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Too many highly paid older players could impede Jets' progress

Mike Maccagnan was a smash in his first season as GM, but there is more to do in year two. Julio Cortez/AP Photo

Good morning, welcome to championship Sunday. Before you watch the games, here's a New York Jets mailbag for your reading pleasure:

@RichCimini: Congratulations, Johnny. In 22 words, you captured the biggest question facing general manager Mike Maccagnan. He's being hailed as a genius for a strong first year -- voted Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America -- but the landscape has changed. We're about to find out how he operates without a boat load of cap space.

Consider this sobering reality: Six of the eight highest cap charges for 2016 belong to players who will be at least 31 next season. They are: Darrelle Revis ($17 million), D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($14.1 million), Brandon Marshall ($9.5 million), Nick Mangold ($8.6 million), Antonio Cromartie ($8 million) and David Harris ($7.5 million).

Do the math. The total is $64.7 million. Those six players, based on their current contracts, will eat up 43 percent of the projected cap, give or take a few percentage points. The official salary cap amount still hasn't been announced.

The point is, the Jets' payroll is top heavy with older players. You have to figure Ryan Fitzpatrick, 33, will crash the party when he signs his new contract. They have to get younger without sacrificing wins, and that's one of the hardest things to do in sports. They raised the bar with a 10-win season, so no one wants to hear anything about rebuilding.

The Jets need two things to happen:

1. The young players already on the roster have to take giant leaps forward. I'm talking about Devin Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Jace Amaro, Dee Milliner, Marcus Williams, Dexter McDougle, Quincy Enunwa and Brent Qvale, among others. This is where coaching comes in. Player development will be key for Todd Bowles and his staff.

2. Maccagnan needs a killer draft in April. He was hired because he's considered a college draft guru; well, start guru-ing. With only six picks, he should look to add picks through trades, but what options does he have? Muhammad Wilkerson? A tag-and-trade is very difficult to pull off. Besides, do you want to trade your best defensive player? Sheldon Richardson? Too much uncertainty with a looming suspension.

As you can see, Maccagnan has a quandary. The work doesn't get any easier for the Executive of the Year.