Precisely one year ago today I published an article of like name and purpose, in which I predicted Joe McKnight, Aaron Berry and Ellis Lankster might not survive training camp, due in part to salary cap considerations: Three Jets On The Bubble. I got one right (McKnight) one wrong (Lankster), and one incomplete (Berry, who wound up on injured reserve). Interestingly, the one I got right got by far the most pushback in the comments, and the one I got wrong got almost no pushback.
I thought this might become an annual tradition, in which I trot out the old crystal ball (O.K., so it's actually one of those plastic hamster balls, but who's quibbling?), and try to predict which players few think of as being on the cutting block might get cut, at least partially for cap reasons. In turn, you all get to ridicule my choices and question both my judgment and my sanity. Sounds fun, right?
We'll start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you start to read it's A, B, C; when you start to cut its Cro, Mark, T(one). The first three cuts just happen to be: Cro, Mark, T(one). Those three guys would produce approximately $26 Million in cap savings, music to Jets' fans ears. But once we get past the sound of that music, the cuts become a bit more difficult to project. Certainly Stephen Hill is a possibility, but he would actually cost the Jets a bit of money to cut, after accounting for the net effect of his replacement's salary, so he doesn't qualify for this article. Mike Goodson is an obvious target, but he's too obvious. Dawan Landry is older and would save some space, but he's a Rex Ryan guy and is probably staying. So here are the guys I've come up with: David Harris, Bilal Powell and Tanner Purdum. All have been Jets for years. All are probably overpaid. So all could be on the chopping block.
Harris is the most problematic selection. He is overpaid, with a $7 million cap hit and $5 million in potential cap savings if traded or cut. Still, while he is overpaid, he also is coming off a pretty good year, and he is the best of the Jets' four linebackers, so it's going out on a limb to suggest he might be cut. He also is the guy Rex counts on to act as the QB of the linebackers, a not trivial role and one not so easily replaced. Certainly the Jets will not cut Harris and just try to replace him with the underwhelming backups currently on the roster. So why choose Harris? It comes down to that tempting $5 million in cap savings, along with Harris' age. Harris will turn 31 during the coming season's playoffs. He was never fast, and is now downright sluggish. He is a major liability in pass coverage. Throw in the fact that the $5 million in cap savings would go a long way toward signing a younger, faster, better-at-coverage inside linebacker in free agency and the Jets just might decide to cut him a year too early rather than a year too late. In the alternative, the Jets might decide they can live with reduced effectiveness at the inside linebacker position, and simply draft a new inside linebacker, using the savings to help sign a dominant outside linebacker or safety. Rex has long sung Demario Davis' praises regarding his leadership abilities. Despite his sometimes spotty play, entering his third year Rex may decide it's Davis' LB unit now, giving the Jets one more reason to cut ties with Harris. This one is admittedly the most problematic; however, it is also the one that provides the most cap space. So Harris is my first target for not making it out of training camp.
Next up: Bilal Powell. Powell sort of came into his own last season, starting the season on pace for a run at a 1000 yard year before running out of steam and ceding his starting job to Chris Ivory. Powell has proven to be tough and versatile, but he has also proven to be below average in every aspect of the game. He has throughout his career been a below average back in terms of yards per carry. He also has been below average in terms of his hands and receiving skills. And he has been just short of atrocious in terms of his pass blocking. Entering the final year of his contract, with a cap figure of approximately $1.5 million, with approximately $1.4 million in cap savings if cut or traded, Powell represents something of a conundrum. The cap savings are not insubstantial, and he is not a particularly good back, but he is currently the second running back on the roster, and a suitable replacement would need to be found if he were to be replaced. The most likely place to find a replacement would be through the draft, although I would not rule out the Jets signing somebody like Rashad Jennings, Andre Brown, Maurice Jones Drew or Chris Johnson. Whether the Jets seek a replacement through free agency or through the draft, or both, it is not difficult envisioning the Jets seeking to upgrade the second part of the team's running back tandem. So don't be surprised if the Jets announce the selection of somebody like Baylor's Lache Seastrunk or Washington's Bishop Sankey in the draft, and maybe sign a free agent as well, leaving Powell on the outside looking in.
My final candidate for the cutting block is the never-noticed-because-he's-so-good-at-what-he-does Tanner Purdum. With Purdum it's not a case of upgrading so much as it's a case of when is it time to get younger and cheaper? Purdum quietly does his job effectively and with few, if any, errors. However, so did his predecessor, and at some point it came time for a replacement, because the team found somebody younger and cheaper to do the job just as well. Purdum enters his fifth year with the Jets, and he just turned 28. He will count $730,000 against the cap, all of which would be savings if he were cut. A replacement might save $200,000 to $300,000, not a lot, but if the Jets find somebody they like just as well, it may be enough to pull the trigger. Every year a guy like Purdum stays on the team he gets more expensive due to minimum salary requirements without ever really improving or adding more value. At some point it becomes time to move on. Maybe this is the year with Tanner, despite the fact that the Jets likely have no quarrel with his play.
So there are my three for this year. Three guys on the bubble, hoping it doesn't pop for them. By cutting all three the Jets would save $7.1 million against the cap, before accounting for their replacements. All have added some value to the Jets' team, and none are currently looked on as likely cuts. But by replacing these three, the Jets would likely get younger, faster and cheaper, and with the saved cap money put to good use, quite possibly substantially better as well. Maybe they all get cut; maybe none of them do; but if I were any of these three players, I would not be sleeping well this offseason. Their bubbles may be about to burst.