Joe Douglas’ first offseason as the New York Jets’ general manager will begin in earnest when he begins to trim the fat from the roster. Soon he will jettison a handful of familiar names, most of them high-salaried players no longer worth their contracts.
The anticipated cuts will create at least $25.1 million in salary-cap room. Currently, they have $49.7 million in space, according to overthecap.com. It will allow the Jets to be active in free agency, although they won’t have as much flexibility as last offseason.
A breakdown of the top players on the chopping block:
Trumaine Johnson, cornerback
Current cap charge: $15 million | Dead money if cut: $12 million | Savings: $3 million
The amount of the “dead” charge is borderline criminal, but this is what happens when a team acts out of desperation and throws crazy money at an overrated player — in a poorly structured contract, no less. Johnson, who signed for five years, $72.5 million, will walk away with $34 million for two mediocre and injury-plagued seasons. The Jets have to cut him by the third day of the league year (March 20) or else his $11 million salary for 2020, guaranteed for injury only, will become fully guaranteed. Adding insult to injury, they can’t use the June 1 designation because there are no June 1 cuts in the final year of the collective bargaining agreement. It would’ve allowed them to spread the cap hit over two years.
Brian Winters, guard
Current cap charge: $7.3 million | Dead money if cut: $0 | Savings: $7.3 million
Emotionally, this is a tough one because Winters is so well-respected in the organization, but his performance in recent years suffered because of injuries. He played only nine games last season because of shoulder surgery, probably nine games more than he should’ve played. Instead of succumbing to a preseason injury, he refused to sit until the pain was unbearable. The Jets need tough guys like Winters, but it’s time to say goodbye because of age (29), economics and performance. He has only one year left on his contract, which was structured in a way that allows them to wipe it completely off the books.
Avery Williamson, linebacker
Current cap charge: $8.5 million | Dead money if cut: $2 million | Savings: $6.5 million
You could make an argument to keep Williamson (assuming he has recovered from ACL surgery), but the Jets are looking at the cap implications. Because they overpaid last year for C.J. Mosley ($17.5 million cap charge), the Jets would have $26 million of the cap devoted to two inside linebackers — way too much. They shopped Williamson last preseason, but that plan was aborted when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
They expect Mosley (groin surgery) to be healthy for training camp, which reduces Williamson’s value. They can save money by replacing him with Neville Hewitt (free agent) or James Burgess Jr. Williamson has only one year left on his deal, but his signing-bonus proration will remain on the cap. There’s no sense of urgency because there are no hard deadlines contained in his contract.
Darryl Roberts, cornerback
Current cap charge: $6 million | Dead money if cut: $0 | Savings: $6 million
Roberts logged more snaps (defense and special teams) than any corner on the team, but he didn’t play at a high enough level to justify the $6 million. The clock is ticking. They must make a decision by the fifth day of the league year (March 22), when $2 million of his $5 million salary becomes fully guaranteed.
Josh Bellamy, wide receiver
Current cap charge: $2.3 million | Dead money if cut: $0 | Savings: $2.3 million
He’ll be a 31-year-old special-teamer coming off shoulder surgery. They can get a minimum-salaried player to fill that role.
On the bubble
Nate Hairston, cornerback
Current cap charge: $2.1 million | Dead money if cut: $0 | Savings: $2.1 million
Hairston received an automatic $1.4 million salary bump because he qualified for a proven performance escalator, based on playing time. Ironically, it could work against him. Hairston, acquired in a preseason trade, never clicked with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. As a result, he was leapfrogged by pretty much every corner on the depth chart.
Jonotthan Harrison, center
Current cap charge: $2.25 million | Dead money if cut: $0 | Savings: $2.25 million
They’d be nuts to cut Harrison, but stranger things have happened. While he might not be the long-term answer at center, he has value because of his position flexibility and modest cap charge.
Quincy Enunwa, wide receiver
Current cap charge: $7.8 million | Dead money if cut: TBD | Savings: TBD
Enunwa’s career-threatening neck injury creates major uncertainty. Because of potential cap ramifications, the Jets might have to carry him for 2020 even if he can’t play. Here’s why:
Enunwa’s $6 million salary, which becomes fully guaranteed on March 22, already is guaranteed for injury. So is $4.1 million of his $7.8 million salary in 2021. If he’s released with a failed physical, he will be entitled to $10.1 million in injury guarantees, which would count against the 2020 cap (an $11.9 million hit). If he’s deemed healthy by the Jets and cut for “skill,” he could file an injury grievance if he disagrees with the team’s medical evaluation. The Jets are no stranger to injury grievances (see: Kelechi Osemele and Luke Falk).
Some believe this could play out like the Kam Chancellor situation with the Seattle Seahawks. He suffered a severe neck injury in 2017, but remained on the physically-unable-to-perform list for the 2018 season because the cost of releasing him would’ve been a cap killer. The Seahawks waited until 2019 to cut him. Bottom line for the Jets: Whether they keep Enunwa or cut him, they probably won’t realize any immediate cap savings. One source predicted the Jets-Enunwa matter will get messy.
Won’t be cut, but …
Le’Veon Bell, running back
Current cap charge: $15.5 million | Dead money if cut: $19 million | Savings: -$3.5 million
They won’t cut Bell; the cap hit is prohibitive. The better question is, will they trade him? The organization has come to the realization that, because of his massive salary, the chances of a trade are remote. To create a market, they’d have to be willing to pay a chunk of his 2020 salary ($13.5 million in total guarantees). Even then, the return would be minimal, probably a Day 3 draft pick. The Jets, who felt Bell gained weight and lost explosiveness as the season went on, have to make it work for another year.