Flush with salary-cap space now that most of Trumaine Johnson’s onerous contract is off the 2020 books, the New York Jets have enough flexibility to make a serious run at free-agent pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
Except that’s not part of the plan.
While the Jets-Clowney speculation has lingered throughout the offseason, the truth is they have never had serious interest — and their position hasn’t changed even with $11 million in cap relief from Johnson.
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The Jets have $25.2 million in cap room, which puts them fourth in the league, according to the NFLPA. Johnson was eating up $15 million, but his cap charge dropped Tuesday to $4 million, the benefit of his previous designation as a post-June 1 cut. The downside is the remaining portion of his unamortized signing bonus ($8 million) gets pushed into 2021, but that’s a worry for another day.
Right now, the Jets have enough cap space to be aggressive in the next wave of free agency. So how will they spend the money?
No doubt, Clowney, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick, would excite the fan base, but his price tag, injury history and modest production last season as a pass-rusher have caused his market to plummet. There’s also concern about his motor.
If you haven’t noticed, Jets general manager Joe Douglas doesn’t do big, splashy signings. While that philosophy in relation to Clowney hurts the team in the short term — he would be one of their best players on defense — it’s the proper way to build a roster for the long haul.
Instead of Clowney, Douglas could focus on other areas. Such as:
Remember when Logan Ryan reportedly was on the verge of signing with the Jets? That seems so long ago; it also was premature.
Ryan remains a free agent because his asking price — reportedly $10 million for one year — is well above what the market is willing to pay. Consider some of the recent deals for veteran corners, all one-year deals: Prince Amukamara ($1.2 million), Johnathan Joseph ($2 million) and Daryl Worley ($3 million).
If Ryan is willing to drop his price, the Jets might re-engage in talks. The former Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots starter would become their most accomplished cornerback, but it wouldn’t be a seamless fit. Ryan plays the slot, and the Jets committed $5 million to Brian Poole for that role. There’s no such thing as having too many corners — defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would be able to cook up creative ways to use Ryan — but Douglas has set a price point in a buyer’s market.
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Quarterback Sam Darnold needs a physical, possession receiver to pair with their new speedsters, Breshad Perriman and rookie Denzel Mims. They could use someone such as Quincy Enunwa, but he’s done for the season with a neck injury. With no offseason practice time because of the coronavirus restrictions, the ideal fit is a player who already knows coach Adam Gase’s system and could step in immediately. That, of course, limits the options.
Demaryius Thomas is a Gase favorite who filled the role last season with modest results (36 catches, 433 yards, one touchdown), but he’s a 32-year-old free agent with balky knees.
Another name that surely will come up is Alshon Jeffery, who played under Gase with the 2015 Chicago Bears, but his situation is complicated because of his health and salary. Jeffery, 30, seemingly has no future with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he’s a tough cut because his $9.9 million salary is guaranteed and his “dead” charge would be $15.4 million. The best escape would be an NBA-style salary dump, trading him and a draft pick to a team willing to pay a chunk of his salary. Thing is, there’s also the matter of his surgically repaired foot, which might sideline him until Week 1.
Mark this down: Wide receiver will be Douglas’ new “offensive line,” meaning he will search for upgrades throughout the preseason as he did a year ago with the line.
An extension for Adams
With $25 million in cap room, the Jets can’t say they don’t have enough flexibility to re-up with their best player in safety Jamal Adams, who is demanding an extension. There are other issues in play, namely the team’s reluctance to reward their 2017 first-round pick who has two years remaining on his rookie deal.
Douglas has said he is not opposed to extending a player with multiple years left on his contract, indicating at the end of the last season that such matters would be considered on a “case by case” basis. Right now, the sense is he prefers to wait until 2021 in Adams’ case. That will be a tough sell to Adams, who sees all that cap room and wonders why he can’t get a piece of it.
Save it for a rainy day
It’s not a bad thought, considering the financial uncertainty facing the NFL. The 2021 cap could be affected if the league loses revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, so it would be prudent to apply some of their cap surplus to next year. The average carryover into 2020 was $11.9 million per team, according to the NFLPA. The Jets, who will have more than $20 million in cap space even after signing their draft picks, could sock away plenty.
As of now, they’re well-positioned with $156 million committed to the ’21 cap, per Over the Cap, but the extra space would help with an Adams extension — assuming he’s still on the team.