The acquisition of Percy Harvin makes the NY Jets a better team than it was two days ago. This is beyond dispute. The ways in which it makes the Jets a better team are fairly obvious and have already been thoroughly discussed here and elsewhere. This article isn't about that. In this article we'll explore some of the ways in which the Harvin trade may have wide ranging side effects for the Jets and their personnel. Let's start with a good, juicy conspiracy theory.
John Idzik intended to get Rex Ryan fired. That was a theory. I think this trade puts that theory to rest. If Idzik wanted Rex fired he would certainly not have added a dynamic playmaker to the offense at this stage of the season. It's true, playoff hopes are pretty much completely gone at this point; it's likely too late to salvage those. It may be true that if Rex fails to make the playoffs he will be gone no matter how the Jets perform the rest of the way. But given Woody Johnson's clear affection and respect for Rex Ryan, it is doubtful John Idzik is certain that is the case at this stage of the season. If Idzik is not yet certain of Rex's fate, and he wants Rex fired, why on earth would he add a weapon of Harvin's caliber to the roster now? Harvin cannot hurt the chances of this team the rest of the way, he can only help. How much remains to be seen, but it makes little sense to theorize Idzik is deliberately trying to get Rex fired, and at the same time Idzik is spending $6.4 million this year, money he could have saved for next year and used on his own chosen head coach, to help Rex finish this season as strong as possible. There was likely no other move available for Idzik to make at this late date that would have anything close to the impact Harvin has the potential to make with the 2014 Jets; why make this move that can only help Rex's chances of retaining his job? If the unlikely happens and the Jets catch fire down the stretch and finish say 8-8 yet again, does anyone doubt Rex would have a decent chance of being brought back by an owner that has tremendous affection and respect for Rex? How much would Idzik regret that effect if this were to unfold? How much would he regret possibly saving Rex's job with the Harvin transaction? Surely Idzik has thought this through if he really was ever angling to get Rex fired. Surely having thought it through he would have concluded such a blockbuster move could only help Rex's chances of staying on. Surely having thought that much about it, if Idzik really wanted Rex fired, he would never have agreed to the Harvin trade. I just don't think there is any longer any credible argument to be made that John Idzik deliberately sabotaged Rex's season. Conspiracy theories are fun, but this one has no legs. Whatever the reason or reasons were for Idzik not spending more sooner, none of them included trying to get Rex fired.
I'm going to assume for purposes of this article that after the 2014 season there are three possibilities: Harvin is on the Jets roster under the current terms of his contract in 2015; Harvin is cut after the 2014 season; or Harvin is traded after the 2014 season. There is obviously a 4th possibility in that his contract could be restructured, but without knowing how he will perform the rest of this year, whether he will once again be injured, whether he would be amenable to a pay cut, whether he even wants to play for the Jets, and a host of other variables, it is nearly impossible to know what his salary might be in the event a restructure took place. Consequently I'm going to keep this simple and just assume if Harvin is on the 2015 Jets roster he will be paid $10.5 million for his services.
If Harvin is cut or traded prior to the start of the 2015 season, then the following consequences occur for the Jets. First, the Jets will trade their 6th round choice in the 2015 draft to the Seattle Seahawks. Second, the Jets will have spent $6.4 million (I'm going with Overthecap.com's numbers here, other sources say it's more like $7.1 million) in 2014 and received 9 games from Harvin. Had the Jets never made this trade, that $6.4 million would have rolled over into the 2015 cap space and beyond, meaning that the cost of this trade in the event Harvin is not on the 2015 Jets roster will be a 6th round pick in the 2015 draft and whatever player or players could have been brought here in 2015 or a later year for the $6.4 million spent on Harvin. The idea that this trade is without risk, or has a tiny cost of just a 6th round pick, is simply not true. If Harvin is not on the 2015 Jets roster the cost is a 6th round pick AND some player or players that would have otherwise been signed for the $6.4 million Harvin cost. That may or may not be worth 9 games of a Harvin tryout, but it is certainly not virtually costless.
If Harvin is on the opening day roster of the 2015 NY Jets, his entire $10.5 million base salary becomes guaranteed (this is true for the base salary of any veteran player on the opening day roster). In such an event, the cost of the Harvin trade goes up quite a bit. It would then amount to the fourth round pick in the 2015 draft the Jets would owe the Seahawks, PLUS whatever players $16.9 million in 2015 cap space would be able to buy in 2015 and beyond. All of the $6.4 million paid in 2015 PLUS the $10.5 million paid in 2015 comes off the cap if Harvin is here in 2015, and all of it could have been used for other players if he were never traded to the Jets. So the Harvin trade, if he is a Jet in 2015, costs a 4th round pick and $16.9 million worth of other players that could have otherwise been signed had the trade never happened. $16.9 million can buy quite a bit in other players. As just an example, that kind of money could have netted the Jets Decker, Golden Tate, AND one of the two Kansas City guards on the market last offseason. Is Harvin worth such a package, PLUS a 4th round draft pick? I don't know, but this is far from a slam dunk great value move by Idzik. The idea that this move was without risk basically ignores opportunity costs, otherwise known as what other players could we have gotten if the trade had never happened. Maybe this was the best way to spend the cap dollars, but that is far from certain and this was hardly a risk free move.
