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The Jets might be right or wrong in not trading for Amari Cooper but he wouldn’t have destroyed their salary cap situation

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Look, I’m not trying to start a panic over the Jets not trading for Amari Cooper. There were reasons to avoid dealing for him. There might be a plan for wide receiver that the Jets find more appealing. There’s circumstantial evidence he might be heading for the downside of his career.

Am I telling you to be full of rage over not landing Cooper? No, I am not.

Are there a number of options who could conceivably be better? There absolutely are.

And if the Jets had taken that approach, we could move on. For whatever reason, however, they seem to be pushing this narrative through the media that trading for Cooper would have destroyed the team’s salary cap situation.

According to Over the Cap, the Jets currently have $48.5 million in cap space. Things aren’t exactly what they seem, though. The upcoming Draft class will cost around $13 million in cap space since the Jets have so many picks. That drops the relevant cap space down to $35.4 million. That’s still good for the fourth highest amount of space in the league once picks are factored in.

Now you have to factor in a few million dollars for the practice squad and in season signings.

Let’s say the Jets traded for Cooper. His base salary would be $20 million. So let’s say that leaves the team around $10 million left in space. Wait a minute. This really would destroy the team’s ability to build. Wouldn’t it?

Not exactly.

The structure of a contract matters. Due to the nature of Cooper’s deal and the trade, he has a $20 million cap hit for each of the next three seasons, but none of the money is guaranteed.

If the Jets were really interested in him, they could easily tear up the deal, negotiate a new one, and structure it in a way which could give him a much lower 2022 cap hit. You’ll see plenty of big money deals with artificially low first year cap hits struck in the days ahead. Last year the Giants gave Kenny Golladay a contract with an average annual value of $18 million, but his cap hit the first year was only $4.47 million.

The Jets also could have simply restructured Cooper’s current deal by converting some of his base salary to signing bonus. Essentially this involves lowering a player’s cap number this year by adding money to the cap hit in future years. It also adds additional dead money if the player is cut. If the Jets had converted half of Cooper’s base salary to signing bonus, they would have lowered his cap hit to $10 million this year and still easily be able to escape his contract next offseason easily had he disappointed.

Or the savings from three pretty painless cuts (Sheldon Rankins, Ryan Griffin, and Greg Van Roten) would have paid 60% the cost of Cooper’s first year cap hit.

This brings me to another argument I saw thrown out there.

Look, I’m really not trying to pick a fight here, but I certainly hope this isn’t the Jets’ mindset. I mean what the heck kind of roster building are you doing where you say, “We can’t afford a high end receiver for our second year quarterback because then we couldn’t sign three depth players who have barely played the last two years?” Why would you value acquiring backups more than starters?

Even beyond that, it’s difficult to see how Cooper would put a great dent into the hopes of retaining those players. All of the players mentioned figured to get low money deals.

In the offseason in the NFL, only the cap hits of the 51 most expensive players on your roster count against the cap. So when you sign a player, it knocks previous the 51st most expensive player’s charge off your team’s cap.

Let’s say hypothetically Flacco re-signed for $1 million. Flacco’s $1 million cap charge would count on the cap for the Jets, but the previous 51st highest paid player, currently Isaiah Dunn, would have his $833 thousand charge no longer count against the cap as it would fall to the 52nd biggest cap hit. So in this situation you’d be adding a net of less than $200 thousand to the cap. Obviously if you pay Flacco more, his cap charge goes up, but you’re always subtracting the previous 51st ranked player’s cap charge, which reduces the net cap hit. This makes a big difference when we are talking about signing small money depth players.

I don’t really have big problem if the Jets evaluated Amari Cooper and decided he wasn’t worth it. I have an open mind if they think there is a better option available.

Let’s just stop acting like trading for him would have meant certain salary cap doom.

It would not have.