What does that mean for the New York Jets? Well, it means they have a lot of money to spend. Let's explain exactly how much.
The Jets' adjusted cap is $156.15 million, according to the NFLPA. That figure includes the carryover from last season, $12.6 million -- i.e. unused cap space. Former general manager John Idzik got ripped for being frugal, but there was a method to his madness, so to speak. Unfortunately for him, he's not around to reap the benefits of his plan.
Right now, the Jets have $97.5 million committed to the 2015 cap, according to ESPN research.The amount of "dead" money (old contracts still on the cap) also must be factored into the equation. For the Jets, it's $3.4 million, per ESPN. These numbers will vary slightly, depending on the source. I can't really explain why; it's just one of the mysteries of the salary-cap world in which we live.
Anyway, when you crunch these numbers, it comes out to $55 million in cap space. The Jets will recoup another $10.5 million if they release wide receiver Percy Harvin.
As we explained in a previous post, the Jets have to dole out some serious cash to stay in line with the league's minimum-spending requirement. Their cash payroll for 2015 and 2016 needs to average about $141 million to remain in compliance. To hit $141 million this year, they'll have to raise the actual payroll by more than $60 million.
In other words, they can re-sign David Harris, extend Muhammad Wilkerson's contract, sign two or three top free agents and take a cruise around the world without even sweating the cap.
For the next few weeks, the NFL's talent evaluators -- scouts, general managers, personnel directors and coaches -- will crisscross the country to time, test and interview prospects.
Every team attends every major-college pro day, so don't read too much into your favorite team showing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, or another hot spot. Now, if your GM and head coach make an appearance at a particular pro day, that's noteworthy. If they're absent at a marquee pro day, don't fret. They can always return for a private visit and workout.
Here's a look at the key dates, places and star attractions for the New York Jets, who own the sixth pick in the draft:
- March 12: Oregon (QB Marcus Mariota)
- March 13: West Virginia (WR Kevin White)
- March 18: Michigan State (CB Trae Waynes)
- March 19: Missouri (OLB Shane Ray)
- March 31: Florida State (QB Jameis Winston)
- April 7: Florida (OLB Dante Fowler Jr.)
Player: Kyle Wilson
Age: Turns 28 in May
2014 stats: The former first-round draft pick played in 16 games, as usual, working exclusively out of the slot in the nickel package. Former coach Rex Ryan scaled back on the number of times he played nickel, cutting into Wilson's playing time -- only 31 percent of the defensive snaps. By the end of the year, he was a non-factor, as he played only four snaps in the final two games. He finished with 18 solo tackles, one sack and no interceptions.
The case to keep him: The cornerback depth chart is perilously thin, so any warm body has to look appealing. Wilson is studious and durable (has never missed a game), and you never have to worry about him getting into trouble.
The case to let him go: Ryan was desperate for corners last season, yet he refused to expand Wilson's role. Instead of making him a full-time player on the outside, Ryan left him in the slot. Wilson wasn't a train wreck -- he was targeted only 30 times, according to Pro Football Focus -- but he didn't make any plays. For the second straight year, he wasn't involved in a single takeaway. Look, a lot of teams liked Wilson in the 2010 draft, so it wasn't like the Jets were the lone wolf. He was considered a top prospect because he was an aggressive, press-man corner, but he hasn't shown much improvement over his five years. His ball skills, mainly his ability to track the ball in the air, are suspect. This is hard to believe, but he has been involved in only six takeaways in five years -- three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Crystal ball: Despite a tremendous need at the position, the Jets don't have Wilson in their immediate plans. Because of his draft pedigree, he will garner some interest after the first wave of free-agent signings. The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, all with Jets connections in the front office or coaching staff, could show interest. Wilson won't land a starting job, but he could be somebody's third or fourth corner. He will have to settle for a lot less than he made on his previous contract. A one-year, prove-it deal might be the way to go.
