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Potential contract headaches

5/5/2010

The Jets appear headed for choppy financial waters with regard to some of their young stars, namely Nick Mangold, David Harris, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Darrelle Revis.

You can bet that Patrick Willis’ five-year, $50 million contract extension, announced Tuesday by the 49ers, caught the attention of several Jets players and their agents. Willis, a first-round pick in 2007, had two years remaining on a five-year deal, but his club rewarded him for being one of the top linebackers in the game.

The aforementioned Jets have to be wondering, “What about me?” And rightly so.

The Jets have sent a dangerous message to their locker room this offseason, dumping well-respected, productive veterans such as Alan Faneca and Thomas Jones. Rex Ryan always talks about how he wants his guys to “play like Jets.” Well, Faneca and Jones played like Jets and what happened? They received pink slips even though Faneca made his ninth straight Pro Bowl and Jones rushed for 1,400 yards. There's also the case of Leon Washington, who basically gave a leg for the organization and was sent packing in a trade.

The organization needs to show a willingness to take care of its own. The Jets have done it in the past, giving rich extensions to players like Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes (gone), but the latest perception is that they’d rather take on one-year, hired guns than develop and pay homegrown talent.

But here’s the catch: The uncertain labor landscape is making it hard for teams to give lucrative extensions. Mike Tannenbaum is one of the most aggressive, proactive general managers in the NFL, but he’s reluctant to shell out mega-contracts because the CBA rules could change and there’s a looming work stoppage in 2011. In a sense, he feels handcuffed.

The “30-percent rule” is causing the most angst. By rule, in this uncapped year, the base salaries in a re-negotiation are allowed to grow only 30% from one year to the next. Teams can get around that by doling out an enormous signing bonus, but they’re leery of paying big bucks in such an uncertain financial time.

The 49ers figured out a way to satisfy Willis, with multiple reports saying they found a loophole in the 30-percent rule. No doubt, Tannenbaum and his crack staff will be studying Willis’ contract. So, too, will the agents of Mangold & Co.

Consider: Mangold is entering the fifth year of a five-year contract, Harris the fourth year of a four-year deal, Ferguson the fifth year of a six-year contract (but 2011 is a “fake” year) and Revis … well, his contract is open to interpretation.

In 2007, Revis, drafted three spots after Willis, signed a six-year contract that voided to four years based on playing time. However, the Jets can buy back those two years for $20 million. In their eyes, Revis is under contract through 2012, and they’re in no hurry to reward one of the premier defensive players in the game.

Indeed, Revis has made a cool $15 million in his first three years, great coin for the 14th overall pick, but his 2010 salary is only $1 million. Keep an eye on that situation; it could percolate as we get closer to training camp. So could the others.