New York Jets 2010 Free Agency Limitations and Potential Roster Moves
As the Jets season comes to a close we now turn our attention towards the offseason. The Jets will be in a very different situation this season unless there is a late agreement between the National Football League owners and Players Association to bring back a salary cap before the start of free agency. Most reports have said that the owners are prepared for an uncapped year and that is what they prefer for 2010. While there were early published stories this year talking about the chaos that an uncapped year would bring complete with wild spending and massive player movement, these were stories written with no understanding of how the NFL works and how limited team will be in the offseason. There will be no team more limited than the New York Jets.
The Final Eight Plan is a clause put in the CBA designed to keep the best eight teams from the final capped season from being able to wildly spend and buy a championship in the uncapped year. Because the Jets advanced to the Championship round of the NFL playoffs the Jets are subject to the most severe offseason restrictions placed on teams in an uncapped season. The limitation placed on the team is that they can sign no Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) in the offseason or make any trades. Here is what the Jets are allowed to do based on how I interpret the CBA (which admittedly may not be 100% correct):
A. The Jets may re-sign any free agent who was under contract to the Jets on the last day of the 2009 season. That means a player such as K Jay Feely, who was on a one year contract with the Jets and is now a free agent, can sign a contract with the Jets.
B. The Jets can sign any free agent who received that status as a result of the NFL Waiver system. What this means is that players who are cut from their current teams are fair game for the Jets. For example a player like QB Chad Pennington, who will be a free agent due to his contract running out, can not be signed by the Jets. However, if a player like Adalius Thomas is cut by the Patriots he can be signed by the team.
C. The Jets may sign or trade for any player to replace a departing free agent provided that the new players first year salary compensation does not exceed the compensation paid to the former player of the team. By compensation the league basically means salary cap number which includes signing bonus prorations, roster bonus, and likely to be earned incentives. The example here is if Jay Feely signs a deal with another team and his first year cap number with the new team is 2 million dollars the Jets may sign any UFA on the market to a contract, of any length, provided that the first year cap number is no higher than 2 million dollars and there is no more than a 30% annual increase in the contract.
D. The Jets are free to negotiate with any Restricted Free Agent. For example a player like WR Steve Breaston of the Arizona Cardinals may be signed by the Jets provided he is tendered by the Cardinals.
E. The Jets are free to negotiate with any Franchise or Transition tag player. What this means is if the Jets want to sign a Julius Peppers who will likely be Franchised they are allowed to, regardless of the salary paid.
Such restrictions put the Jets in an interesting position next year. Typically the Jets like to be active in free agency and like to explore the trade market. These avenues will basically be closed to them in the upcoming year. Because the Jets are limited in how many players that they can sign it is unlikely that some of the season long rumored moves of cutting RB Thomas Jones or trading S Kerry Rhodes will ever happen. The Jets will not have the ability to replace them on the roster if the year is indeed uncapped. We’ll take a closer look at some moves the Jets may make as the offseason progresses and the uncapped year becomes a certainty, but here are some players that the Jets may consider when trying to maximize their free agency dollars in the event that the season in uncapped:
Lito Sheppard- When the Jets do not pick up the option on Sheppard’s contract, and there is zero chance they will, Sheppard will become a free agent. Since the Jets are not cutting him and simply not picking up an option to extend the deal Sheppard should be categorized as a regular UFA and the Jets should be subject to compensation provided he signs with another team. Sheppard seems so far in the doghouse in NY that there is no way he comes back here, but he should make enough in free agency to where the Jets might have 2-3 million to spend on a player.
James Dearth- Dearth is one of those holdovers from the Parcells era and certainly good at what he does. His contract has now run out and he will hit free agency in March. The question the Jets have to ask themselves is whether it is worth spending about 1 million on a player who can do nothing but long snap or have that million to spend in free agency once he signs with a new team. You never want to undervalue the LS position, but they may have better used for the money and be able to find someone else that can LS and perhaps also play on the line.
Larry Izzo- Izzo is set to be a free agent and he may want to return to the Jets. He has a long enough league history to where he will get a one year deal for the veterans minimum no matter what, even if it is a longshot that he makes the club. He was spotty and specials for the Jets and the Jets will likely be looking at a different veteran to slot into Izzos spot rather than re-signing Izzo.
Eric Smith - Smith is a RFA who has had his ups and downs with the team. He made some decent special teams plays and was a nice one game fill in for Rhodes, but was often torched in coverage and may not have a future with the Jets. The Jets will have to look long and hard at the situation with Smith. If they tender him at his original draft round it is unlikely a team will sign him. If they choose not to tender him and allow him to become an UFA he is young enough to where a team will likely give him at least a tryout and the Jets will get some money to spend in free agency.
Leon Washington- Perhaps the most interesting one of all. Washington is coming off a devastating injury and is a RFA. Nobody knows what his market value is at this point, but there will be teams interested in giving him an opportunity. There are two options here. Tender him and basically ensure he comes back or roll the dice and let him become an UFA letting his agent know that the team will be interested in matching any offer he receives. In an uncapped year a team like the Redskins could be willing to pay megabucks for Washington giving the Jets big free agency money to spend on a guy like Richard Seymour who would fit into the Jets system if the Jets choose not to match an offer for Washington.
This is still early in the process, but the Jets do have a few players that they can let go to probably find better upgrades for the team. There are other no brainer players who they will let walk--- Kellen Clemens, Drew Coleman, Marques Murell---but they don’t require any thought by the Jets nor will they likely land the Jets much in the way of compensation. It should be an interesting offseason as the Jets do their best to scramble to find ways to improve their team without tearing apart their draft in 2010 and 2011.