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NY Jets could make innovative choice for promising player

Alijah Vera-Tucker
Alijah Vera-Tucker

The New York Jets could help themselves and one of their best players

The Green Bay Packers traded Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets largely because of Jordan Love. In his first season as a starter, Love justified that decision.

Now, the Packers have him for another year at a bargain price.

That’s because general manager Brian Gutenkunst made a savvy move with Love. Gutenkunst had to decide whether or not to pick up Love’s fifth-year option, which would have guaranteed him $20.272 million in 2024. That was too steep for an unknown, no matter how much he and Matt LaFleur liked the quarterback.

Therefore, Gutenkunst signed Love to a two-year deal with $13.5 million guaranteed and $8 million in performance escalators. Here’s a simple explanation of Green Bay’s rationale.

Love received $13.5 million guaranteed but had a chance to earn back most of the fifth-year option with a strong performance. He ended up hitting many of the escalators, including percentage of offensive snaps, passing touchdowns, passing yards, passer rating, and making the playoffs.

In other words, the Packers gave an unknown quantity an extension a year early, betting that the risk would pay off and they’d have him on a team-friendly deal for another year.

That brings us to the Jets and one of their best offensive players.

Alijah Vera-Tucker

The Jets must decide whether or not to pick up Alijah Vera-Tucker’s fifth-year option by May 2. If they pick it up, Vera-Tucker would make a guaranteed $15.3 million in 2025. While he has performed well on the field and buoyed the entire Jets offense, he has sustained back-to-back catastrophic injuries and played only 12 games over the past two seasons.

This leaves the Jets in a bind. Do they decline his option and let him hit free agency next offseason, thereby perhaps forcing themselves to pay him a year early or let him walk for nothing? Or do they pick up the option and risk another season-ending injury?

There are two primary differences between Vera-Tucker and Love. We’ve seen Vera-Tucker perform at a high level, whereas Love was a complete unknown on the actual football field (although the Packers obviously liked what they saw in practice). On the other hand, Love did not have the injury bug that Vera-Tucker does, particularly the torn Achilles, which could significantly hamper Vera-Tucker’s performance in 2024.

Still, the point is that there’s a very risky fifth-year option decision coming up for a player with question marks. Could the Jets try something similar with Vera-Tucker?

Proposed contract

Right now, Vera-Tucker’s 2024 cap hit is scheduled to be $5.054 million fully guaranteed. If they pick up his fifth-year option, that means he’ll have $20.354 million guaranteed for the 2024-25 seasons.

Therefore, just as the Packers split the difference with Love, the Jets could do so with Vera-Tucker. They could offer him a two-year contract extension with $13 million guaranteed and $7 million in 2024 performance escalators.

performance escalator is a condition on one year’s performance that will affect the next year’s salary. It is different than an incentive, which increases the current year’s salary based on performance.

Here are sample escalator benchmarks the Jets could insert into Vera-Tucker’s contract.

  • Playing 70% of the offensive snaps
  • Playing 85% of the offensive snaps
  • Making the Pro Bowl
  • First-team All-Pro

It is more difficult to find escalators for an offensive lineman than a quarterback, but the Jets could figure it out.

What’s the advantage?

Such a contract would give the Jets some insurance if Vera-Tucker gets injured again, as opposed to the full risk of picking up his fifth-year option. From Vera-Tucker’s angle, it gives him a measure of injury security, guaranteeing him at least part of his salary for 2024.

Vera-Tucker need look no further than Mekhi Becton to see the advantage of signing such a contract. The Jets declined Becton’s fifth-year option, letting him hit the open market after the 2023 season. Following a miserable season, Becton is looking at a depressed market, a far cry from what he would have imagined his value would be based on his draft pedigree and the talent he displayed in his rookie season.

Obviously, Vera-Tucker could choose to bet on himself, play the year out, and gain a lucrative multi-year extension at the top of the market. At that point, the Jets would need to choose whether or not to pick up his option (my choice would be a resounding yes).

Still, this would be an opportunity to split the difference, giving both the Jets and Vera-Tucker some security while allowing another year to see if he can stay healthy and take his play to the next level.

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Jim G
Jim G
2 months ago

Thank you for pointing this out. I like this approach, which is both prudent and fair to both sides. Obviously, much hinges on the coach’s impression of the player’s potential. As an additional sweetener to Vera-Tucker, the Jets could agree to play him in one spot on the O line. Very innovative thinking!

2 months ago
Reply to  Jim G

And that one spot should be guard (either left or right). That’s the way to protect their investment and get the best out of him.

2 months ago

I like this thinking, do you think there are similar possibilities with DJ and Conklin? They are both proven and are certainly the “type” of player who set winning cultures.

2 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Makes sense and I’d sign them both to extensions at market value asap.