With the news a few weeks ago that the 2016 NFL salary cap would be $155 million, it appears there might be a little extra room in the budget this season now that the Jets have cut Antonio Cromartie.
While the Jets might be modest players in free agency, they still have three big hurdles to clear before they can offer any contracts to prospective free agents. First, they need to come to terms with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Second, they need to either sign or franchise Muhammad Wilkerson. Third, they have some more cap cleanup moves yet to come, be that restructuring D'Brickashaw Ferguson, cutting Breno Giacomini and/or clearing out a few other players like Jeremy Kerley and Jeff Cumberland.
How should the Jets spend the extra cap space? Here's some suggestions, and feel free to add your own in the comments.
OG Brandon Brooks (HOU) -- The Jets might be in the midst of a rebuild on their offensive line this offseason. Will left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson be back on a reduced deal? Will the Jets cut Giacomini? With potentially both tackle spots up in the air, neither Brian Winters or Willie Colon are so compelling at guard that the Jets shouldn't consider upgrading through free agency. Could the Jets consider bringing in one of the best run blocking guards from the 2014 NFL season, Brooks? Houston's offensive struggles in 2015 seemed to catch up to Brooks, but entering his age 27 season with elite movement for a player his size (6-foot-5, 335 pounds), Brooks could command more than $6 million annually. The added bonus for the Jets is that GM Mike Maccagnan already has a strong sense of Brooks thanks to their shared time in the Houston organization since 2012 when the Texans drafted him in the third round.
RB Matt Forte (CHI) -- In 2015, the Jets' backfield was something of a surprise and a letdown. Chris Ivory's play as a power runner impressed in September and October, but he wore down over the course of the season. Bilal Powell's role as dynamic pass-catcher and change-of-pace back was a pleasant surprise. As a free agent, Forte is entering the final phase of his career and it would make sense that he wants to play for a contender. That quest could easily take him to Baltimore, where his former coach and current offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is. Or maybe Forte could be drawn on a veteran minimum deal to New England to play with Tom Brady. But I see the Jets as a dark horse possibility for a player like Forte. His old teammate Brandon Marshall would be a familiar face. Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey likes utilizing versatile three-down running backs.
The Jets won 10 games in 2015 and could squeeze enough cap space to fit a player like Forte on the roster at a reasonable price, likely less than $4 million per year. Let me put it this way: would you rather pay Powell $2-2.5 million per year or Forte $4 million?
RT Mitchell Schwartz (CLE) -- It doesn't seem like Schwartz will be back in Cleveland next year, which is good news for teams in the market to upgrade their right tackle spot. In Cleveland, Schwartz established himself as one of the best right tackles in the league and will be looking for the best offer on the open market. In the NFL, the trend of pass-rushers lining up against right tackles will help boost the money Schwartz could see. Expect Schwartz to land a deal in the $9 to $11 million per year range. Should the Jets cut Giacomini, they'd be about 40 percent of the way there. Should they get Brick to eat some of his salary, they could close the gap to finding the money necessary to pay Schwartz quickly.
TE Coby Fleener (IND) -- Indianapolis tight ends had a down year in 2015, and I fully expect that Fleener will want to stay in Indianapolis with his college teammate Andrew Luck while Dwayne Allen is the one who hits free agency. But in a lackluster free agent class of tight ends, Fleener's size, skills as a pass-catcher and production (when Allen missed games, which was a regular occurrence) might mesh well with a Gailey offense. While Marshall just had a statistically mind-blowing season, the team will need to distribute targets more evenly in 2016 to keep Marshall fresh throughout the year. Fleener isn't known as much of a run-blocker, but that might complement well with Quincy Enunwa, who seems best utilized in that capacity. When you also consider that Jeremy Kerley is on the outs and the skepticism about Jace Amaro's role in 2016, Fleener would provide a competent boost in the passing game for the Jets at what might amount to $5 million per season.
OL Jeff Allen (KCC) -- Allen suffered an MCL sprain which limited him to only 12 games this season for the Chiefs, but he was solid nonetheless. Allen has had some injury issues in the past, but he just turned 26 years old and based on how the Jets draft this season, he could be a solid starter at either of the guard spots or even the right tackle position. Allen has made it clear that he wants to play for a contending team, which might make the Jets have to pay a little extra -- likely $7-8 million per year. Signing Allen could be much more feasible if the Jets save $4 million by cutting Giacomini.