At the beginning of the offseason, every team is looking at its financial situation. Across the league teams will cut players for salary cap purposes in the weeks leading up to the new league year.
Sometimes these cuts are due to a decline in performance. Sometimes good players get cut because they just cost too much money. Either their contract doesn’t fit their team’s finances or a younger, cheaper player is waiting in the wings to take on a bigger role. And of course, some contracts were ill-advised from the start.
The Jets really do not have many candidates for salary cap cuts. Most contracts the team has aren’t at the stage of the cycle where it is a consideration.
Generally speaking, significant free agent contracts become escapable after two years. The offseason of 2020 was a reset year for the Jets. They generally avoided major free agent commitments (and the few that they made are actually working pretty well, rendering them moot for the purposes of this discussion). Any bad contract made more than two years ago has already been cleared off the books.
A handful of candidates remain. Let’s go through the list of all players who would save the Jets at least $1 million in cap space if they were cut.
Seemingly Obvious Cuts
These are players who aren’t worth the money the Jets are paying them. They should be cut. Only time will tell whether the Jets actually go through with it.
Ryan Griffin (Cap hit if on the team: $3.1 million; Dead money if cut: $100k; Cap savings if cut: $3 million)
My views on Griffin’s salary are the same as they were the day the Jets gave him an extension in 2019. It isn’t enough money worth getting upset over. It also is an efficient use of money.
There is a concept in sports that has risen in prominence the last two decades called the replacement level player. At some point a player’s talent level is so low that there is an endless supply of comparable players available to sign at the minimum. Griffin is either a replacement level player or close to it. His inability to block effectively or threaten a defense downfield limit his value.
The Jets need to upgrade at tight end, and moving on from Griffin would be the first step.
Greg Van Roten (Cap hit if on the team: $3.5 million; Dead money if cut: $0; Cap savings if cut: $3.5 million)
Van Roten served his purpose for the Jets. He allowed the team to move on from Brian Winters in 2020. He provided Winters-type play that first year for around half the cost.
His play deteriorated in 2021 as he became the weak link on the offensive line. The Jets even felt compelled to make a midseason trade to replace him. There’s no way Van Roten could return as a starter, and as he approaches his age 32 season it probably makes sense for the Jets to try to develop younger, cheaper depth on the offensive line.
Could Go Either Way
These are player for whom credible arguments exist to either keep or cut them.
Sheldon Rankins (Cap hit if on the team: $6.19 million; Dead money if cut: $750k; Cap savings if cut: $5.44 million)
This signing didn’t work out the way the Jets hoped. I think they envisioned Rankins returning to his 2018 form and joining Quinnen Williams as a dynamic duo at defensive tackle. Rankins had his moments, but his play was an issue on an underperforming defense.
I’m not sure we will ever see the guy who looked like a rising star all those years ago in New Orleans before he got hurt. I would be inclined to move on, especially if it cleared room to re-sign Foley Fatukasi. But I guess I could understand it if the Jets wanted take one more shot on him refinding his game and channeling his ability.
Justin Hardee (Cap hit if on the team: $2.035 million; Dead money if cut: $0; Cap savings if cut: $2.035 million)
The Jets signed Hardee to try and fix a special teams unit that had a miserable 2020. Hardee’s performance was up and down. There were plays where he missed opportunities, and he committed too many penalties. Still he was an important player on special teams, participating across multiple units on around three-quarters of the snaps in the game’s third phase and tying with Del’Shawn Phillips for the team lead. I’d like to see Hardee stay. Special teams are too frequently overlooked.
These are players who shouldn’t be cut, but I promised you I would profile every Jet whose release would create over $1 million in cap space.
George Fant (Cap hit if on the team: $11.1 million; Dead money if cut: $1 million; Cap savings if cut: $10.1 million)
After years of talk about his untapped potential, Fant finally put the pieces together in 2021. It was timely for the Jets as Mekhi Becton suffered a season ending injury, forcing Fans to slide over to left tackle.
I’ve become a believer that a team should aim to have three starting caliber tackles, and this past season shows why. It would have been easy for the Jets to move on from Fant after signing Morgan Moses, but they held onto him. Offensive line depth is a rare commodity in this league and worth paying a little extra to have. Even if the team drafts another tackle early to pair with Becton, I think Fant would be worth keeping at his current salary as insurance.
I suppose if the Jets were able to land a clear upgrade in free agency like Terron Armstead, cutting Fant to pay for it might make sense. That’s the only scenario where I see it happening, though.
Connor McGovern (Cap hit if on the team: $10.33 million; Dead money if cut: $1.3 million; Cap savings if cut: $9 million)
McGovern isn’t going anywhere. I’m only including him because I promised to profile every player who would save the Jets over $1 million by cutting. This obviously isn’t happening, though. It wouldn’t make any sense. He might have been the best player on the team this year, and you’d have to pay more than the $9 million in cap savings to find an adequate replacement on the open market.