1. Revenge of the nerds: Took a trip to Boston Friday and Saturday to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where a lot of smart people in various sports gathered to discuss the impact of analytics. (Think "Moneyball.") Eighteen NFL teams were represented, not including the Jets, who attended the conference last year. With free agency and the draft approaching, it was interesting to hear executives from teams such as the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs -- both champions -- discuss how they use numbers, data and analytics for player evaluations and team building. Then, of course, there was Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames.
"The notion that you can sit behind a computer and pick athletes is bulls---," Burke told the audience. He later backtracked, claiming analytics play a small role in their player-evaluation process.
The Jets are still getting situated under new general manager Mike Maccagnan, but they're not expected to ride the wave of the analytics craze.
Roseman didn't sound keen on the concept of a blockbuster trade up.
"The history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn't good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it," he said. "The guys who are really good at drafting, if you're hitting on 60 percent of your first-round picks, that's a pretty good track record and it's dropping as you go through the rounds. So, really, the more chances you get -- the more tickets to the lottery you get -- really, the better shape you're going to be."
He doesn't have the final say on personnel -- coach Chip Kelly, who covets Mariota, has that power -- so Roseman's opinion has to be kept in the proper context. Nevertheless, it gives us an idea what one voice in the Eagles' draft room might be thinking.
It also could be a great tool for evaluating quarterbacks in the draft. Imagine conducting a virtual contest between Mariota and Jameis Winston, testing their decision-making, reaction time, anticipation, etc. against a "real" defense. Why stop there? The Jets could stage a virtual quarterback competition, which probably would be more intense than the actual competition that occurred last summer.
4. Fixing the schedule: The Jets can't blame their struggles in recent years on an unfair schedule -- at least not according to a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Murat Kurt submitted a research paper at the Sloan conference that reveals a competitive imbalance in the regular-season schedule, showing a significant disparity in the total number of games played against extra-rested opponents -- i.e., teams coming off the bye week or a Thursday night game. From 2002 to 2014, the Jets played 16 such games. Only the Cincinnati Bengals (14), Pittsburgh Steelers (15) and Washington Redskins (15) had fewer games against extra-rested foes.
The most? The Buffalo Bills had 29, including one last season against the Jets. It didn't prevent the Bills from administering a 38-3 beatdown.
In his paper, Kurt offers a solution to the problem, but he lost me at "mixed-integer linear program."
6. Chad hanging in: Former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, a smart guy whose opinions are respected, refuses to throw in the towel on Smith. Pennington, speaking Friday on ESPN radio, said it takes three to five years to get an accurate read on a quarterback. Smith is entering his third year.
"There's no question I think Geno Smith has the physical talent," Pennington said. "He came from a spread system at West Virginia. There's obviously a huge learning curve, and I'd hate to see them give up on a talented player like this."
Another former Jets quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, also has spoken highly of Smith. It's a tight fraternity, I suppose, although something tells me Smith wouldn't get a glowing review from Mark Sanchez.
The Jets, who traded Revis because they didn't want to pay him, have helped his leverage by professing their interest in him. (See Woody Johnson's end-of-the-season comment about welcoming a Revis return.) That has to be in the back of New England's mind as it negotiates. The Jets, of course, could get penalized by the NFL, as the Patriots filed a tampering charge. The Jets could be fined or docked a draft pick. If that happens, they can take some solace in knowing Johnson's remark probably caused the Patriots to pay a little more than they preferred, eating up valuable cap space.
8. A pioneer calls it quits: James (Shack) Harris, 67, a longtime front-office executive who made history in 1969 when he became the first black quarterback to start an opening-day game, announced his retirement from the league this week. He worked most recently in the Detroit Lions' personnel department. Harris spent six decades in the game, leaving an indelible mark. He fulfilled his dream to play quarterback at a time in our history when young African-American players were steered to other positions. His first start came against the Jets, with whom he later worked.
