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Jets Offseason Blueprint, Part 2: Internal Matters

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NFL: New York Jets at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the week, I offered some broad philosophies for the Jets as they embark upon their offseason.

Today I’d like to take a look at how to handle some of the specific players already on their roster. We don’t know the exact salary cap for 2017 in the NFL yet, but the Jets were likely up against it before the Brian Winters contract. Some salaries will need to be shed. Before we get to that, let’s take care of some internal housekeeping.

Lock up Quincy Enunwa

Just as Enunwa made a big leap between his first and second NFL seasons, he made another big leap between his second and third. Year two was about becoming a quality blocker. Year three was about becoming a quality receiver. He chipped in 58 catches for 857 yards in an offense that didn’t exactly have stellar quarterback play. He also showed an ability to line up in multiple places and create mismatches while still contributing as a blocker. He is a young, versatile piece.

The good teams in the NFL frequently lock players like this up early. Enunwa might be in the mood to strike a deal. You see, he spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad, where the pay is not as good as the rest of the league. In the last two seasons, his base salaries have added up to less than $1 million combined.

The Jets have another advantage. Because Enunwa spent most of his first NFL season on the practice squad, he will be a restricted free agent when his contract expires next season. That means in addition to his cheap 2017 salary, the team can offer him a cheap one year deal in 2018 that would scare other teams off since it would come with draft pick compensation for signing him.

Enunwa hasn’t made much money. He is two years from cashing in. This means he might be willing to leave some money on the table to gain financial security. It also means the Jets might be able to lock him up at a reasonable rate beyond those two years rather than drag this thing out and pay through the nose later.

It is difficult to come up with a comparable player to Enunwa because his versatility makes him so unique. Even though they don’t do the exact same things, Delanie Walker was a guy who came to mind. Walker signed an extension around $7 million per year with the Titans a year ago. If the Jets could figure out a way to get Enunwa at a salary of $3-5 million or so over the long-term with a discount since they are giving up two very cheap years, it could be worth it.

Pick up Calvin Pryor’s fifth year option for 2018

On the scale of Jets disappointments this season, Calvin Pryor was not at the top of the list, but he still was a disappointment. After a really good 2015, it felt like Pryor regressed in 2016.

Why pick up the fifth year option then? It is a relatively low risk move. It doesn’t become guaranteed for a year. A team can cut the player at any point and walk away with no dead money the way the Jets did with Quinton Coples in 2015.

A year ago, the price of the fifth year option for a safety with Pryor’s slot was just above $5.5 million. If Pryor regains his 2015 form, that’s a reasonable price for a quality starting safety in 2018. If he continues to struggle, he can be cut.

Get what you can for Sheldon Richardson

If you know one thing about me, know this. I hate trading players when their stock is low. I really don’t like giving up on a player of Richardson’s talent for a low price. I know he might end up in the right situation and flourish. I know there are ways for the Jets to make it work with him, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Leonard Williams.

The issues aren’t with any of this. For a long time, I was of the mind that the Jets should keep Richardson and try to make it work.

The problem is this guy is always at the middle of something. If he isn’t being suspended for violating league policy, he’s hiding an off field incident from the team, or doing something embarrassing, or airing dirty laundry with a teammate in public. At some point, it just becomes too much. The Jets are likely looking to get younger, and this just doesn’t seem like the type of influence the team needs around.

It would be a tougher call if he was actually playing at a Pro Bowl level, but he has been an underachiever. As much as people want to blame the way the coaching staff has used him, that only tells part of the story.

Don’t go crazy trying to keep free agents

There isn’t a lot of quality the Jets have hitting free agency. For the lower level guys, I am agnostic as long as the Jets don’t spend much to keep any of them. As for some of the others, here is what I think.

Restricted free agents

Marcus Williams and Wesley Johnson have shown enough to look like decent depth pieces so I’d offer them the lowest one year tender to return. They haven’t shown me enough to believe either has great odds of becoming a viable long-term starter so I wouldn’t stretch if some other team wanted to go crazy. I also wouldn’t tender Brandon Bostick a contract. The only thing I saw him do consistently was whiff on blocks when reviewing the games.

Unrestricted free agents

I have been planning this post for a few weeks. The original version had a warning about not going crazy to keep Brian Winters because typical free agent warning signs include only one good season, a contract year out of line with the rest of a player’s career, a serious injury, and not playing a premium position. When these are all combined, it is frequently a dangerous cocktail unless a team strikes a frugal deal. That clearly doesn’t make a difference now.

As the rest of the free agents go, I only see three who potentially could get big enough contracts that could result in the Jets netting a compensatory Draft pick. Over the Cap estimated a player last year would have to sign a contract for around $2 million for the old team to get a compensatory pick. I see only three free agents who could net that for the Jets. I am strongly inclined to let all three players go. I am not totally convinced they would get $2 million in free agency for various reasons.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick has a strong enough track record to get a decent backup/stopgap starter contract somewhere. The question is whether he wants to continue playing. He made a lot of money during his career, and perhaps he doesn’t want to move his large family again. There isn’t really any rationale that would make me want to see the Jets bring him back. His strongest argument was that he had a lot of experience in the old offensive system, but that is gone. He also stunk in that system this year.

Geno Smith: Likewise, the strongest argument for Smith’s return might have been knowledge of the system, but that is off the table. Now he’s in the fairly large market of quarterbacks available with “tools” but no major track record of success. I could see a scenario where the Jets bring him back, but he’d need to fall under that $2 million mark. The quarterback market is weak so there won’t be many good options. The league might decide Smith’s body of work and his injury make him totally undesirable. At that point, he’d become an option for a return in my book.

Ryan Clady: The Jets will certainly turn down his team option for 2017. Nobody is 100% sure on how the compensatory pick system works, but my understanding is that would make him a possibility. The question is whether he could actually get $2 million (or whatever the new number is). He took what was essentially a prove it contract from the Jets to try and rebuild his value, and it could not have gone much worse. If he falls below that threshold, he might be an option as a stopgap.

In Part 3, we’ll look at some cap casualty candidates.