If Harvin performs well enough to be brought back in 2015, then John Idzik's two biggest moves will have been signing two wide receivers, Decker and Harvin. Harvin will become the highest compensated Jet in 2015. The Jets will have the 7th most cap space in the NFL tied up in wide receivers, behind the Cardinals, Lions, Dolphins, Redskins, Falcons and Texans. One can certainly question whether this represents a sound structure for the Jets cap spending. It would seem to all but preclude finding another good outside receiver for the Jets in free agency, as it is doubtful Idzik will seek to spend even more money on big contracts at the position. One can question what this team has for that kind of money. It is a curiously structured group of receivers, with Harvin, Kerley (if he is re-signed) and even Amaro all operating best out of the slot, while the team remains without a credible #2 outside receiver and a deep threat. If Kerley is re-signed the Jets would likely jump to 5th on the list of wide receiver cap spending, yet it hardly seems the kind of group that justifies such lavish spending. If Kerley is not re-signed, there remains a gaping hole at the #2 outside wide receiver position, with likely only the draft available to fill it. Either way the group remains somewhat ill structured and unbalanced without a legitimate #2 outside wide receiver and deep threat, something you would not expect with such a high cap figure devoted to the position.
Jeremy Kerley is best suited to be a slot receiver. Percy Harvin is best suited to be a slot receiver. Percy Harvin is better than Jeremy Kerley. Kerley is a free agent in 2015. Kerley has largely disappeared from the Jets attack with the addition of Decker and the emergence of Amaro. The addition of Harvin, if he remains a Jet in 2015, likely seals Kerley's fate as a Jet. It seems unlikely the Jets will make a strong effort to retain the services of an underpeforming slot receiver who fills many of the same roles as Harvin, only with less talent. It seems likely that in 2015 either Kerley will be a Jet or Harvin will be a Jet, but not both.
It has been noted that the Jets may have made this move in order to properly evaluate Geno Smith the rest of the season. I'm not too sure about that theory, but at a minimum it certainly does remove the excuse that Geno has no weapons to work with and therefore cannot be properly evaluated. Another interesting side effect of the Harvin trade could be as follows. If Harvin lives up to the Jets' best hopes and lights a fire under the Jets offense he could mean the difference between Rex staying another year and Rex getting fired. If the Jets were to somehow mount something like a 7-2 run to end the season and finish 8-8, that might well be enough to save Rex's job, especially if the offense finally looks like it's NFL quality. If Rex stays, Marty Mornhinweg stays, and Geno might well get another year based on a presumably strong finish. If the Harvin trade does not work as planned and the Jets fail to finish strong, Rex and Marty will likely both be fired, and whoever comes in to coach next year will almost certainly want to choose his own quarterback. Thus Harvin, if he performs really well, could conceivably save the jobs of the entire coaching staff and Geno Smith. I leave it to you to decide if any or all of those things would be good or bad effects.
The Nature of the Offense
The Jets for Rex's entire tenure have been a run first, ground and pound team. With Harvin coming aboard and a rather large chunk of the cap being devoted to the wide receiver position, it would make very little sense for that to continue. You don't spend lavishly on the passing attack and then make it an afterthought in the offense. If Harvin remains a Jet in 2015 and beyond, the Jets almost certainly will be sporting a brand new, modern pass first attack. Whether Geno, Rex, Marty or anyone else is still here or not, if Harvin remains, the Jets will be passing the ball, a lot. If Geno is deemed not to be the answer, then we should expect the Jets to either try to swing a trade for a quarterback they believe could lead such an attack, or select a quarterback early in the 2015 draft. Continuing the current run first approach seems counterproductive and highly unlikely if Harvin is retained beyond this year. Consequently, finding a quarterback who can run a modern passing attack would seem to be of the highest priority.
There are so many moving parts to the effects this deal may have on the Jets. From the structure of the Jets cap to the nature of the offense to the fates of Rex, Marty, Geno and Kerley, this deal feels like the first fateful move John Idzik has made. If Harvin fails Idzik will have lost a low round pick and $6.4 million of cap space; not great for 9 games, but not devastating. However, the Jets will likely have also lost Rex, Marty and the entire coaching staff, Geno Smith, and any pretense of not still being in rebuilding mode three years into Idzik's tenure in 2015. That is a fairly dangerous position for a GM to be in three years in. If on the other hand Harvin succeeds, Idzik will have lost a 4th round draft pick and $16.9 million in cap space that could have been spent on several other very good players, and very likely will have lost Jeremy Kerley, while gaining a dynamic playmaking, if injury prone, receiver. Harvin may conceivably also save the jobs of the entire current coaching staff, and if he stays beyond 2014 Harvin very likely will usher in a new pass happy Jets offense, as well as very possibly a new quarterback to run it. This trade portends so many possible consequences, good and bad, that it really feels like it could mark a turning point in John Idzik's career. The volatile, dynamic, injury prone, playmaking enigma that is Percy Harvin could well be the butterfly that flaps its wings and sets in motion a whirlwind in Jetsville.