Harris was the Jets' assistant general manager from 1993 to 1996. I remember one story about him. When they were scouting Keyshawn Johnson before the 1996 draft, the Jets dispatched Harris to the USC pro day to get an accurate 40-yard dash time. There had been some question about Johnson's speed, and they needed that last piece of information before deciding to pick him No. 1 overall. Harris, who speaks with a slow, deep drawl, doesn't waste words. He keeps it simple and direct. When he called the team after the workout to report his findings, he said simply, "Speed won't be a problem." And that was that. The Jets drafted Johnson.
Position: Right guard
Age: Turns 32 in April
Previous contract: Made $2 million on his second consecutive one-year contract.
2014 stats: Colon accomplished his goal, playing an entire season with no time lost to injuries. He started 16 games and participated in 99 percent of the offensive snaps. He didn't receive a favorable rating from Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 66th out of 78 qualifying guards. The Jets averaged 3.77 yards per carry (18th) when rushing behind the right guard, according to NFL stats. Colon's biggest problem was penalties -- a total of 14, tops among guards. He has struggled with penalties throughout his career.
The case to keep him: Colon is the most experienced guard on the roster, and it's not even close for second. With third-year guards Oday Aboushi and Brian Winters (returning from knee surgery), the case could be made to re-sign Colon, a stabilizing influence. He's one of the most respected players in the locker room and he sets a tone with his fiery, aggressive play.
The case to let him go: He's a hold-the-fort guy, and he held the fort for two years -- a good run. It's hard to quantify a lineman's performance from a statistical standpoint. but Colon's run-blocking slipped in 2014, according to PFF. He still has ability, but the Jets might prefer to get younger at the position. In addition to Aboushi and Winters, they have Dakota Dozier waiting in the wings. Because of contract status and age, Colon is the most replaceable starter on the offensive line.
Crystal ball: There are indications the Jets will seek to upgrade at guard in free agency. If they add a guard, it means Colon's days in New York are over. He could be a fallback option if nothing pans out. Colon would be ideal for a contending team that needs a savvy guard to serve as a "bridge" player. At this point in his career, he's probably looking at another one-year contract.
Player: Michael Vick
Age: Turns 35 in June
Previous contract: One year, $4 million
2014 stats: He started three games (1-2) and handled mop-up in two others. He completed 64 of 121 passes for 604 yards, with three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He finished with a 68.3 rating, his lowest since his rookie year, 2001. His fumble rate was alarming -- five fumbles (two lost) in only 272 offensive snaps.
The case to keep him: Have you checked out the list of free-agent quarterbacks?
The case to let him go: Clearly, Vick is near the end of one of the most compelling careers in NFL history. He might be able to squeeze out another year in the right situation, but the situation isn't right for him anymore in New York. He looked disinterested last season, perhaps because he knew he had no chance to overtake Geno Smith. Blame the Jets' decision makers for that. They signed Vick to compete with Smith, yet they never actually gave him a fair chance to win the job. As a result, Vick checked out mentally, resigning himself to the role of mentor. When he finally got a chance to play, he wasn't able to flip the switch, looking old and tentative. He's still a freakish athlete, but the Jets need to turn the page and find a better alternative.
Crystal ball: Vick isn't in the Jets' immediate plans. Where will he land? Remember, he didn't generate much interest last offseason, so there's no guarantee he'll find a team. He mentioned a desire to play for the Washington Redskins (he's from Virginia), but it's hard to imagine them adding Vick to their quarterback circus. His best bet might be the Baltimore Ravens, where former Jets coordinator Marty Mornhinweg -- a Vick ally from their days in Philadelphia -- coaches the quarterbacks. The Ravens don't have an experienced backup under contract. Near the end of last season, Vick said he was capable of playing another two or three years. Good luck.
Player: Dawan Landry
Position: Strong safety
Previous contract: He made $3 million over the last two seasons.
2014 stats: Started every game and played 92 percent of the defensive snaps. Recorded 106 total tackles (67 solo), plus 1.5 sacks and one pass break-up.
The case to keep him: He's the most experienced member of the secondary, and his professionalism would certainly help a position group in transition.
