If there's one word that summarizes the Jets' 2021 offseason it is flexibility
Flexibility, with an estimate of close to $70 million in salary cap space.
Flexibility, in dealing with the team's own 19 unrestricted free agents.
Flexibility, but also a challenge, in evaluating college players in the absence of the NFL Combine, which has been downsized.
And finally, of course, the flexibility and promise from owning six (two first round and two third round) of the first 98 selections in the NFL Draft in late April.
The first step for General Manager Joe Douglas, Head Coach Robert Saleh, the new coaching staff and the team's personnel experts was to assess the roster.
"I think the next step for us is going to be to get together with him [Saleh] and his staff and then our entire personnel staff, and to just go through every single position, step by step, player by player," Douglas said in January. "So, we're excited to get together as a group and evaluate our entire team."
The Jets' list of potential free agents includes 19 players who can become unrestricted free agents, 15 of whom started at least one game in 2020 and five of whom played in all 16 games — including two 16-game starters, S Marcus Maye and LB Neville Hewitt. The free-agent signing period is scheduled to begin on March 17.
And while Douglas, Saleh and their staffs will evaluate myriad scenarios and all the players (not only the potential free agents), the general manager has only spoken publicly about his desire to re-sign one player (so far) -- safety Marcus Maye.
"Our next step in the process is to get together as a staff, go over all the guys that are on our team, really get their perspective from watching the tape and include the perspective of the people that have been here the last few years," Douglas said. "And it's going to be a really great meeting that really sets the foundation for our offseason."
For his part, Saleh, upon his introduction as the Jets' 20th head coach, acknowledged that "the process" had only just begun.
"There's a lot of different moving parts between now and then [the start of free agency] and there's going to be many conversations with Joe and his staff," Saleh said. "How things work, what we like for our scheme and how they evaluate talent and so there's a lot of different conversations that will take place between now and then."
The Salary Cap
Navigating the fluid financial shoals of the NFL salary cap is enough to give any mathematician a migraine. And this go-round in particular because of the pandemic and the uncertainty about what the landscape will look like for the 2021 season.
The league and the players union are still negotiating over the final cap figure, which was $198.5 million per team in 2020.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Jets are expected to have the third-most cap space (after Jacksonville and Indianapolis) of nearly $69 million, working on the assumption of a cap of about $180 million per team.
Nothing is definite, and nothing is final.
According to Clark Hunt, the CEO of the Chiefs, the final cap number might not be unveiled until "hours before the start of the league year," which is on March 17. He added that teams might not find out the cap number until a few days before March 15, which is the start of the free-agent negotiating period.
No NFL Combine
The annual NFL Combine has joined the league's changed landscape wrought by the pandemic. Instead of congregating in Indianapolis (the site since 1987) for days of interviews, measurements, medicals and observations, this year there will be no in-person workouts. In their place, representatives from each of the 32 teams will be allowed to attend and observe pro days on various college campuses, most of them to be held in March. Keep in mind that attendance will be subject to local virus regulations.
Medical information, which under normal circumstances would be collected at the Combine, will now be collected at facilities near the pro-day sites under the direction of team doctors and trainers.
"The next step will be our virtual meetings that we'll hold in February," said Rex Hogan, the Jets' assistant general manager. "We'll have about a week or seven or eight days to go through our fall reports, all-star game wrap ups. It usually serves as a ramp up to the Combine, but without the Combine this year, we pushed the meetings back a week to give guys a little more time to review some more fall tape, the all-star games, get some more character information leading up to it. The next step for us is going to be pro days. We're trying to get that coordinated in terms of logistics and I'm sure there will be some challenges with schools having pro days on the same day. We could be pretty spread thin moving throughout the country here throughout March."
It is all a work in progress.