How GM John Idzik's moves reveal plans to make virtually every Jet play for his job in 2013.
When John Idzik was hired, he expressed the desire to foster competition at every position. This was a welcome change for most Jets fans, who yearned for more accountability, as we saw too many players underperforming without any consequences. The hope was that Mr. Idzik would bring in players at multiple positions to compete for playing time against some current Jets who seemed too comfortable in their jobs.
Unfortunately, salary cap reality caught up with the hope this approach brought, as Idzik so far has made mostly minor moves designed to plug gaping holes with stopgap type players rather than bringing in the kind of first rate talent that can push underperforming starters to the bench. This approach has been dictated by the salary cap mess which Mike Tannenbaum left the Jets and Idzik is trying to clean up.
To be sure, Idzik had options. With David Harris, Mark Sanchez, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold there were enough large contracts available for restructuring for the Jets to be major players for the biggest names in the free agent market. It would have required continuing the Tannenbaum approach of buying now and paying later, achieved by converting base salary into pro rated bonus money, then extending contracts out for an additional year or two. This would have cleared substantial cap space in 2013, at the cost of larger cap hits in later years. Idzik has shown himself to be completely opposed to this approach, at least for the time being.
Idzik restructured only one contract, Antonio Cromartie's, and even there he chose not to extend the contract for even a single year, choosing instead to simply accept the limited cap space created by converting 2013 base salary into bonus money prorated over the existing final two years of the contract. He created more cap room by playing hard ball with Santonio Holmes, forcing a pay cut, and cutting the two Smiths, Pace, Scott and Pouha. Thus far he has been unwilling to create additional cap space by any other restructured contracts.
In addition, the players Idzik has signed have uniformly taken contracts which create little if any cap hits or financial obligations past 2013. Of all the players Idzik has signed so far, Mike Goodson is the only one who creates even $1 Million in dead money if he was cut tomorrow. In other words, they are all eminently cuttable.
The end result of this approach is that nearly every player on the current Jets roster is playing for his job in 2013. Of the entire current roster, only 6 players, Sanchez, Cromartie, Mangold, Ferguson, Revis and Coples would create even so much as $2 Million in dead money if cut after the 2013 season. Sanchez is likely to be cut by 2014 anyway, since despite the dead money he would create $8.3 Million in cap room if cut. The Revis cap hit is unavoidable no matter what the Jets do, meaning his contract, as egregious as it is, does not necessarily create any incentive for the Jets to extend him a long term commitment. That leaves only 4 players who will feel relatively safe after 2013, knowing cutting them is probably too expensive for the Jets to swallow in 2014. Every other player on the roster has effectively been put on notice, perform in 2013 or you're gone.
By 2015, only Ferguson will be uncuttable. In addition, by 2014 the Jets are likely to have upwards of $40 Million in cap space available, assuming Sanchez, Holmes and Harris are cut, leaving Idzik oodles of room to fit new, more competitive players at multiple positions. So if the current moves made by Idzik have left you somewhat underwhelmed and scratching your head as to where this competition the new regime loves to talk about is going to come from, take heart. In 2013, there may be limited internal competition for starting jobs, but nearly every player on the roster is now on notice his job will be in serious jeopardy if he does not perform at a high level in 2013. The competition is primarily coming not from the guys currently on the roster, but from the legions of guys not yet on the roster but who will be by 2014. By then, two new draft classes comprising 14 new players will be here. In addition, a significant number of higher end free agents, perhaps as many as 7 or 8, will likely be brought in to challenge for starting jobs. By 2014, if the Jets draft well, we could see as much as half the 2013 starting lineup being replaced with new and better players. In addition, Rex Ryan will have only one year left on his contract after 2013, making him and the entire coaching staff subject to being fired after the 2013 season. So it may not yet look too competitive. But any players and any coaches paying attention know they are now on notice, effective immediately. The Idzik era has begun, and the era of being comfortable in one's job has come to an end. They will all be accountable, or they will be looking for new jobs in 2014.