New CBA Means Less Players on the Market
The following is an article written by Real Football Services. They are a frequent contributor on newyorkjets.com.
June 1st has traditionally been an important day in the NFL, at least since the advent of the free agency era. Beginning on that date, teams can release players without incurring pro rated monies onto the current year's salary cap. As a result, there are usually a number of veteran players who are released in cap saving moves. These players are sometimes valuable late additions to the roster of their new teams, and can be had for a reduced price. Jets fans may recall that players like Vinny Testaverde and Bryan Cox, now a member of the Jets coaching staff, were such players who had a huge impact on the team's run to the AFC Championship Game in 1998.
If a player is released prior to June 1st, the team's salary cap is hit with all future money owed to the player. For instance, if a player on the Jets was cut today, and that player still had two years left on his contract, his base salary, plus any pro rated bonus money (money that is spread over the life of the contract, i.e. a $7M bonus on a 7-year deal could be counted for cap purposes as $1M on each year of the deal) would be counted on this year's cap. After June 1st, the team only incurs the player's base salary for that season, and future monies are counted towards the cap for the following year.
However, as teams have gotten better at managing the cap, less and less of these valuable players have been released. This year, even fewer veterans are expected to be released beginning June 1st due to the new collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the NFL owners and the players association. The new deal raised this year's salary cap number from $85.5M to $102M, an increase of $16.5M. This added relief will allow teams to keep most of their veteran players, even if it means restructuring existing deals that will fit more easily under the larger cap number for 2006. That means slim pickings for teams like the Jets who would normally look towards the June 1st date as an opportunity to improve their roster.
However, there are still 16 teams who are currently over the salary cap. Most will be able to get under the $102M number by restructuring contracts with players on their current roster, but most will have to release at least some players. The trick for the Jets will be finding players who fit what they plan to do on offense and defense, and finding players who fit their philosophy and how they would like to build their team.
Don't expect the team to chase after older veterans. They will build through youth. On defense, the Jets need players who have experience playing in a 3-4 scheme. On offense, they will only look at players who can upgrade their starters or primary backups. With all of those parameters in place, the talent pool becomes severely limited, and the Jets will be hard pressed to find a fit next week. But there are a handful of players who could be on the street, and could have some value to the Green & White.
Houston Texans DE Jason Babin is a former 1st-round draft choice who is scheduled to make nearly $1.3M this season. For the past two seasons he has been a fixture in the Texans 3-4 defense at OLB, a position that takes advantage of his outstanding athleticism and pass rush ability. But new head coach Gary Kubiak is installing a 4-3 scheme that will force Babin to move to DE and play with his hand down. That's not his strength, and at 6-3, 252, he lacks the size and bulk to play in the trenches in that kind of defense. As a result, he is listed as the 3rd RDE on the team's depth chart. The Texans don't figure to pay that kind of money to a player who doesn't figure to be even a primary backup, and aren't likely to keep him around if he doesn't fit what they plan to do on defense. He's a young, talented player who would be an excellent fit for the Jets new defensive scheme.
Another player in Houston who figures to be available is DT Seth Payne. The 10-year vet is scheduled to make $4.2M this season, but isn't expected to start. Though he could contribute in the 4-3, and has played in that defense before in his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans will be looking for younger players to build with, and won't be willing to take a big salary hit for a player they will be looking to replace sooner than later. He has played well in the Houston 3-4 despite being slightly undersized. And although he is on the downside of his career, Payne, an Ivy League grad from Cornell, is smart, tough, and versatile, all key traits that Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum look for in their players. He could add valuable depth and leadership to the defensive line unit.
Also coming out of Houston, LB Kailee Wong could be a potential fit. Though he has had injury problems, and isn't a good fit at OLB where he played in the Texans defense, he could be an emergency fill-in on the inside behind Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton if Brad Kassell and Anthony Schlegel get injured or aren't able to fill their role. The Texans are nearly $11M over the cap and still need to sign their draft choices. There is a very real possibility that these players could come free.
Finally, CB/KR Allen Rossum of the Atlanta Falcons is an interesting player. He is not a starting caliber corner, but he does have excellent speed, can track the ball in the air, and has good hands. He could contribute in sub packages and give the Jets some needed speed in the secondary. But he could also be an explosive addition to the Jets special teams. Coordinator Mike Westhoff hasn't had an impact returner in years, and while the team did sign Tim Dwight, a returner from the Patriots, he is not a game changer in the return game. CB Justin Miller is a talented return man, but is always a risky proposition with the ball in his hands. Rossum has a career 22.8 yard average on kick returns, and has averaged nearly 11 yards on punt returns, with 6 career TD coming on returns.
The selection of CB Jimmy Williams by the Falcons in this year's draft has pushed Rossum to a fifth CB at best in Atlanta, and both Williams and draft choice Jerious Norwood have return ability. At a scheduled salary of $1.2M, look for Rossum to be moving on.