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NY Jets: What Are The Terms Of Fitzpatrick's Offer?

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Let's see if we can put together a reasonable facsimile of Ryan Fitzpatrick's contract offer.

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Today we got word that the Jets have offered Ryan Fitzpatrick a three year deal with $12 million in guaranteed money paid in the first year of the contract.  That seemed to contradict earlier reports that the Jets were offering Fitzpatrick about $8 million.  But there is only a contradiction if we assume the $8 million figure refers to a one year deal.

Let's assume both reports are accurate.  Then we have the Jets offering Fitzpatrick about $8 million per year over three years for a total of $24 million, with $12 million in guaranteed money payable in the first year of the deal.  That implies that the last two years of the deal account for the other $12 million to reach the $24 million total.

Now, that $12 million in guaranteed money might be in the form of straight guaranteed base salary, it might in the alternative be nearly all prorated signing bonus, or it might be something in between.  Roster bonuses and workout bonuses are also possible, but since the rumor is the 2016 money is fully guaranteed, that would appear to rule out those bonus possibilities.  Jets GM Mike Maccagnan also has not made a habit of structuring deals with much in the way of roster and workout bonuses, so let's assume those are off the table. Let's take a look at the possibilities.

If the $12 million in guaranteed money is paid in straight fully guaranteed money base salary, then the cap hit for year one of the deal would be $12 million, and the combined cap hit for the remaining two years would be a total of $12 million, with zero dead money in the final two years if Fitz is cut.  That would be ideal from the perspective of being able to cut ties with no ramifications after 2016. If one of the younger quarterbacks were to step up, there would be no need to pay Fitz after 2016.  Unfortunately, this structure would mean a large cap hit of $12 million in 2016.  The Jets are already effectively over the cap by some $2+ million after accounting for Darron Lee's contract, the practice squad, the addition of two minimum salary players to the cap to account for the fact that offseason cap numbers are calculated with only the top 51 salaries, while in season numbers are calculated with all 53, and some minimal in season cap money to work with.  This means a straight $12 million in fully guaranteed base salary would require clearing cap space of some $14+ million at a minimum by opening day.  While not impossible, this may entail more roster cuts and restructurings than the Jets are comfortable with.

Option 2 is to pay Fitzpatrick a minimal fully guaranteed base salary, say $1 million, and pay him the rest in a prorated $11 million signing bonus.  This option has great appeal for 2016, as it results in a cap hit of only $4.7 million in 2016.  That makes the required cuts and/or restructurings easily achievable without too much pain in 2016.  Unfortunately, a rather nasty side effect would be dead money of $7.3 million if Fitzpatrick is cut in 2017, and dead money of $3.7 million if Fitzpatrick is cut in 2018.  That makes Fitzpatrick almost uncuttable in 2017.  If we assume the remaining  $12 million of base salary is split evenly between 2017 and 2018, that would mean $6 million in base salary in each of those years.  Throw in the $3.7 million in prorated signing bonus for each year and Fitzpatrick's cap hit for 2017 would be a hefty $9.7 million, with $7.3 million in dead money if cut, meaning cutting Fitzpatrick in 2017 would only provide about $2.4 million in cap savings.  Presumably this is an undesirable result for the Jets if one of their young quarterbacks shows he's ready to take over.

So paying Fitz his $12 million all in base salary in 2016 is too difficult to fit under the 2016 salary cap, and paying it almost all in a prorated signing bonus has the undesirable effect of making Fitzpatrick virtually uncuttable in 2017.  What's left?

Although Mike Maccagnan has generally been reluctant to offer much in the way of prorated signing bonuses for older players, in this case he might make an exception and split the baby.  If the Jets structure the deal so that the 2016 compensation is split evenly between a fully guaranteed $6 million base salary and $6 million in a prorated signing bonus, the end result is as follows.  Fitzpatrick's cap hit in 2016 becomes $8 million.  His cap hit in each of 2017 and 2018 would also be $8 million.  Look at that, out pops the rumored $8 million per year figure.  In addition, the dead money if Fitzpatrick is cut in 2017 would be a more manageable $4 million, providing a total cap savings of $4 million if Fitzpatrick is cut.  In 2018 the dead money would be $2 million, with $6 million in cap savings if Fitzpatrick is cut.  Now we have achieved something resembling the desired result.  The Jets have a reasonably manageable total of roughly $10 million required in cuts and restructurings to sign Fitzpatrick and provide for Darron Lee's contract, two minimum salary players, the practice squad and some minimal in season cap space to work with.  In addition, the Jets can cut ties with Fitzpatrick as early as 2017 with a manageable $4 million in dead money. Finally, if none of the young Jets quarterbacks pan out, the Jets would have Fitzpatrick under control for another two years, if they wished to retain his services, for a very reasonable cap hit of $8 million per year.

This seems like the Goldilocks allocation of base salary and signing bonus.  Neither too much nor too little of a cap hit in each year, and neither too much nor too little in dead money.  A reasonable cap number each year and a relatively easy cut to make if so desired as early as 2017.  If the numbers we have heard are true, and the Jets have offered Ryan Fitzpatrick a three year contract with $12 million guaranteed in 2016 and average annual salary of about $8 million, it's fairly likely the offer is structured in something resembling this way.