The midway point is a good time to revisit how the Jets’ most expensive players are performing
Who would have thought that the word “playoffs” would be in the same sentence as the New York Jets right now?
Even those who predicted that the Jets would make it, such as Jet X analysts Oliver Cochrane and Vitor Paiva, likely did not think the team would be this good. The Jets are outperforming all expectations. No fan wants to discuss 2023 while the Jets are in the 2022 driver’s seat.
That being said, 2023 was considered the year that the Jets would go all-in. Despite the impressive victory against the Bills, there remain roster holes and injuries that could prevent the Jets from going all the way this season. Next year is still the year of expectations from Day 1.
As we have the slow week of the bye, let’s take a look ahead at the Jets’ most expensive contracts in 2023 and what we think will happen to each player.
With Carl Lawson, the numbers are very stark: He has a $15.3 million cap hit in 2023 while the Jets are only charged $333,000 in dead money if he is cut. It seems pretty clear-cut, no? Lawson is gone.
What makes that even more of a seeming no-brainer is the fact that the Jets drafted Jermaine Johnson in the first round this season. JJ has seen his playing time limited by the abundance of Jets edge rushers. However, he’s a run-stopping force, and sooner or later the Jets are going to want him to take over full-time (or as full-time as they ever go with their defensive linemen) duties. Though Johnson plays on the left side of the line and Lawson on the right, the overall crunch at edge could make Lawson the odd man out.
Furthermore, while Lawson has been better recently compared to the beginning of the season, he’s not exactly lighting up the stat sheet in his primary area of previous excellence—pressure rate. Lawson was never a sack artist due to his short arms, but he was in the Top 5 in the NFL in pressure rate from 2017-20. Lawson’s current 9.40% pressure rate is in the 36th percentile among 67 qualified edge rushers (min. 150 pass rush snaps).
I suspect that the Jets will ask Lawson to take a pay cut. He’s not going to get anywhere close to $15 million per year on the open market considering his injury history and level of production this season. It may be worth his while to take the cut and stay with a contending team. The price would need to be right for both sides, though.
This one is going to be controversial no matter what Corey Davis‘s final stat line is. He engendered much hatred from fans after his disappointing 2021 season, and many have never gotten over it. However, despite missing the last two games with a knee injury, Davis has enjoyed a stellar season and is the Jets’ most reliable target in crunch time.
Out of 66 receivers with a minimum of 30 receptions, Davis is averaging the second-most yards per reception at 18.5. He’s still in the 55th percentile with 1.7 yards per route run, which isn’t necessarily lighting up the charts but holds steady considering Zach Wilson‘s struggles. His current stat line projected over 17 games would yield 46 receptions for 851 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Although the reception number may be a bit low, that’s due in part to the fact that Wilson was averaging 29 dropbacks, 25 pass attempts, and 14.5 completed passes in the four games that Davis played with him. Overall, Davis has made many important catches this season while providing rock-solid blocking and sure hands. He’s back to his career norm of a 5% drop rate, having recorded just one drop in the opening game of the season.
Davis’s cap number in 2023 isn’t as high as Lawson’s, but it’s still quite high at $11.2 million. He also has a minuscule dead cap number at $666,668. It would be tempting to save $10.5 million by cutting him. However, I would not do that, and I don’t believe Joe Douglas will, either.
The situation at receiver has changed slightly at this point. Unless Elijah Moore magically becomes re-involved in the offense in a big way, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets would want to keep him on for another season. Garrett Wilson has essentially usurped his role as the X receiver, doing what Moore did last year plus showing additional versatility and skill. Moore has been moved into the slot, so we’ll see how that goes before categorically stating that the Jets will move on from Moore. With Elijah’s status up in the air, though, Corey Davis is all the more likely to stay.
Denzel Mims has earned himself a continued role in the Jets’ offense, and some would say that he’s a cheaper Davis replacement. However, we also saw Mims’s flaws on display in the last few games: his penalties, blocking inconsistency compared to the strength of Davis, and not-great hands make you want to have Davis around.
I believe that there’s no way the Jets move on from Corey Davis. He has too much chemistry with Zach Wilson, is too valuable as a blocker, and is too much the consummate professional that the Jets want on the team for them to release him. Perhaps they’ll extend him to move around some money, but I highly doubt they’ll get rid of him, even in a trade.
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Many fans have asked whether the Jets can move on from C.J. Mosley after this season. Mosley is the most visible Jets defender whenever a pass is caught over the middle, and his man-to-man and pattern-match zone coverage skills are on the major decline. He’s still a veteran presence and the captain of the defense, but the Jets can’t afford to have him drain their cap in 2023.
