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Key Jets players entering contract years

Posted by Erik Frenz  July 8, 2013 08:00 AM

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The New York Jets didn't have a lot of cap space to work with this offseason, and as such, didn't make a lot of moves.

The few moves they did make were mainly on one-year "prove-it" deals that allow players an opportunity to prove they can stay healthy, or stay out of trouble, or stay away from whatever else it could be that gives the team pause on giving the player a long-term deal.

There's more. While a few players are not exactly in contract years, they are due roster bonuses that could put their job in jeopardy come next offseason.

Thus, while the Jets have given themselves some answers for this season, they'll still have questions next offseason.

Mark Sanchez, quarterback

2013 cap hit: $12,853,125

The Jets could have cut Mark Sanchez this offseason, but they would have had to pay him an extra $4.3 million just to go away. Instead, the Jets will give him one more chance to prove he can be the starting quarterback. He'll have to do it in a new system and with former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith breathing down his neck.

In order to remain in a Jets uniform, Sanchez will have to prove he's better than the Jets' second-round pick. Even then, it may be difficult to prove he's worth what he'll be owed next season: a $13.1 million cap hit, including a $2 million roster bonus due at the beginning of the league year.

If Sanchez is back with the Jets beyond 2013, it will likely be on a much different contract.

Santonio Holmes, wide receiver

2013 cap hit: $9,000,000

Holmes was one of many bad deals drawn up by general manager Mike Tannenbaum in his last gasps. His fully guaranteed $24 million included a $6.25 million signing bonus plus all $16.25 million of his base salary from 2011-13, thus making him uncuttable in the first three years of the deal. Like Mark Sanchez, Holmes is due a $1 million roster bonus next offseason which the Jets could elect not to pick up, freeing them from the rest of his contract.

Holmes could be a valuable component to the Jets offense, but coming off a Grade 4 (the worst severity) Lisfranc foot fracture, he's still not up to speed. He has targeted the first day of training camp as his return date, but according to ESPN New York, he's still not running and cutting as of June 16.

Unless he gets back to the form of his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's not going to be brought back for a $10.75 million cap hit in 2014, which would make him the eighth-highest paid wide receiver that season.

Austin Howard, right tackle

2013 cap hit: $2.023 million

Things looked pretty bleak for the Jets at right tackle with Wayne Hunter manning the spot in 2011 (there are so many funny highlights of him, it would be tough to link to them all, but I'll try). It would have been hard to be much worse than Hunter was in 2011, but Austin Howard proved to actually be a viable starter at right tackle.

That being said, it was not all smooth sailing. According to STATS, Inc., Howard gave up 13.5 sacks and was called for three penalties (two false starts, one holding) on the 2012 season. Despite that, he showed some signs of growth last year, particularly in the running game. With another year of experience, he could earn the long-term stability both he and the Jets are looking for.

Jeff Cumberland, tight end

2013 cap hit: $1.323 million

Jeff Cumberland became a bigger part of the Jets game plan as the season wore on, with former Jets tight end Dustin Keller missing time with injury in 2012. Looking at the depth chart right now, it appears Cumberland could still be the starter at the position.

Clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 6'4" and 260 pounds, he has the size-speed combination that could, in theory, make him a matchup problem. His route-running could use some work, though, as he fails to properly adjust his routes and lacks explosion out of his breaks.

He is also not an ideal blocker for a full-time tight end, too often allowing defenders to slip off his blocks and make the tackle.

While Cumberland could still add some value in a part-time role, the Jets should be looking to upgrade here next offseason.

Willie Colon, guard

2013 cap hit: $1.2 million

After losing both starting guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson this offseason, the Jets needed to find some sort of answer on the inside of the offensive line.

Colon comes with injury concerns, having missed 35 games over the past three years after an Achilles injury and ACL tears in both of his knees. Before then, however, he started 48 consecutive games for the Steelers.

He was considered a rising star at tackle before his injuries, but was moved to guard in 2012.

If he can return to his early-career form, stay healthy and continue to grow in his new position, he could get his career back on track in a hurry.

Antonio Garay, nose tackle

2013 cap hit: $840,000

The Jets parted ways with starting nose tackle Sione Pouha, who had not missed a game prior to this season when he missed four with a lingering back injury. Releasing him opened up $3.8 million in cap space.

Antonio Garay may be asked to man the nose in the 3-4, and he has experience lining up at defensive tackle in a 4-3 if Rex Ryan opts to utilize a mix of fronts. That being said, he is more of a pass-rusher than a run-stuffer, and the Jets already have a bunch of those on the roster (Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Sheldon Richardson).

Although Garay is nice depth for those players, he shouldn't be more than a part-time player in the Jets defense.

Nick Folk, kicker

2013 cap hit: $715,000

Every year like clockwork, it seems we're back to talking about Nick Folk's job security as the Jets kicker. In 2011, Nick Novak was the one who was reportedly competing for the job. In 2012, it was Josh Brown.

Folk has managed to keep his job through all that, despite ranking 35th out of 41 kickers in accuracy percentage over the past two seasons. While Folk will always be serviceable for field goals of 39 yards or shorter (he's 24 of 28 from that range over the past two years), he's been erratic from long range.

If the Jets choose to bring back Folk, it will likely be at their price, and it likely will not be without competition.

Joe McKnight, running back

2013 cap hit: $630,000

McKnight is being asked about his job security after the Jets brought in both running backs Mike Goodson and running backs Chris Ivory in the backfield, but in McKnight's own words, "They're going to have to kill me to take my spot."

He came out of USC with praise for his versatility as a runner and receiver, but with a maximum of 43 carries in a season and just 17 career receptions, he has been used sparingly in those roles, to say the least.

He offers an explosive dynamic in the return game that the other backs don't bring to the table, and he earned All-Pro consideration in that area in 2011 (34 returns, 1,073 yards, touchdown) but unless he shows he can contribute out of the backfield, he could be considered a luxury at best and expendable at worst.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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