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New York Jets: What Is in a Contract?

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NJ Advance Media for NJ.com via USA TODAY Sports

The Jets spent big in free agency. They had plenty of money, and they used most of it. Sometimes contracts aren't what they seem in the NFL, however. In other sports, contracts are guaranteed. If you hear a basketball or baseball player has signed a contract for $60 million over 5, years, that player is getting $60 million over 5 years. That isn't so in the NFL. Contracts are not fully guaranteed. Guarantees are part of the negotiations. Depending on guarantees and how the deals are structured in base salaries vs. bonuses, two contracts that look identical in terms of years and money can be wildly different. With that in mind, I want to take a look at some of the big salaries the Jets added, and the implications their contracts really have for the future.

Fortunately, the wonderful site OverTheCap.com can provide us with breakdowns.

Brandon Marshall

Year Cap Charge if on team Cap charge if cut
2015 7,700,000
2016 8,100,000 0
2017 8,500,000 0

Instead of going the free agent route at wide receiver, the Jets gave up a fifth round pick. Looking at how lesser receivers like Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb got eight figures worth of guarantees, it is easy to see why the Jets went the way they did. Heck, had the Jets kept Percy Harvin, they would have given up a higher pick and paid more money to a limited receiver. Marshall is a premium receiver, and his 2015 cap hit is not in the top fifteen at the position.

Because of the way the cap works on Marshall's deal, the Jets owe nothing against the cap if they cut him after 2015. This contract amounts to a 1 year $7.7 million contract with two team options to follow worth $8.1 million and $8.5 million respectively.

David Harris

Year Cap Charge if on team Cap charge if cut
2015 7,500,000
2016 7,500,000 7,500,000
2017 6,500,000 0

The Jets gave Harris a three year deal. This above all Jets offseason moves is the one I don't get. I love Harris. I respect what he has done. The Jets gave him premium money, and he has not been a premium player in five years.

Harris' contract likely keeps him on the team through 2016. As you can see, he counts just as much against the cap if he is on the team in 2016 as he would be if he was cut. He costs zero to cut before 2017, though. This might be a three year deal on paper, but it is in effect a 2 year, $15 million deal with a $6.5 million team option tacked on.

Antonio Cromartie

Year Cap Charge if on team Cap charge if cut
2015 7,000,000
2016 8,000,000 0
2017 8,000,000 0
2018 9,000,000 0

With as much passion as I disliked Harris' contract, I really like Cromartie's. The Jets can cut him after any season on his contract and have zero dead money as a penalty. This is an ideal contract for a talented but inconsistent and aging player. If Cromartie plays well, the Jets can keep bringing him back at a reasonable rate for a good starter. If he doesn't they can let him go without any cap pain.

This really is a 1 year, $7 million contract with three team options, the first two at $8 million and the third at $9 million.

Buster Skrine

Year Cap Charge if on team Cap charge if cut
2015 2,750,000
2016 7,750,000 10,250,000
2017 7,250,000 2,500,000
2018 7,250,000 1,250,000

It was reported as a four year deal. In effect, it is really a two year deal. Skrine will likely be back in 2016. It would take something dramatic for the Jets to want to pay more to have Skrine not be on the team than to be on the team. They would have to eat some dead money to cut him after 2016 or 2017, but we are talking about small sums, $2.5 million and $1.25 million respectively.

This makes Skrine's deal 2 years, $10.5 million. Then you have two team options worth $7.25 million apiece. The first has a $2.5 million buyout and the second has a $1.25 million buyout should the Jets decline either option.

Marcus Gilchrist

Year Cap Charge if on team Cap charge if cut
2015 3,125,000
2016 5,625,000 1,875,000
2017 6,625,000 1,250,000
2018 6,625,000 625,000

Again, we have a four year contract on paper. The Jets arereally only tied into the first year. It will never cost them more than $1.8 million to walk away. Think of it as a 1 year, $3.125 million deal with a team option for $5,625,000 followed by two more team options for $6,625,000 apiece. There are buyouts of $1,875,000, $1,250,000, and $625,000 respectively.

Darrelle Revis

Year Cap Charge if on team Cap charge if cut
2015 16,000,000
2016 17,000,000 25,000,000
2017 15,333,333 8,000,000
2018 10,833,333 1,666,667
2019 10,833,334 833,334

This is really the only case where the Jets invested any significant resources more than two years down the road. Cutting Revis after 2016 cost $8 million. That would be more than$7 million cheaper than keeping him so there is an out if he has really declined in two years. For the Jets to eat $8 million, they'd probably need to see a substantial decline. Years four and five come with cheap charges to cut him so they are essentially a pair of team options for $10.83 million with inexpensive buyouts. If Revis ages gracefully, those could provide the Jets with nice value.

There are two points I hope to make here.

  • Even though the Jets spent a lot of money, they did not mortgage their future. These are players who were brought in to hold the fort over the short term. If they do their jobs well, they might see year three. If not, the team can move on. In either case, the Jets are not going to be tied down long-term and see the same salary cap madness that marked the demise of Mike Tannenbaum (as long as Mike Maccagnan doesn't get crazy restructuring deals like Tannenbaum did).
  • The Jets have not compromised their ability to lock up Muhammad Wilkerson on a long-term deal. They have plenty of flexibility in the years a Wilkerson contract would involve.
This isn't anything new. In the NFL, there isn't the same division of build for now vs. build for the future you see in other sports. It's because contracts like these aren't uncommon. The lack of guarantees for NFL players allows teams to get rid of unproductive players quicker. The smart teams don't choose between building for now or building for the future. They do both. What the Jets did was bring in pieces to plug holes in the short run. Now over the next few years, they will need to find and develop young, cheaper talent to ultimately replace these players.