With approximately $7.5 million in cap space left over after the franchise tag was placed on Muhammad Wilkerson, the New York Jets are going to have some incredibly difficult decisions to make. One of those challenging choices will be whether or not to bring back Damon Harrison, one of the NFL’s best Nose Tackles.
Complicating matters is the fact that the team also has Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Erin Henderson ready to test the free agency market, which unofficially begins on March 7th. With the small amount of space they are left with, it would be next to impossible to bring all of them back.
Of course it is possible and probable that the team will be making some more cuts in the coming days. Likely candidates include Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland and Breno Giacomini, which together would save the Jets $7.575 million (according to overthecap.com).
There is also an outside chance that the team could part ways with quarterback Geno Smith and long snapper Tanner Purdum, saving the team about another $1.9 million.
Even if the Jets went ahead and cut those five players, they would still only have approximately $17 million to work with. That would undoubtedly be a more attractive number, but it still might not be enough to get the job done, depending on which players they are looking to re-sign.
In addition to cuts that can be made, the Jets can approach some high-paid players, such as D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, asking them to re-work their contracts to save money for the 2016 season. Although that can get rather complicated as far as adding years to aging veterans’ contracts and determining whether or not players are amenable to making those changes.
Pushing all of that aside, as it would be futile to try to read the minds of Mike Maccagnan and the Jets’ front office, what exactly would it take to keep Damon “Snacks” Harrison around for 2016 and beyond?
According to OvertheCap.Com, the highest paid 3-4 NT currently under contract for the 2016 season is Vince Wilfork of the Houston Texans, with an annual average salary of $4.5 million. Last year’s highest paid was Haloti Ngata, who counted $8.5 million against the Detroit Lions salary cap.
Being that Harrison is younger and more effective than both of them at this point in their careers, you have to figure that it could cost somewhere in the range of $10 million per year to get a deal done, unless “Snacks” is feeling generous enough to give a hometown discount.
Harrison has been a dominant force for the Jets since he took over at NT in 2013, compiling 193 total tackles in his three years as a starter. More important than his statistics, Damon has been exceptional in taking on double-teams and clogging up running lanes, freeing up his teammates to make tackles. He is a huge part of the reason that the Jets ranked 2nd in run defense in 2015, 5th in 2014 and 3rd in 2013.
Extremely durable and reliable, Harrison has not missed a game since he was named the starter prior to the 2013 season. Although many seem to think that the team will be fine without him in the middle of the defense, he is much more important to their success than he is given credit for. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot just plug in a 350-pound NT and hope that his size alone will match the ability and intensity of “Snacks.”
Despite his enormous importance to the Jets’ defense, you have to keep in mind that the NFL is a business and the salary cap can be quite restrictive when it comes to keeping all of your star players around.
Now that Wilkerson has been tagged, which will cost the Jets $15.7 million, the trio of Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams are due to count about $23 million against the cap in 2016. That does not exactly leave a lot of room to throw roughly $10 million a year at Harrison. If they do, those four players will take up over a fifth of this year’s cap.
Being that the team already has a lot of talent on the defensive line signed for 2016 and they are trying to bring Ryan Fitzpatrick back to lead the team again this season, which will probably cost them another $10 million or so per year, it is hard to fathom the team having the ability to keep Harrison around.
In an ideal world, the Jets will be able to re-sign Harrison, Fitzpatrick, Henderson and either Ivory or Powell, but it is going to take some seriously creative accounting to get that done. Let us hope that Maccagnan has his calculator out and is somehow capable of pulling off this miracle. If not, it will surely be sad to see Damon wearing another team’s uniform in 2016.