The case to let him go: For all his admirable intangibles -- intelligence, toughness and selflessness -- Landry simply doesn't make many big plays. He wasn't involved in a single takeaway last season, part of the low-turnover epidemic that plagued the entire defense. He managed only one interception over the last two seasons, covering nearly 2,000 defensive plays. The analytics people like Landry. In fact, he graded out as the ninth-best safety in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Sorry, but that's a tough sell. Schematically, he's not a great fit anymore with the Jets, whose roster is filled with strong safeties and not one true free safety. If they want to give Calvin Pryor a chance to flourish as a box safety, his natural position, the Jets should say goodbye to Landry and let the kid sink or swim on his own.
Crystal ball: Todd Bowles wants to get younger and faster on defense, so look for Landry to move on. The most logical landing spot is the Buffalo Bills, coached by ... well, you know. They might have an opening if they lose Da'Norris Searcy in free agency, and it's no secret that Rex Ryan has an affinity for Landry. The going rate for a safety of Landry's ilk is about $1.5 million per year. In fact, Roman Harper, 32, signed a two-year, $3 million deal last March with the Carolina Panthers. Ryan may want to bring in players that know his system, providing a foundation as he installs his scheme. Landry is ideal for that role.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay released his updated mock draft Thursday and, lo and behold, he projects quarterback Marcus Mariota to the New York Jets with the sixth pick. This seems to be the popular choice lately, and it makes sense. In the drafting business, they call it marrying need and value.
The Jets have a need at quarterback and Mariota represents value at No. 6. Easy, right? As I wrote last week from the scouting combine, it would be a mistake for the Jets to pass on Mariota. Publicly they haven't shared their feelings on Mariota (or Jameis Winston, for that matter), but the preliminary sense is they're not necessarily looking to draft a quarterback that high. We'll see if they feel the same way come April 30.
There's no doubt about how Jon Gruden feels about Mariota. ESPN's "Monday Night Football" analyst raved about the former Oregon star Thursday on the "Mike & Mike" radio show. Check out some of Gruden's comments:
- "If you don't like Marcus Mariota, you don't like human beings."
- "He's the most humble, hard-working guy maybe in this draft. I want him on my team. I'll put my system in around him."
- "I think, personally, Marcus Mariota can play in any system. Just give him the playbook, put him in the individual drill period, train him. Give him a little time. He's not a senior, a fifth-year senior. Train the kid, teach the kid and you're going to like what you see -- fast. He's going to be relentless in his work ethic. Off the field, he's special."
Player: David Harris
Previous contract: He made $36 million over a four-year contract.
2014 stats: Recorded a team-high 124 tackles, including 73 solo. Also had six sacks, five tackles-for-loss and two forced fumbles. He played 99.4 percent of the defensive snaps.
The case to keep him: There's no heir apparent on the roster and the free-agent market is thin. If they part ways with Harris, a mainstay since 2007, they'd be looking at the likes of Brandon Spikes and A.J. Hawk (released Wednesday by the Green Bay Packers). Harris isn't a flashy, Pro Bowl-type player, but he's smart, consistent, durable and selfless. The man has no ego whatsoever; he's team-oriented all the way. Obviously, he'd have to learn a new defensive system under Todd Bowles, but it wouldn't be a major transition. With a ton of cap room, the Jets would look silly if they let one of their heart-and-soul players walk away.
The case to let him go: There's only one negative -- his age. Harris has played eight years at a physically demanding position, so you have to worry about wear and tear taking a toll at some point. Then again, Bowles isn't opposed to having an older linebacker in the middle of his defense. He got a solid year out of Larry Foote, 34, last season with the Arizona Cardinals. Like Harris, Foote attended Michigan. They make 'em tough in Ann Arbor.
Crystal ball: There is motivation on both sides to hammer out a deal, so look for something to get done before March 10. Our prediction: A four-year, $24 million contract, including $12 million in guarantees. Karlos Dansby, 33, signed the same deal last year with the Cleveland Browns. D'Qwell Jackson, 31, signed last year with the Indianapolis Colts for four years, $22 million, including $11 million guaranteed. Harris will have no shortage of suitors. The Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears reportedly have interest.
