The Jets currently sit somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million over the projected 2009 salary cap of $123 million. On paper, it leaves the team with the least desirable situation in the league. However, things are not dire. It is nowhere near as bad as after the 2005 season after which Gang Green went from being the most over the cap to the most under the cap in one year. This situation is quite workable.
The first issue is Brett Favre's $13 million salary is included in this figure. Since all of his salary is considered base, the Jets save the entire $13 million if he is traded, cut, or retired. The third option seems very likely. However, the Jets will be negotiating from a position of strength even if he does return. If Favre comes back, it will not be for the money. He has earned plenty in his career. It will be to try and win a second ring. With this in mind, the team could ask him to take a substantial paycut and possibly defer money. If he refuses, the Jets could simply cut him. While Favre's return would not be terrible, there is no reason to blow up the rest of the team to take a shot with a quarterback who only would have one year left anyway. The Jets could just start their quarterback search in 2009 instead of 2010. Favre essentially wipes out the deficit.
There is plenty more room to clear by simply dumping backups. David Barrett could not even crack the crummy secondary rotation by the end of the season. He is surely a goner and will save $3.7 million. Dustin Keller's emergence means Chris Baker is no longer needed. Cutting him will save $2.1 million. David Bowens is a useful backup, but cutting him frees up another $2.6 million. The Jets could bring him back at a cheaper price.
Beyond this, there is plenty of room to get creative. Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Moore, and Kris Jenkins have over $30 million in roster bonuses. That money could be converted into signing bonuses, which would free up somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.
This is before the Jets would even consider asking players to restructure. During that 2005 offseason, the team was more than double over the cap what it is right now. Mike Tannenbaum saved the day by restructuring a number of contracts, earning his cap guru label.
The Jets have the ability to clear out a lot of cap room without losing key contributors. Abram Elam, Ty Law, and Eric Barton are the only starters who are free agents. If this team wants Elam back, he will be cheap. The team could easily upgrade over Barton and Law. Law's replacement might be on the roster right now, Dwight Lowery.
One final point to make is the status of Laveranues Coles. A lot of fans say they want him cut or traded. That would serve no purpose. Because the Jets agreed to guarantee his 2009 money last year, he will count $7 million against the cap whether he is on the team, cut, or traded. It took that to get him in uniform this season and hampers the team now. Call it a case or robbing Peter to pay Paul. Getting rid of him would serve no benefit. If Randy Moss could only net a fourth round pick, Coles, on the wrong side of 30 and coming off two mediocre seasons, has little if any trade value. Cutting him would not make sense. An inferior player would take his roster spot. Even if the team got a starting caliber receiver, Coles in the slot is probably more valuable than Brad Smith on special teams. LC is going to be on the roster next season. A plausible scenario would be his playing time decreasing so the team can see whether Chansi Stuckey or David Clowney is starter material in 2010. Either way, Coles is going nowhere.
These are all key points to remember. The NFL season ends today so the media will naturally look to the offseason. Lazy writers will naturally see the Jets' situation on paper and pontificate on how their spending spree last year put them into "cap hell." The truth is the team will not likely have to cut any key contributor with the possible exception of Favre, who probably is gone anyway. The Jets will not be big spenders again. Adding multiple big contracts in consecutive offseasons would eventually add up. However, this team should be able to shop a bit, hardly a condition of a team in "cap hell."
All figures via NY Jets Cap.