Home / Sports / Mehta: Jets have little room to make FA splash in 2016

Mehta: Jets have little room to make FA splash in 2016

Bruce IrvinRob Carr/Getty Images

Bruce Irvin

Jets fans should brace for boredom beginning next week when free agency whips the rest of the NFL world into a dizzying discussion of overpaid — and underperforming — players.

For all the hoopla surrounding the league-wide “frenzy,” Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles aren’t expected to dive into the deep end of the pool for a second consecutive season.

The Jets made waves last year with a free agency splurge thanks to a wealth of unspent cash that needed to be spent per league rules. Maccagnan isn’t as fortunate this time, which means that you won’t miss much if you take a nap for the next week to 10 days.

When you wake up, the Jets will have re-signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, restructured some existing contracts and made some predictable cuts to middling players to free up a little more spending money and sign a few stop-gaps, whose names might ring a bell.

Hey! He was on my fantasy team in 2013!

The organization that doled out more than $ 75 million in guaranteed money during last year’s free agency won’t go into hibernation, but its limited financial resources will make it practically impossible to duplicate the splash.

“Our goal going into this thing is to figure out the best way we can utilize the money we have to have the most impact to make ourselves a better team,” Maccagnan said at the Scouting Combine a couple weeks ago. “It’s a longer process trying to turn a team around. We had a lot of success last year, but to me, this is very much a work in progress.”

Although Bowles recently made it clear that “we want to upgrade at every position” this offseason, reality delivers a sobering blow for most teams this time of year. The Jets’ relatively limited cap space will force the brain trust to make critical decisions during free agency.

Ladarius GreenHarry How/Getty Images

Ladarius Green

Maccagnan & Co. entered this weekend $ 6-7 million under the 2016 salary cap ($ 155.27 million). The Jets will make moves that have been discussed ad nauseam to create more money with the hope of bringing back Fitzpatrick and nose tackle Damon Harrison, who will attract plenty of interest if he hits the open market at the official start of free agency on Wednesday.

Pro Bowl running back Chris Ivory appears to be a goner, because at least one other team will pony up more money. It makes sense to re-sign Bilal Powell, but would you be surprised if he walked too?

The rest of the team’s in-house free agents aren’t going to move the needle one way or another. If Fitzpatrick and Harrison, who should command $ 4-$ 5 million annually on a multi-year deal, return, a boring free agency promises to be even more tame.

Sure, the Jets could add a running back that helped you make your fantasy playoffs three years ago or a tight end that was a “fantasy sleeper” in pre-season rankings in 2014, but they won’t command significant contracts. Those moves, however, will be essential transactions for a team with an aging nucleus hoping to make smart economical decisions to fill areas of need before focusing on the draft in April.

“What we’d ideally like to do is go into the draft with every need filled and then just draft the best player available,” Maccagnan said. “I think we tried to do that a little bit last year. This year’s free agency is going to be a lot like a normal NFL team’s free agency.”

In other words, he won’t have $ 50 million to plug holes all over the place after a 10-win season. The Jets need to revamp an aging offensive line. They need two running backs, a tight end that can catch, oh, more than five passes in a season, an inside linebacker, an outside linebacker… and some other stuff.

Maccagnan inherited a roster that lacked quality depth. His first free agency was geared toward repairing the secondary, the greatest deficiency. He also made a pair of terrific trades that (unintentionally) landed him a short-term solution at quarterback and his top offensive playmaker. The odds of a repeat performance this week: slim to none.

Alfred MorrisPatrick Smith/Getty Images

Alfred Morris

The Jets aren’t going to be in on any of the sexy/soon-to-be vastly overpaid free agents, which won’t necessarily be a bad thing. The loudest noise to be made would be trading recently tagged defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson, but that will be challenging.

Maccagnan, who is in relatively decent shape despite his coffee addiction, would do cartwheels in glee through the halls of the Jets headquarters if he could somehow deal Wilkerson for a first-round pick this week. The move would also free up an additional $ 15.7 million, which would go a long way to re-signing Harrison and others.

Alas for him, it probably won’t happen.

One year after the Jets made headlines with a flurry of eye-opening moves, there is a decidedly different vibe entering this free agency.

A snoozer awaits.

* * *

TOP 5 POTENTIAL TARGETS

Bruce Irvin, LB, Seahawks

Chase DanielJamie Squire/Getty Images

Chase Daniel

The Jets would like Lorenzo Mauldin to be the successor to Calvin Pace at the strong-side OLB position, but the young linebacker hasn’t proven he can do more than rush the passer yet. Enter Irvin, who could fill that void if the Jets decide to go after him. The Seahawks’ linebacker would benefit from playing behind a strong defensive line, just like he’s had in Seattle.

Brandon Brooks, G, Texans

Obviously, there’s a Mike Maccagnan connection here. Brooks was drafted by the Texans in the third round of 2012 when Maccagnan was the director of college scouting there. So he might be looking for a reunion with the guard, who started at least 14 games in each of the last three seasons. The Jets’ level of need at guard depends on whether they believe they can skate by with Brian Winters occupying one starting spot.

Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers

The Jets basically ignored the tight end position last year, but that doesn’t mean that Chan Gailey wants to omit it again. Gang Green wasn’t dealing with the most talented group of tight ends, so if they upgrade at the position they might actually, you know, throw to them every once in awhile. Green is an intriguing player that looks like he has talent but has been overshadowed by Antonio Gates for most of his time in San Diego. Perhaps that means he’ll be available at a value for Gang Green.

Alfred Morris, RB, Washington

The Jets could lose three running backs — Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley — to free agency, so they are going to need a couple of replacements. Given the budget constraints the team is facing, it seems likely they will head to the bargain bin and grab someone like Morris rather than more highly-regarded runners such as Doug Martin, Lamar Miller or Arian Foster. Morris is coming off of the worst year of his career in which he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and scored only one touchdown.

Chase Daniel, QB, Chiefs

This is only in the semi-apocalyptic and unlikely event that Ryan Fitzpatrick decides to bolt from Gang Green. That would send the Jets into shock, no doubt, and they’d be left scrambling for an option at quarterback. They could bring in a guy like Daniel to act as a bridge quarterback with some upside while they continue to groom Bryce Petty and/or another draft pick. Of course, Geno Smith is still on the roster, but the fans might revolt if the Jets gave Smith the ball again.

With

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