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The 2015 NY Jets Salary Cap

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A look at what to expect regarding the salary cap for the 2015 New York Jets.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Is the 2014 season over yet?  Well, no, but that can't come soon enough for the New York Jets.  Looking forward to the next eight games is somewhat akin to looking forward to a nice root canal, so it is perhaps time to set our sights a few months ahead and start talking about the 2015 season.  We already know it is very likely the Jets will have a shiny new coaching staff to work with.  Perhaps along with that will come a new GM.  Whether or not there is a total housecleaning at the management level, whoever is running the show will have a good deal of salary cap space to work with.  Join me for a preliminary take on what to expect for the 2015 New York Jets salary cap.

What a difference a week or so makes.  A few days ago the Jets were staring into a nearly limitless supply of cap dollars, projected to be in the neighborhood of $70 to $75 million under the 2015 cap, with the possibility of even more, depending on which players are cut before the start of the 2015 season.  That number was at least $10 million more than any other team in the NFL, and it represented more than half of the entire NFL $140 million salary cap currently projected for 2015.  Needless to say that was a very big number for 2015 cap space.  However, recent developments have changed those projections quite a bit.  The extension of Jeremy Kerley and the trade for Percy Harvin has pretty dramatically altered the salary cap picture for the Jets over the next year or two. Combined they have removed nearly $8 million from the 2014 Jets cap space, which is now down to approximately $12.5 million, and removed nearly $20 million from the 2015 cap space, which is now down to approximately $53 million.  That gives the Jets approximately $10 million less in cap space than both the Raiders and the Jaguars in 2015, a $20 million turnaround in just a few days.  The Jets are now roughly even with the Browns for 3rd in the NFL in 2015 cap space.  It should be noted that all figures in this article have been taken from the always superb overthecap.com.  Let's take a closer look under the hood and try to figure out how much of that $53 million in cap space is actually likely to be available for free agent spending in 2015.

Let's start with overthecap.com's (OTC) current figures for the Jets' 2015 cap space. OTC projects the NFL's salary cap for 2015 will come in at $140 million, a $7 million increase from the 2014 cap.  This figure will change when the actual number is announced by the NFL, but it probably represents a reasonably accurate estimate.  OTC  has the Jets currently pegged at $99.5 million in cap spending for 2015, with 41 players under contract. So that's the base figure -- $99.5 million. With the 2015 salary cap estimated at $140 million, the Jets will have about $40.5 million in 2015 cap space, right?

Not so fast. We have a few adjustments to make before we can arrive at a more accurate figure. First, that 41 man roster is missing 12 players in order to fill out a 53 man squad. So we need to add a minimum of 12 players at approximately $500,000 per player (roughly the NFL minimum wage). That adds $6 million to our cap figure, which puts the Jets at $105.5 million.

Next we have to account for the 2015 draft class. This is currently unaccounted for by OTC, since none of those players have even been chosen yet. But by 2015 they will be. The Jets look likely to be picking very high in the 2015 draft, which will skew the salary cap cost higher than average for this draft class.  It's impossible to know at this time precisely how much the 2015 draft class of six selections will cost, considering we don't know what the Harvin trade will end up costing the Jets in terms of draft picks and we don't know where exactly the Jets will be picking, but a decent estimate is probably around $7.5 million for six draft choices.   Those six choices will likely be displacing 6 minimum contract players on the roster, so we can back out about $3 million in cap space in player cuts from the $7.5 million cost of the 2015 draft class, bringing the net cost of the class to $4.5 million.  That brings the 2015 Jets cap figure to about $110 million.

Next we need to account for the likelihood of certain contract extensions in 2015. 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 2012 draft class will be eligible for contract extensions in 2014. Only three players remain from the 2012 draft class: Quinton Coples, DeMario Davis and Antonio Allen.  I'm going to assume that nobody from that group will be offered extensions in 2015, but Davis will be re-signed prior to becoming a free agent in 2016, and Coples and Allen both have a better than even chance of being lost to free agency.  If this is how things play out then there will be no adjustment for the class of 2012 contract extensions, because none will be offered in 2015.  We remain at $110 million.  It should be noted here that Muhammad Wilkerson is already signed through the 2015 season, so no adjustment need be done with regard to his contract until the 2016 season.

Given how the Jets handled the Kerley extension it is likely that they will wait until sometime during the 2015 league year to hammer out an extension for Wilkerson. Assuming such an extension is completed shortly after the end of the 2014 season, how much will Wilkerson cost in 2015 cap space?  Not an easy question to answer, but it has been suggested that the Robert Quinn contract offers some hints as to what Wilkerson's eventual contract will look like.  If Quinn is a good comparison, then we can expect an average cost of $12 to $14 million per year.  Let's split the difference and call it a $13 million cap number for 2015.  Wilkerson is currently under contract for 2015 at approximately $7 million, so an extension for Mo might add about $6 million to the Jets 2015 cap spending, bringing the figure to $116 milion.

