Early media estimates posit that the Jets may be big players in the 2014 free agent market. Many are predicting the Jets will have something in the neighborhood of $50 million to spend on free agents in 2014. But is this really an accurate picture of what is likely to be the Jets free agent budget in 2014? Let's take a way too early look under the hood and try to sort it out.
Let's start with the always superb overthecap.com's (OTC) current figures for the Jets' 2014 cap space. OTC has the Jets currently pegged at $95.5 million for 2014, with zero dead money and 40 players under contract. So that's the base figure -- $95.5 million. If we estimate that the 2014 NFL cap figure will come in at say $125 million, then the Jets will have a bit shy of $30 million in cap space in 2014, right?
Not so fast. We have a few adjustments to make before we can arrive at a more accurate figure. First, that 40 man roster is missing 13 players in order to fill out a 53 man squad. So we need to add a minimum of 13 players at approximately $500,000 per player (roughly the NFL minimum wage). That adds $6.5 million to our cap figure, which puts the Jets at $102 million.
Next we have to make adjustments for the 2013 draft class. Since the key players have not yet been signed, OTC pegs all the 2013 draft choices at minimum salaries, other than Brian Winters who has a higher than minimum salary contract already on the books. The result is that OTC underestimates the 2013 draft class cap figures for 2014. Whereas the current listed figure on OTC is $3.7 million for the entire 2013 draft class, when the dust settles and all the Jets' draft choices are signed, the actual 2014 figure will be something like $8.5 million, or $4.8 million more than currently listed by OTC. Rounding up to $5 million, that brings the Jets 2014 cap figure to $107 million.
Next up: the 2014 draft class. This is currently unaccounted for by OTC, since none of those players have even been chosen yet. But by 2014 they will be. Until the 2013 season is done and the Jets' draft position is determined there is no way to determine precisely how much the 2014 draft class will cost. But if we assume a similar position to the 2013 draft, then the 2014 draft class will cost the Jets a net of approximately $2.2 million, after accounting for cutting an equal number of minimum salary guys to make room for the new draft class. That brings the 2014 Jets cap figure to about $109 million.
Next we need to account for the likelihood of certain contract extensions in 2014. Rookie contracts are first eligible for renegotiation/extension after 3 full years of service. It should be noted that there is no requirement that any such contracts be extended, only a team option to do so. The 2011 draft class will be eligible for contract extensions in 2014. That class includes Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis, Bilal Powell, Jeremy Kerley, Greg McElroy and Scotty McKnight. I'm going to assume that of that group, only Wilkerson and Kerley will be offered extensions. Ellis could stake his claim with a huge year, but let's stick with just Wilkerson and Kerley for the moment. It's difficult to say for sure what kind of salary Wilkerson might command, but let's go with an estimate of $7 million per year. That seems reasonable if he continues to improve into a Pro Bowl caliber player. Wilkerson is currently listed at $2.2 million, so such an extension would add about $4.8 million to the cap. Let's also assume Kerley will command a $2 million cap figure with the presumed extension. Kerley is currently listed at about $700,000, so the presumed extension would add about $1.3 million to the 2014 cap. Together Kerley and Wilkerson add about $6 million, bringing the 2014 cap figure to $115 million. Yikes! Where did all our supposed cap room disappear to?
Well, fear not, we're not done yet. Next we need to account for the 2010 draft class. Will any of these guys be extended? That class consists of Kyle Wilson, Vlad Ducasse, Joe McKnight and John Conner. Of the group, only Wilson would appear to have any real shot at an extension beyond a close to minimum salary type deal. But Wilson is already counting $2.3 million against the 2014 cap -- I don't think there's any reason to expect him to command a significantly higher figure even if he is extended. So the 2010 class looks like it is already reasonably accurately accounted for in 2014. We remain at $115 million.
Next up: Austin Howard and Jeff Cumberland. Both will be free agents in 2014. Both were re-signed to one year contracts in 2013. Both are young and relatively inexpensive. No way to know for sure with either guy, but I'm going to guess that both are re-signed for 2014. In 2013 they collectively made $3.3 million. Let's say in 2014 they collectively make $3.5 million. That's $2.5 million more than the minimum salary scrubs they will replace, so we can add that $2.5 million to our salary cap figure, bringing the 2014 total to $117.5 million. After accounting for some wiggle room, our space is nearly gone. So where is all that supposed space going to come from?
Well, there will be some carryover space from 2013. The Jets currently have approximately $10 million in unused cap space in 2013. Approximately $4.8 million will be used up to sign the 2013 draft class, after accounting for offsetting cuts of minimum salary players. That leaves about $5 million in unused cap space the Jets will carry over into 2014, assuming no significant additional signings and/or trades are done. That leaves the Jets with approximately $12.5 million in cap space for 2014. If we assume the Jets will leave $5 million in unused space in 2014, we are left with $7.5 million to play with. A far cry from the $50 million figure being bandied about. So where is the space going to come from?
Roster cuts. Simply put, the only way the 2014 Jets have any appreciable cap space will be by cutting the high priced, bloated veteran contracts at the top of the roster. There are only 4 contracts that currently fit the bill. Antonio Cromartie at $9.5 million in cap savings if cut; Mark Sanchez at $8.3 million; Santonio Holmes at $8.3 million; and David Harris at $5 million. No other contract on the roster offers more than $1.5 million in space. If all of the big four are cut or traded the Jets will add $31.1 million in cap space. Added to the $7.5 million in usable space the Jets will already have, the best the Jets can hope for in 2014 is slightly less than $39 million in usable cap space. Sanchez and Holmes are nearly certain to be cut. Harris and Cromartie are a bit more questionable. If only Sanchez and Holmes are cut, the Jets will have roughly $24 million in usable space.
So there it is, our ridiculously early preview of the 2014 cap situation. It is not as rosy as some are currently portraying it. On the other hand, the Jets will certainly have enough money to be major players in the free agent market. If the Jets cut all of the big four, they will be amongst the top few teams in terms of being able to afford big name talent.
Keep the four names of Sanchez, Cromartie, Holmes and Harris in the back of your mind this season. All are playing for their Jets' careers. None are likely to be back, and if more than one returns it will be a surprise. If all four are gone in 2014, the Idzik dismantling of the Tannenbaum roster will be nearly complete, with only Ferguson and Mangold remaining among the non-rookie contracts.
So, given the 2014 cap situation, who would you like to see extended? Kerley? Wilkerson? Wilson? Who would you like to see re-signed? Cumberland? Howard? And who would you like to see cut? All of the big four, or should some survive the Wrath of Idzik? Next season should be interesting, as the Idzik philosophy really begins to take shape.