Here was something I wanted to touch on in light of the latest John Clayton report that pegged the Jets at -19.4 million in cap room (which is around the real number) that again brings on the discussion of poor cap management. There was also a rumor thrown out there that the Jets salary cap is scaring GM’s off. As I began writing it I also saw that Mike Westhoff criticized the Jets salary structure saying the top heavy pay hurt his unit so I figure I can address that as well.
I think most of my readers know that I really love this salary cap stuff and try to take a much more analytical approach than just spewing out some numbers (though I do that too) with no context. There is a big picture with the way the Jets have been run for the past few seasons. When people criticize the cap management in particular they are pointing at a few players- David Harris, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, Mark Sanchez, Bart Scott, and Calvin Pace.
As you go back to 2011 when the Jets began re-signing their players, the goal was to maintain as much talent at the top of the roster in an affordable fashion. People tend to forget that the Jets got Bart Scott to agree to a major paycut over a two year period while Pace reshuffled money to his walk season that essentially amounted to a paycut as well. The Jets tried to extend a window of opportunity that admittedly was not there. But they did not go all in on anyone, other than D’Brickashaw Ferguson, for the long term. Most of the time when you do what the Jets attempted to do you give large prorated bonuses to players. Dallas does that all the time. So does Oakland. That creates long term problems. The Jets managed their contracts in way that they had options open to them at all times in the event the team did not meet expectations.
Large amounts of prorated money completely inhibits your chance to trade a player due to the large cap hits it would incur. Other than Sanchez, whose extension I will never understand, every piece of the puzzle was a tradeable asset to help get the cap back in order at any time, specifically with an eye on 2013 when the guaranteed salary was just for one more season for most players. So it is not as if the Jets never prepared for this contingency in 2013. Were there some mistakes and miscalculations? Sure. But to read that the Jets need Omar Khan, who comes from an organization that tiptoes the cap every year by prorating future salary to players, to get the house in order is just not true. That doesn’t mean he would be a bad General Manager or anything like that. It’s just that the situation was never as dire as people think because of that -19.4 million dollar figure.
Now I don’t think the Jets ever thought that someone like Holmes would do so poorly or that Harris and Scott would be so bad that they had limited, if any, trade value. I think it’s clear the Jets shopped Scott in 2012 and found no takers for his salary. Im sure in 2011 they never imagined he would look so slow. There was no reason to. As it was they were incredibly proactive in saying he was not deserving of the salary he was supposed to earn. Put yourself in the Jets shoes in the summer of 2011. What signing that year made you think “what are they doing”. I personally thought Harris was way overpaid, but I think I was in the minority. Sanchez is the one “what are they doing” candidate but that was in 2012, and even then imagine if the Jets went the full prorated money route? You would be stuck with him through the 2014 season. At least now they can move on after this upcoming year.
Here’s the thing. If the Jets trade Antonio Cromartie tomorrow and create $8.25 million in cap room do they then get credit for being managed well? They should because it was part of the plan when they initially signed him. But will they? No. The talk will be that they traded him because they had no options because the cap was in such bad shape. If the Jets release Sione Pouha and create cap space with inimal dead cap implications will anyone say that that was well managed? Nope. But it was.
It really comes down to personnel evaluation. The Jets should have seen Harris running that interception back against New England and come to grips with the fact that he is slow as dirt. Most people who really sit down and analyze the play of the Jets said for years that he was as much of a success as he was because of the players he was playing with. I think they should have seen more potential downside in Holmes as there was perhaps a more happy medium in terms of prorated vs guaranteed money. But the Jets have built in flexibility beyond the normal “cut Jason Smith” that actually speaks well of the job they do behind the scenes in actual planning and management.
As for a General Manager being scared away from it? Why. I would think that if anything it makes the job more challenging. The Jets can create a lot of cap room if they want by keeping certain players here for longer periods of time. Or the new GM can blow it up and field a young team on a low payroll and then get ready to put his fingerprints all over the organization in 2014. This is not the Oakland Raiders where you inherit a team as GM that you really cant get out of for three or four years. I would think any GM worth their keep loves challenging situations and the opportunity to do something special. I think that’s a bogus story floated for whatever reasons.
Finally, Mike Westhoff I think does have a point about the lack of depth due to high salaries at the top of the roster to an extent. The Jets put more cap money into their starters than any team in the NFL, but again it really comes down to personnel. From a cap perspective I think the high spend on starters limits the Jets in two areas. One is that they are going to not be able to bring in that special teams ace type player on a $2 million dollar deal. They cant afford that in their cap structure because they cant really keep guys around that cant play regular downs. Secondly it puts them in a position where the minimum salary rookie that needs to learn a system has more opportunity to make a team than the 3rd year pro who has no upside as a regular player but has a role on specials that he understands and accepts. Im sure those kind of players make life much easier on Westhoff.
But, leaguewide most teams have specials filled with minimum salary guys. The Jets have just done poorly in developing or identifying their minimum salary players. If you see a team with $10 million in cap room I can guarantee you that the makeup of their special teams unit is nearly identical to that of the Jets with under $4 million in cap room. Does anyone think the Bengals, with bazillion of dollars in cap room, are saying to themselves since we don’t spend high on the top we will make up for it with great depth and a special teams filled with guys making around a million a year? Come on. They simply don’t spend the money period. The Jets do.
Now I think more of a case can be made that the high spend of starters impacts the defense and offense because if injury occurs or you get ineffective players you have nowhere to turn since you are filling that middle roster with castoffs and rookies. But that wasn’t Westhoff’s point. While the Jets cap certainly will need some work and maybe some of the mentality on overspending on certain positions, such as corner and inside linebacker, needs to change, the focus on that aspect of the organizations problems is just avoiding the real issues which come evaluating the talent.