The New York Jets' braintrust already is hunkered down in meetings, plotting an off-season plan. It'll be less hectic than last year for general manager Mike Maccagnan, who was new on the job, but 2016 will present its own unique set of challenges.
Here's a primer on where the Jets' stand in terms of the salary cap and free agency:
How much cap space will they have?
The 2016 cap reportedly will fall somewhere between $150 million and $153.4 million. Right now, the Jets have $134.8 million committed to the cap, according to NFLPA records. The number will be adjusted based on the amount of unused cap space carried over from 2015. The Jets don't have much of a carryover -- perhaps close to $3 million. Do the quick math, and you'll see the Jets figure to have a minimum of $18 million in cap room. It's certainly a far cry from a year ago, when they had more than $50 million at the start of free agency.
Which players have the biggest 2016 cap hits?
The top 10: Darrelle Revis ($17 million), D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($14.1 million), Brandon Marshall ($9.5 million), Nick Mangold ($8.6 million), Eric Decker ($8 million), Antonio Cromartie ($8 million), Buster Skrine ($7.75 million), David Harris ($7.5 million), Marcus Gilchrist ($5.6 million), James Carpenter ($5.6 million). Here's a scary thought: Six of the 10 will be 31 or older.
How can they create more cap room?
The Jets don't have a lot of bloated contracts, so they can't magically create a ton of room by dumping a few players. They can loosen things up a bit by cutting Cromartie ($8 million savings), Jeremy Kerley ($1.3 million) and Jeff Cumberland ($1.9 million). They also have to address Ferguson's contract. His $14.1 million cap charge is a league-high for offensive linemen in 2016. Obviously, that's prohibitive. Look for the Jets to do something before the start of the league year, when a $1 million roster bonus is payable to Ferguson. If they save, say, $4 million by restructuring Ferguson, now you're talking about $33 million in cap room if the aforementioned players are released. It sounds like a lot of dough, but it's really not. Why not? Keep reading.
Which free agents are deserving of big bucks?
The Jets have three players who will command significant contracts -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison. His poor finish notwithstanding, Fitzpatrick had a record-setting season and could land a new deal that averages at least $10 million annually. They won't mortgage the future for Fitzpatrick, 33, but veteran starting quarterbacks don't come cheaply. Wilkerson could end up with the franchise tag, which projects at $16 million. Harrison considers himself the best nose tackle in the NFL, so you have to assume he wants to be paid like it. That means at least $4.5 million a year. As you can see, the money goes quickly. It will be difficult to re-sign Harrison, especially if he hits the open market.
Who are the Jets' unrestricted free agents?
Aside from Fitzpatrick, Wilkerson and Harrison, their free agents are Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley, Chris Owusu, Kellen Davis, Ben Ijalana and Willie Colon on offense. On defense, we're talking about Leger Douzable, Stephen Bowen, Calvin Pace, Demario Davis, Jamari Lattimore, Erin Henderson, Darrin Walls, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Kicker Randy Bullock also will be a free agent. The restricted free agents are Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and Ryan Quigley.
Who stays and who goes?
Fitzpatrick and Wilkerson will be back. It sounds like Todd Bowles really wants to keep Harrison, but it'll be tough. They'll try to re-sign Ivory and Powell, but don't be surprised if both leave. Hey, you can't keep everybody. The Jets could be looking at a total overhaul at running back. Demario Davis isn't likely to return; he lost playing time to Henderson, who is worth re-signing on a one-year deal. None of the other free agents is a must have, although players such as Douzable, Walls and Allen can be depth players for the minimum salary.
Does Maccagnan have a blockbuster move up his sleeve?
Aside from keeping his own big names, it'll be tough to made a splashy move because of the cap situation. That, coupled with the fact they have only six draft picks, means they will have limited resources. That's problematic because this team, despite winning 10 games, needs an infusion of young talent. One bargaining chip could be Sheldon Richardson, but his trade value is hurt because of the uncertainty surrounding a possible suspension. They could try a tag-and-trade with Wilkerson, but those are rare and his broken leg complicates the issue.
What are their positional needs?
They need speed at running back, an edge pass rusher, at least one new starter on the right side of the offensive line and a kick returner who actually scares opponents.