As is widely known, the Jets entered free agency with the most cap space in the NFL. However, with so many signings and re-signings since free agency got underway, it's easy to lose track of how much of their cap space remains - especially with details of several of the contracts being slow to leak out that has prevented sites like Over The Cap and Spotrac from posting up-to-date numbers.
Yesterday's article in NJ.com does an excellent job of summing up the contract details so far released, while attempting to break down the figure as accurately as possible based on up-to-date information.
They arrived at a figure of just over $13 million, which included the cost of signing their draft picks but did not include five contracts for which details were not yet known, being those of Kevin Pierre-Louis, Terrence Brooks, Neville Hewitt, Ben Ijalana and Jonotthan Harrison.
We actually already knew the details for the Pierre-Louis contract though:
Details on LB Kevin Pierre-Louis' contract with the #Jets: Two years, $5.25M. Guaranteed: $2.5M (including $1M signing bonus). Base salaries: $1.5M (fully gtd), $2M (option year). Cap: $2.375M, $2.875M.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) March 27, 2018
The Harrison details have also come out since the NJ.com article was published:
Backup C Jonotthan Harrison’s contract with the #Jets: One year, $880,000. Includes a $90,000 signing bonus.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) March 30, 2018
Add those in and by the time we've accounted for the other four outstanding contracts, that would put the figure below $10 million. With teams generally preferring to keep a buffer of $4-5 million, that doesn't leave a lot to spend.
However, the Jets reportedly were prepared to pay $15 million or more to land Ndamukong Suh and still seem to be in the market for upgrades with tight end, edge rusher and defensive line starter roles yet to be satisfactorily filled.
If the NJ.com figure was accurate, this would mean the Jets would have had to start cutting or trading players if the Suh signing had happened. Or would they perhaps have used dummy years or something to bring the cap hit down?
Having looked into the situation, we've been able to determine that the actual amount of cap space the Jets have (correct at the close of business on Friday per NFLPA numbers) is actually $25,319,204.
It's important to consider what that includes before we figure out why it doesn't correspond closely to NJ.com's figures. First of all, the NFLPA's official number apparently takes into account 79 contracts, when - according to our calculations - the Jets currently have 80 players that either are under contract or have reportedly agreed to terms.
(Note: This was written before the Jets announced that they had signed Thomas Rawls, who would be the 81st player signed).
(Additional note: There's a discrepancy between sources as to whether Freddie Bishop should be on the roster. Without him, they'd only have 80, including Rawls. Some sources don't have him on there because it was reported that he was an Exclusive Rights Free agent and the Jets didn't announce they'd tendered him. However, it seems when he was released and re-signed during last season, he was signed through 2018 per OTC. Bishop is included on the roster on the Jets official site and doesn't appear in the transaction wire with other non-tendered ERFA's).
You'd probably expect that the missing contract was Hewitt's since he was the most recent player to sign. However, we suspect it may be Ben Ijalana's. Hewitt and Ijalana are the only two of those 80 players that are not currently listed on the team's official roster, but the team has announced Hewitt's signing and it has appeared on league transaction wires. That is not the case for Ijalana.
It was reported (by Ian Rapoport and then confirmed by several beat writers) that Ijalana had re-signed with the team two weeks ago and it's probably just some minor hold-up in terms of getting him in to sign the paperwork, but that's the one that appears to not be accounted for in the NFLPA's numbers.
The number also represents current cap space so doesn't take into account the cost of signing rookies which NJ.com's number does.
The main reason for the discrepancy between the actual number and NJ.com's projection though is that their article accounts for the year one cap hit on each contract in full.
However, during the offseason you only need to account for the 51 highest cap hits. That makes sense because during the season you'll obviously only keep 53 on your roster so the cap hits for the players who don't make it will disappear. They use 51 instead of 53 to account for the fact that it won't necessarily be all the players with the lowest contracts that don't make the roster, although that will usually represent the majority.
To accurately calculate current cap space, each time you add a player's reported cap hit to the top 51, you also need to remove the 51st highest cap hit from account. Currently that would mean removing a $630K cap hit from account in order to add in the new figure. So if they brought in a player with a 2018 cap hit of $1 million, the cap space used up is actually only $370K.
Earlier in the offseason, the 51st highest cap hit would have been lower but on average you're looking at about $500K each time that should have effectively been added back to the cap space figure.
The Jets began the offseason with more than 51 players under contract and have signed, re-signed or tendered 22 players this year by our count, so that means that NJ.com projection could be understated by around $11 million. Adding that back puts the number more in line with the NFLPA's official numbers, which include four of the five "missing" contracts, but no provision for the rookie pool.
In addition, the draft pool calculation also represents another six players that, if they make the team, will bump another six guys from the top 51, so you only really need to account for the net cost of adding the rookies, which is closer to $5 million than the $8 million-plus in the NJ.com calculations.
In terms of those missing contracts, as already noted we have the numbers for Pierre-Louis and Harrison, while Ijalana's deal is not yet included in the official numbers. The Harrison contract will qualify for the minimum salary benefit which means the cap hit will only be $720K, using up just $90K of net cap space.
It might just be a minimum salary deal or thereabouts for Ijalana, who earned $6 million last year even though he barely played. Hewitt is also likely to have received a low level deal, which likely only adds a small amount to the cap.
The interesting one is Brooks, who was reported to have signed a two-year deal with the Jets a couple of days before Ijalana. Again, this has been announced by the Jets and has appeared on the league transaction wire, although CBS only reported it as a one-year deal. Nobody seems to have the final numbers on this yet.
On the basis of the other contracts they've given out to special teams contributors that will play a situational role on defense (such as Pierre-Louis and Josh Martin), it seems reasonable to assume that this would be somewhere in the $2-3 million range annually. That would tie in with our expectations given the official figures and how they fit in with the information we do and don't know.
Ultimately, once you've accounted for what they'll need to pay the rookies and the likely hit on what we believe to be Ijalana's deal which still appears to be outstanding, the Jets should currently have about $18-19 million to spend.
(That's prior to the Rawls signing, which is probably a low level deal that doesn't use up much extra cap space.)
The Jets might want to keep a buffer of $4-5 million to cover in-season payments for players landing on injured reserve, settlements and practice squad costs, but with the flexibility teams have to move cap hits around from year-to-year these days, it shouldn't prevent them from creating more room if an expensive player that interests them becomes available.
While moving players like Bilal Powell, Buster Skrine and Jermaine Kearse is a possibility and each would create extra cap space, this shouldn't be seen as an option they need to take to fill their remaining holes.
After all, we haven't even got into how much 2019 cap space they have yet ... and it's looking like they'll have one of the highest numbers yet again.