As of now, Mosley’s cap hit for 2023 is $21.5 million, while his dead cap would be $14.9 million if they cut him. That’s cost prohibitive both ways. However, if the Jets cut Mosley with a post-June 1 designation, they could push $10 million of that to 2024 and deal with a more manageable cap hit of $4.5 million in 2023.
I believe that is what the Jets will do. Despite the difficulty of a $10 million cap hit, it’s better than a $14 million one. The Jets need a younger, more dynamic middle linebacker at this point.
It’s important to note that Mosley is still on the books for around $3 million in 2025-26, as well. But that’s just the price to pay for the albatross of a contract that Mike Maccagnan saddled this team with.
There is always the possibility that the Jets try to re-sign Mosley at a lower number and keep him around since they appear to love him.
The Jets got unlucky when Mekhi Becton‘s season-ending injury cut into their contract talks with Duane Brown. Instead of commanding backup tackle money, the 37-year-old Brown got a two-year contract that gave him decent starting tackle money. Since it came during training camp, Joe Douglas was forced to push most of the guaranteed money into 2023 and beyond.
As of now, Brown has an $11.6 million cap hit next year with $6.3 million in dead money. The Jets could choose to eat that dead cap and cut him, but I don’t believe they will do so. It’s not advisable to eat more dead cap than the team saves. Obviously, this is contingent on how Brown plays down the stretch, since he’s been up-and-down so far.
The team could possibly restructure Brown’s contract to save around $2.25 million next year. If they convert his $9 million base salary into a signing bonus, it would spread over 2023 plus the three void years from 2024-26. That would lower his cap hit to $9.4 million 2023, but it would raise his dead cap to over $10 million in 2024, when he will no longer be under contract with the team.
My best guess is that the Jets keep him around as a very expensive backup or allow him to compete for a starting job on the line.
There’s also the significant possibility that Brown will retire considering his torn rotator cuff. He’s playing through it for now, and the Jets are quite thankful to have him there. However, at his age, it could be that he’ll just hang up his spikes following 2022.
After an excellent 2021 season, George Fant has suffered through an injury-riddled 2022 campaign. His knee, never fully healed after offseason surgery, led him to a horrific start in 2022. An IR stint followed a few weeks later. Fant was vocal about his desire for good left tackle money in the offseason, but he didn’t show anything towards deserving it. It’s highly unlikely that the Jets re-sign him unless it’s on a one-year prove-it deal. Fant can probably find someone to bet on his 2021 season more than the Jets.
I don’t believe much will change on this score regardless of how Fant plays down the stretch in 2022.
This is not a cut discussion, as Connor McGovern is a free agent after the season. The much-maligned Jets center has played as a solidly average lineman for most of his tenure with the team. His previous contract was bloated, but if the Jets can get him at a middle-of-the-league number, they should keep him.
The 15th-highest paid center in average annual value is the Patriots’ David Andrews at $4.75 million per year. McGovern’s current contract pays him nearly double that at $9 million annually. Entering his age-30 season, McGovern is probably worth somewhere in the $7 million-per-year range. I’d try for a three-year contract with $12 million or so guaranteed.
This has been the Jets’ most disappointing free agent signing in the Joe Douglas era. Laken Tomlinson has struggled mightily in both blocking phases. The Jets thought they were getting slightly below Pro Bowl level production, and instead they got bottom-of-the-league numbers.
Unfortunately, Tomlinson’s $8.5 million dead cap next year makes it almost impossible for the Jets to cut him. His $17 million cap hit may be somewhat cost prohibitive for the team, though.
As of now, the Jets can get out of Tomlinson’s contract after 2024 with $4.2 million in dead cap. Based on the structure of the contract, Tomlinson never expected to be around in Year 3 with the $13 million saved by cutting him. However, there is the possibility that the Jets try to move some of his cap hit into 2024 and lessen the $17 million hit. Like C.J. Mosley’s contract restructure, that would add to Tomlinson’s cap hit in 2024 and make it more costly to cut him.
My best guess is that the Jets find another player or players to restructure and leave Tomlinson’s contract as is.
The Jets can cut John Franklin-Myers with just $1.2 million in dead cap after this season. Considering his $12 million cap hit, there’s a chance they do just that. It depends on how Jermaine Johnson plays and whether they want to move Franklin-Myers inside.
JFM has been a valuable Jet, but his production at edge does not justify his contract number. The Jets can try to restructure him, and they may do that. He’s still just 26 and brings a lot of value to the team. However, the Jets’ defensive line is very expensive, and they drafted Johnson to eventually be a starter.
This may depend largely on what the Jets decide to do with Lawson. I’m going to say that the Jets keep JFM for 2023 at least but restructure his contract. He’d still be reasonably cuttable after 2023 considering that only $800,000 of his deal is currently guaranteed for 2024, and he’s more versatile than Lawson.
