. A player like David Carr gets about $1 million to be a backup in this league and there is no reason why a team would not pay Sanchez at least double that. The only problem here is that the Jets will take a net negative position by trading him and incurring a $6 million upfront charge to sweeten the pot for another team. Ideally they need to find a team that is willing to pay him about $4 million of his $8.25 million guarantee. Right now he just brings such bad karma to the team he has to go. He may be willing to give up some money to get out the situation as its gotten toxic between the fans and the QB. The big benefit to moving him in 2013 is that you avoid the $4.8 dead money charge in 2014.
Trade Darrelle Revis- Unfortunately you are going to lose cap space($3 million) on this move in 2012, but you are getting the headache of re-signing Revis and the potential of a mega cap charge of $9 million in 2014 by moving him now. The fact is that the Jets are not going to win next season with or without Revis. Why waste $18 million in cap space over 2 years? Coming off an ACL injury the Jets cant expect more than a conditional 1 for Revis likely tied into him re-signing with the team that trades for him. If they let him walk they will only get a 3. If they could get a 2 in 2013 which could lead into a pick swap in 2014 (Jets give their 2014 2 up in return for the acquiring teams 1) itís a no brainer. If notÖ
Trade Antonio Cromartie- His value will never be higher the question is what is that value? Is it a 3? A 4? Cromartie has had a good run in NY yet somehow it wasnít until this year that people began to take any notice of him. That tells me that around the league its lukewarm interest at best. On the plus side the Jets wont need to prepay anything to facilitate a trade and it creates big cap room- $8.25 million- that can be used to offset any losses on a Sanchez dump or carried over to the next year to help cushion the financial impact of Revis leaving the team.
Convert Mangolds bonus- See above.
Total Savings (Trade Revis)- ($1,350,000) in 2013/$15,700,000 in 2014
Total Savings (Trade Cromartie)- $9,900,000 in 2013/$6,700,000 in 2014
My guess is a lot of what they do will depend on who is in charge. If Woody Johnson gives Mike Tannenbaum the authority to go deeper in Id be sure they will go with scenario A and put off the cap issues for another two years at which point they will hopefully be more prepared than they are now. Based on the Jets lack of moves this offseason I donít think he has that authority right now.
If the team brings in a new front office Scenario B is the more likely approach. They will break it all down and rebuild in their own image and own styles. I donít believe in the team right now and think they would be better off going the second route regardless of who is running the team. If they can trade Cromartie it could give the Jets the best of both worlds, but Id be worried about Revis. I think the relationship is strained and they cant chance taking a dead money hit of $9 million in 2014 and only receive a 3rd round compensatory pick for him. If Revis said he would stay on a true market deal (i.e. around 12-13 million a year) Id sign up now but I think he wants $15-16 million and you cant do that for a cornerback. It will cripple the teams cap worse than it is now.