Next we need to account for the rest of the 2011 draft class. We have already dealt with Kerley and Wilkerson.  That leaves Kenrick Ellis and Bilal Powell as the only remaining players from the 2011 draft class.  I would guess Powell will be re-signed, let's say for roughly $1.5 million, about the same as his current salary.  Back out the cost of a minimum salary player who will be cut to add Powell and we get an increase of $1 million, bringing the cap spending to $117 million for 2015.  I believe Ellis will not be re-signed given the emergence of T.J. Barnes, so the cap spending remains at $117 Million.

Next up: Kyle Wilson.  Will he be lost to free agency? Tough call.  He isn't very good, but with the complete lack of anything resembling an NFL starting caliber cornerback on the team, he may be re-signed as a stopgap measure.  Let's say Wilson is brought back for approximately $3.5 million.  Back out a $500 thousand minimum contract and Wilson adds $3 million to 2015 cap spending, bringing the Jets to $120 million.

Next up: David Harris, Michael Vick, Willie Colon, Dawan Landry and Damon Harrison.  There are many other Jets hitting free agency, but the rest are likely to command contracts not much more than minimum, making their impact on the Jets 2015 cap spending minimal.  So which of these five are likely to return?  I would guess Harris and Harrison will be the only players among these five returning to the 2015 Jets.  Vick is possible depending on how he plays the rest of the way.  Landry and Colon are likely gone.  Let's stick with Harris and Harrison.  How much will they cost?  Harris is an inside linebacker, a low paying position, and he's on the wrong side of 30.  Ideally you let a guy like this walk, but since the Jets have no viable internal options, he will probably be brought back.  Given his age and position I would guess he will command no more than $5 million in cap spending.  Harrison is very good, but he's a part time player at a very unglamorous nose tackle position.  Based on what run only defensive nose tackles are commanding, I would guess $5 million or so would get it done for Snacks.  However, Snacks is a restricted free agent, meaning the Jets effectively control him for the 2015 season.  Let's say the Jets tender him and the cap cost is $1.5 million.  After backing out two minimum contracts for the guys who get cut to bring back Harrison and Harris we add a net of $5.5 million to cap spending.  That brings us to $125.5 million in 2015.

Next we account for the wiggle room most teams carry into the season.  In 2014 the Jets carried a whopping $20+ million of wiggle room into the season, but that was far in excess of the average team and far in excess of anything the Jets have done in the recent past.  Let's say the Jets carry a more normal $7 million in wiggle room into the 2015 season.  That brings us to $132.5 million.

There will be some carryover space from 2014. The Jets currently have approximately $12.5 million in unused cap space in 2014. That brings the total cap space the Jets are working with to $152.5 million in 2015.  Back out the $132.5 million already accounted for and the Jets will have approximately $20 million in usable cap space to spend on free agents in 2015.  You can see how much impact the Harvin trade had on 2015 spending.  Together with the Kerley deal it cut the Jets' potential free agent budget in half.  But we aren't done yet.  What haven't we accounted for?  Roster cuts.  How much space will roster cuts open up?

There are  ten players on the 2015 Jets roster who will provide more than $700 thousand in net cap relief (assuming the Jets replace them with a minimum contract player) if cut and will not create an overwhelming amount of dead money.  Those players are as follows:

Player

Net Cap Savings

Dead Money

.

Percy Harvin

$10 million

$0

Nick Mangold

$6.9 million

$3 million

Muhammad Wilkerson

$6.5 million

$0

Chris Johnson

$3 million

$1.75 million

Chris Ivory

$1.5 million

$0.75 million

Nick Folk

$2.15 million

$0

Calvin Pace

$1.625 million

$0.13 million

Jeff Cumberland

$1.4 million

$0

Jason Babin

$1 million

$0.13 million

Antwan Barnes

$0.7 million

$0.3 million

It's probably safe to say Mangold, Wilkerson, Ivory and Folk will not be cut.  Harvin is an iffy proposition, he could be cut, he could be restructured, or he could simply be retained.  To simplify things let's assume he will either be retained at his current salary or he will be cut and lost to free agency.  Let's assume Cumberland is not cut.  That leaves four players being cut and one iffy cut.  The four players being cut are Johnson, Pace, Babin and Barnes.  Collectively they provide $6.3 million in cap relief, bringing the usable 2015 cap space to $26.3 million.  If Harvin is cut that brings the usable 2015 cap space to $36.3 million.  There are many more cuts that could be made, but none offer much in the way of cap savings, so they can be collectively ignored.

So there it is, our preview of the 2015 cap situation. It is not as rosy as some are currently portraying it, primarily because of the Harvin and Kerley deals.  On the other hand, the Jets will certainly have enough cap space to be major players in the free agent market, and the idea that John Idzik has been saving so much cap space in order to account for re-signing the Jets own free agents has been shown to be untrue.  There will be plenty of space available even after accounting for re-signing internal free agents.  If the Jets cut Harvin they will be among the top few teams in terms of being able to afford big name talent.

Given the 2015 cap situation, who would you like to see extended or re-signed?  Wilkerson? Wilson? Allen?  Harris?  Vick? Colon?   And who would you like to see cut?   Harvin?  Cumberland?  Pace?  Everybody?  Next season should be interesting, as the Jets' transformation continues.