He won't have to pick any players in his new job and he won't have to conduct any news conferences, which means his new employers don't have to worry about angry fans and planes circling their practice field.
The former general manager of the New York Jets was hired Wednesday as a consultant by the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to reports. According to ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco, Idzik will have no role in player evaluation. That's a smart move by the Jaguars because, until he was hired by the Jets in 2013, Idzik wasn't a player evaluator. The Jets tried to sell him as such, but we all know how that worked out. Dimitri Patterson, anyone?
In Jacksonville, Idzik will go back to his roots. He will work alongside Tim Walsh, the team's director of football administration and the man in charge of managing the salary cap. There's a delicious irony here. Idzik, notoriously frugal during his two-year run with the Jets, goes to the team with the most cap space in the league (an estimated $65 million). Wonder how he'll feel when his boss, GM David Caldwell (the guy who spurned the Jets in '13, leading them to Idzik), offers Ndamukong Suh a mega deal with more than $40 million in guarantees.
Will he call it a potential (Suh) coup? Will it achieve sustainable success?
It's kind of funny that Idzik ends up in Jacksonville with former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone, the frontrunner for the Jets' head-coaching vacancy for about a minute. They could probably share stories about the New York media.
Idzik, who was fired by the Jets in late December, will not have a role in player evaluation but will work with the team's salary-cap department, the source said. Idzik will work alongside Tim Walsh, the team's director of football administration and the person responsible for managing the salary cap.
The Jaguars have the most cap space of any team in the league (approximately $65 million) heading into the 2015 league year, which begins March 10.
Idzik was the Jets' GM from 2013-14, during which the team went 12-20. Among his moves that failed to work out was trading cornerback Darrelle Revis and failing to land a receiver in the 2014 draft class that may turn out to be the best in NFL history. The Jets drafted three receivers in 2014 -- Jalen Saunders, Shaquelle Evans, and Quincy Enunwa -- and they played in a combined four games.
Jets owner Woody Johnson fired Idzik and coach Rex Ryan on Dec. 29. Prior to joining the Jets, Idzik spent six seasons as Seattle's vice president of football administration. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator from 2009-12.
We're still two months from the draft, and the so-called experts already have critiqued Marcus Mariota's game to the point where you wonder if this is Brooks Bollinger we're talking about.
OK, we get it, Mariota has to make the transition from Oregon's uptempo, spread offense to a pro-style system, and it might not be easy. For Mariota, the quarterback's most fundamental job -- calling plays in the huddle -- is a foreign concept because ... well, he didn't huddle in college. So, yes, it's a fair concern. But the idea he was a less-than-superior pocket passer is a myth.
In fact, Mariota demonstrated better accuracy from inside the pocket than Jameis Winston, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. Actually, Mariota was more accurate than Winston in a number of different situations, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Here's how they compare in terms of completion percentage, with their rankings among quarterbacks in the Power 5 conferences:
By rule, the New York Jets must spend a lot of money. They have no choice. There's something called the "89-percent rule," which mandates that teams spend 89 percent of their salary-cap dollars over a four-year period -- 2013 to 2016.
As you might have guessed, the Jets have some serious catching up to do. According to the NFLPA, they spent only 81.16 percent the last two years, having doled out the following cash totals:
Last year's cap was $133 million. This year's cap is expected to be $143 million or slightly higher. Next year it will increase again. So, according to the NFLPA, the Jets have to spend an average of about $141 million over the next two seasons to be in compliance with the 89-percent rule.
Right now, they have a cash payroll of $84.1 million for 2015, according to overthecap.com.
So get the checkbook ready, Woody.
What happens if they fail to reach the plateau? The team isn't fined and it doesn't get penalized a draft pick. The shortfall is allocated to players who were on the roster from 2013 to 2016. In other words, the NFLPA will spread it around as it sees fit.