The Jets will not pick up Mekhi Becton’s fifth-year option after this season. It would be foolish for a guy who’s sustained back-to-back season-ending knee injuries and has questions about his mindset and weight.
However, given that his fourth year is fully guaranteed at $5.9 million, the Jets will keep him around. They will want to know if the talent he showed in 2020 is still there. It’s likely that he comes into camp as a swing tackle competing for a starting spot with Duane Brown, Max Mitchell, and possibly Alijah Vera-Tucker or someone else the team brings in, maybe a draft pick.
After a highly disappointing 2021 season, Sheldon Rankins is finally providing the value the Jets thought they would get when they signed him. Still, he’s a free agent after this season, and with the cap dollars the Jets will need to allocate to Quinnen Williams, my guess is that Rankins does not return. It’s possible that if the team struggles in Rankins’s absence with his elbow injury that they will be more likely to re-sign him.
It was somewhat befuddling that the Jets signed two tight ends to starting-caliber deals in the offseason. They may have overcompensated somewhat for the futility at the position in 2021. At this point, though, it’s apparent that Tyler Conklin is the starter and C.J. Uzomah is primarily a blocking tight end. A blocking tight end is definitely not worth Uzomah’s $9.7 million cap hit in 2023; however, he has $10.3 million in dead cap, making him difficult to cut.
What the Jets do with Uzomah will depend on what they think about Jeremy Ruckert‘s development. The third-round draft pick has played sparingly in 2022 and not done much. He still looks like a work in progress as a blocker, and tight end is known as a position with a steep NFL learning curve.
If the Jets think Ruckert is ready – or ready enough to be a No. 2 tight end – they’ll cut Uzomah with a post-June 1 designation to push his cap hit to 2024. They may also restructure his contract to spread his cap hit over two years, making his cap hit around a more manageable $5 million in 2023 and 2024.
My guess is that Uzomah is here for another year, but he may be restructured to ease his cap hit in 2023.
Quinnen Williams is on the fifth-year option in 2023, but he’s not going to play on that, high as it may be when he becomes a Pro Bowler or even an All-Pro.
Jeffery Simmons is in the same boat as Williams, so their contracts will probably go hand-in-hand. Simmons has been more consistently dominant than Quinnen over the course of their careers, but Quinnen has had his breakout season this year thus far.
Aaron Donald is in a league of his own when it comes to defensive line contracts with $31.6 million per year, $95 million total value, and $65 million guaranteed. Next up is DeForest Buckner at $21 million per year, $84 million total value, and $56 million guaranteed. Quinnen will probably want something in that neighborhood.
My guess is that the Jets lock him up for around $20 million per year over five years with $55 million guaranteed – more years, similar average annual value, guaranteed money more spread out.
After an All-Pro selection in 2021, Braxton Berrios has been quiet in 2022. Garrett Wilson’s emergence limits his offensive snaps, and he doesn’t get too many return opportunities. An $8.2 million cap hit is steep for a guy like that, but he brings $3.2 million dead cap. Saving $5 million may be tempting for the Jets, but to me, they do that only if they find someone cheaper to be a returner, gadget player, and fourth receiver. It’s anyone’s guess if that can happen.
Bryce Huff has proven his value to the Jets in limited snaps this season. The team’s trade of Jacob Martin further demonstrates how much they like Huff. However, he’s a restricted free agent after the season and may not be satisfied in taking backup money to play as a pass rush specialist. If the Jets don’t plan to increase his workload and pay him accordingly, he may be gone next year.
If it were up to me, I’d pay Huff significantly to keep him around. He has a tremendous impact on the pass rush as a whole. But Joe Douglas generally has a number that he won’t stray much from, and that might price the Jets out of Huff.
Justin Hardee has returned to his dominant special teams form from the Saints after a disappointing 2021. However, he’s making $2.35 million next year with no dead cap. That’s a lot of money to pay a special teams player who brings no defensive value. Still, if the Jets didn’t cut him in 2022 with almost an identical cap split, it’s hard for me to imagine they’ll cut him in 2023.
When the Jets signed Jordan Whitehead to a two-year, $14 million deal, many fans thought it was a steal. As Joe Blewett has repeatedly stated, though, there’s a reason Whitehead got relatively little on the open market. He’s not a good coverage safety, misses many tackles, and is not good enough in the box to make up for it.
The Jets already need a free safety for next season, so they may decide to keep Whitehead around on a $10 million cap hit. However, if they want to move on, Whitehead has nearly $3 million in dead cap for next season. Cutting him would still save $7 million, so it’s something the Jets might consider.