- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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The league year begins in two months (March 11, to be exact), so teams have plenty of time to get their salary-cap house in order. In past years, the New York Jets had to slash salary to get under the cap, but not this year.
Right now, the Jets are projected to be about $20 million under the cap. The preliminary projection for the cap is $126.3 million and the Jets have $106 million committed to it, according to overthecap.com. By the time they get done dumping overpaid veterans, they could have close to $40 million in space.
Here's a look at some of the Jets' key cap figures for 2014:
Antonio Cromartie, cornerback, $14.98 million:
Cromartie is entering the final year of a four-year, $32 million contract. In retrospect, it was a sound investment by the Jets, one of the better big deals doled out by former general manager Mike Tannenbaum. That said, there's virtually no way Cromartie will play 2014 under the existing contract. It calls for a $5 million roster bonus in March, and the Jets don't want to pay that much for a 30-year-old corner (almost) who recently acknowledged he may need hip surgery. He'd account for 12 percent of the team's cap under the current deal.
Cromartie says he wants to retire with the Jets. To stick around for '14, he can agree to significantly reduce the $9.5 million he's due to make in total compensation. If not, he probably will be released with the chance to return. Free agency would allow him to shop around and establish his market value, weighing it against the Jets' interest in bringing him back. Despite a sub-par season, Cromartie still is a good No. 2 corner and the Jets don't have anyone on the roster capable of starting opposite Dee Milliner. It makes sense for both sides to find a compromise and strike a new deal. If they cut him, they'd save $9.5 million in cap room, but a good chunk of that would go toward signing his replacement.
Mark Sanchez, quarterback, $13.1 million
Sanchez still has three years left on his contract, thanks to the ill-advised extension he received in March 2012, but there is no security remaining in the deal -- meaning no guaranteed money. As a result, they can release their former franchise quarterback without wrecking the cap. They'd get hit with a $4.8 million charge in "dead" money, but the overall savings would be $8.3 million. That probably will be the end result, and it will happen before a $2 million roster bonus is due in March.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the two sides get to that point. Conceivably, the Jets could throw Sanchez a lifeline -- after all, they need an experienced quarterback to play behind or compete with Geno Smith -- but they'd want him to take a massive, pride-crushing pay cut. Sanchez says he wants to stay with the Jets, but at what price? He probably could land a one-year deal in the $3 million neighborhood on the open market, assuming his surgically repaired throwing shoulder checks out.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, left tackle, $11.7 million
He's not going anywhere. In fact, it would cost them more not to have Ferguson on the roster than to have him -- a $13 million hit in "dead" money. After restructuring a couple of times, he's probably un-cuttable until 2016, the next-to-last year of the contract. Fortunately for the Jets, Ferguson still is a productive, if not elite player.
Santonio Holmes, wide receiver, $10.75 million
The guaranteed money from the ridiculous five-year, $45 million contract he signed in 2011 has disappeared, meaning Holmes soon will disappear as well. Holmes took a $3 million pay cut last offseason, and he said he'd be willing to take another (how magnanimous), but he probably won't get that chance.
The Jets will save $8.25 million in cap space by dumping him before a $1 million roster bonus is due in March, and they won't let that opportunity pass by. Based on the past two seasons (43 receptions, 17 games missed), Holmes is a $1 million-to-$2 million-a-year receiver.
Nick Mangold, center, $7.2 million
This is a large cap charge for a center, but it's managable. Mangold remains a Pro Bowl-caliber player, so there's no reason to think about his ouster. But the contract may have to be addressed next year, when the cap number balloons to $10.4 million. He's signed through 2017.
David Harris, linebacker, $7.0 million
He'd be in trouble if he had the same cap number as 2013 ($13 million), but his charge drops to a managable $7 million, the final year of a four-year, $36 million contract. The Jets overpaid for Harris -- he's not an elite linebacker -- but he bounced back after a disappointing 2012, justifying the final year of the deal. He still has tremendous value to the defense; in fact, he missed only two snaps in 2013.