Chris Ivory's appearance in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night may have been his final game in a New York Jets uniform -- more specifically, a Jets helmet, since team jerseys aren't worn in the annual all-star game. He will be an unrestricted free agent next month, and the indicators suggest he will sign elsewhere.
Ivory is coming off his most productive season, including an AFC-best 1,070 rushing yards, but there are three factors working against his return: his age (28 next month), his late-season decline, and the Jets' tight salary cap situation.
The Jets have seven starters heading to free agency, and Ivory probably is no higher than fourth on the priority list. With only $14 million in projected cap space (a loose projection at this point), there's no way to retain every good player. You get the feeling Ivory can read the handwriting on the wall.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen," Ivory told NFL Media before the Pro Bowl, where he ended up with almost as many "touches" (four) as he did in the Jets' season finale (six). "I would like to stay in New York if we reach an agreement. But I know the cap space they're working with and everything and the other guys they have to get signed or want to get signed back. But if it doesn't work out, I'm just looking forward to continuing my career elsewhere if it happens to go that way."
Ivory said he has spoken to the team about his future, adding, "They want to bring me back, but like I said, I think it's about the cap space. That's going to be the biggest factor as to whether I'm back or not."
No doubt, Ivory will garner interest on the open market. He'll be one of the most coveted running backs, probably behind Doug Martin and Lamar Miller, with Alfred Morris and Matt Forte also in the conversation. Ivory was a restricted free agent in 2013, when he was traded to the Jets and signed a three-year, $6 million contract, so this will be his first go-round as an unrestricted free agent.
Ivory, underpaid the past two years, is expected to seek at least $4 million per year. (Why wouldn't he?) In 2015, the Jets' devoted $7 million in cap space to their running backs (11th in the league), and it's unlikely they will go higher in 2016. With only one back under contract, the injured Zac Stacy, they have to be smart about how they distribute the money.
What kind of contract can Ivory expect? Let's look at a few noteworthy deals from 2015 free agency:
* DeMarco Murray -- five years, $40 million ($18 million guaranteed)
* Frank Gore -- three years, $12 million ($6.5 million)
* Mark Ingram -- four years, $16 million ($6.1 million)
* C.J. Spiller -- four years, $16 million ($5.75 million)
* Ryan Matthews -- three years, $11 million ($5 million)
* Shane Vereen -- three years, $12.4 million ($4.75 million)
* Justin Forsett -- three years, $9 million ($2.1 million)
Murray was the the outlier -- just a dumb contract by the Eagles, one they already regret. The hunch here is that Ivory will land a deal similar to that of Matthews'. Remember, the running back position has been devalued in recent years, so only in rare cases does a player make an absolute killing.