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Jets Don't Necessarily Need to Clear Out Much Cap Space for Muhammad Wilkerson in 2016

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Muhammad Wilkerson needs a new contract. He is not under contract for the  New York Jets in 2016. As many have noted, the Jets are not exactly rolling in cap space in 2016. Over the Cap has them with over $145 million dedicated to the top 51 players on the roster. The cap for this season is a little over $143 million.

The situation is not as dire as it looks on paper. There are cuts and restructures available to the Jets to clear up that space. Some will even be necessary. The Jets really cannot have D'Brickashaw Ferguson back in 2016 with a $14 million cap hit. That will either have to come down, or the Jets will need to find another solution at left tackle.

Even so, the Jets still could conceivably bring back Wilkerson in 2016 at a low cap number. It goes back to what we discussed on Saturday. In many contracts, the first year cap hit is artificially low.

When a player signs a new contract, you frequently hear about a signing bonus. As the name suggests, that is a payment the player gets just for signing the contract. He is typically paid that money or at least a nice chunk of it shortly after signing.

Let's say you sign a contract with a $12 million signing bonus. You get $12 million. That's money you can put in the bank. You can buy a house. You can do whatever you want with it. You get it in the next few days.

Just because the team is cutting a $12 million check today doesn't mean that $12 million all counts against the cap this season, though. Signing bonuses are spread out over the life of the contract. So year 1 it will count as $3 million. It also counts $3 million in year 2, year 3, and year 4.

Again, you've got a $12 million check, but the cap hit for the team from that bonus this year is only $3 million. You've still got $12 million, though, so I might go to you and say something like, "Hey, since you have that money can you take a $2 million salary in the first year?"  You might be worth $10 million a year, but in that first year you've already got $12 million. An extra $2 million in base salary is reasonable.

So we add the $2 million to your cap hit. The signing bonus counts $3 million against the cap. Add them together, and your cap hit for the first year of this contract is $5 million. Now next year you don't get that signing bonus so I'll pay you $10 million in base salary. Add that to the $3 million your signing bonus costs per year, and you're a $13 million cap hit. Still, this is an extra year I've been able to buy before you become a big cap hit.

This is fairly common for the NFL.

Randall Cobb signed a 4 year, $40 million contract during the offseason. His first year cap hit for Green Bay is $5.3 million. He got a $13 million signing bonus. That's money Cobb has been paid, but the Packers don't get charged $13 million against the cap this season. They get charged $3.25 million each year for the next four years. Since Cobb has that money, he's taking a $1.2 million base salary this year along with a couple of bonuses that add up to $900,000. Next year his cap figure will rise to $9.1 million and $12.75 in both 2017 and 2018. But the Packers got an extra year of Cobb at a reasonable price.

Jeremy Maclin signed a 5 year, $55 million contract during the offseason. His first year cap hit for Kansas City is $3.4 million. He got a $12 million signing bonus. That $12 million is his. He's got that so in exchange, he could afford to take a base salary of under $1 million along with a small workout bonus. He'll never be below $12.4 million against the cap for the rest of that contract without restructuring, but that first year is not painful.

This might involve having Wilkerson play out his current deal and not negotiating until the season is over. There is some risk involved with this strategy, but the Jets do have the franchise tag at their disposal to maintain the exclusive right to negotiate with Wilkerson.

This year the tag for a defensive end was a shade under $15 million. That might sound good, but players don't want to be tagged. Wilkerson might not make $15 million annually on the open market, but that isn't necessarily the biggest consideration. A long-term deal is going to bring in well more than $15 million for Wilkerson either officially guaranteed or essentially guaranteed because he will be impossible to cut in the first few years due to cap constraints. The NFL is a league where players decline and suffer serious injuries. It is almost always in the player's interest to get a long-term deal while he can. The bottom line is Wilkerson would still have every incentive to negotiate with the Jets after being tagged.

I am not saying this would necessarily be the best way for the Jets to approach a Wilkerson deal. It is, however, at their disposal if they didn't want to clear out a ton of cap space for 2016 and still wanted to keep Mo.