How the Jets could create $40 million in cap space to get a new quarterback

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Unlike the first three offseasons under general manager Joe Douglas, the New York Jets aren't swimming in salary-cap space as they approach the roster-building portion of the offseason. That will make for some tough decisions in the coming weeks.

The Jets stand at $915,000 over the $224.8 million cap, ranking 19th in available cap room, according to overthecap.com. They still have to pay a new quarterback, a presumptive starter who will keep Zach Wilson on the bench. They’re “committed” to adding a veteran at the position, according to coach Robert Saleh. Don't forget about star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who is demanding a long-term contract extension by the start of the offseason program in April.

"We feel like we still maintain a ton of flexibility," Douglas said of the cap situation.

They can clear about $40 million by restructuring linebacker C.J. Mosley and cutting wide receivers Braxton Berrios and Corey Davis, tackle Duane Brown and safety Jordan Whitehead. They can get to $55 million with the nuclear option, which would mean releasing defensive end Carl Lawson.

Teams don't have to be cap compliant until March 15, the start of the league year. Let's break down the decisions:

WR Corey Davis

Why keep him? He's a 28-year-old wide receiver in a 6-foot-3 frame, and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett likes big receivers for his West Coast system. The only other "big" receiver on the roster is Denzel Mims (6-foot-3).

Why move on? Davis can't stay healthy. He has played only 22 out of 34 games since he joined the Jets, the main reason why he hasn't lived up to expectations as a big-ticket free agent in 2021. His two-year production (66 catches, 1,028 yards) is what you'd expect in one good season. He has the 29th-highest cap charge among wide receivers ($11.2 million)

Financial gain? They clear $10.5 million if they cut him -- the amount of his non-guaranteed salary for 2023. That's a big chunk of money for a team pressed against the cap. Because of the way his contract is structured, the "dead" charge would be only $667,000.

Most likely outcome: They could try to trade him, with the hope of recouping a late-round pick. Otherwise, it makes sense to cut him.

WR Braxton Berrios

Why keep him? A year ago, the narrative heading into free agency was how they need to re-sign Berrios. They did it with a two-year, $12 million contract. His production fell off in 2022, but he's still only 27 and does a lot of things (backup slot receiver, returns punt and kickoffs).

Why move on? His cap charge is $8.2 million -- a lot of loot for a WR4 (at best) and returner. After averaging 30.4 yards on kickoff returns in 2021, making first-team All-Pro, he dropped to a pedestrian 23.1 yard average.

Financial gain? Only $500,000 of his $5.5 million salary is guaranteed, so his release would net a $5 million savings. To put that into context, that would more than cover the amount of cap space needed to sign their draft picks.

Most likely outcome: They like Berrios, and vice versa, so maybe he would agree to a pay cut to stick around. Failing that, it's hard to imagine them keeping this contract on their books.

LB C.J. Mosley

Why keep him? He's the heart and soul of the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, and he's coming off his first Pro Bowl season since 2018, his final year with the Baltimore Ravens. He made a team-high 158 tackles and missed only 23 defensive snaps for the Jets in 2022.

Why move on? It's all about the cap charge -- $21.5 million. That's the highest among 4-3 middle linebackers, according to ESPN's Roster Management System. Mosley reset the market in 2019 with a five-year, $85 million contract in free agency. A year ago, they restructured the deal to create cap room in 2022, pushing money into the latter years. That's why they're in this predicament.

Financial gain? Mosley has two years, $34 million remaining on his contract, none of it guaranteed. (He has void years in 2025 and 2026.) They can trim his cap charge by approximately $11.9 million if they convert his 2023 salary ($17 million) into signing bonus, pro-rating it over four years. It's not ideal because it pushes more money into the back end, but it's better than cutting him before June 1. That would net a savings of only $6.6 million -- and they'd lose one of their top players.

Most likely outcome: He stays with a reworked contract.

DE Carl Lawson

Why keep him? He led the defensive ends in sacks (seven) and quarterback pressures (51), and we all know the importance of edge pressure in the Jets' 4-3 front. Is he a dominant player? No, but his production should rise in 2023, when he will be two full years removed from Achilles' surgery.

Why move on? Lawson is on the list because he has no guaranteed money remaining in his contract, so there's an easy escape and a big savings if they cut him. Second-year ends Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons are poised for bigger roles after playing limited snaps as rookies.

Financial gain? A marquee free agent in 2021, Lawson counts $15.7 million, but $15.4 million will come off the cap if he's released. That could "buy" quarterback Aaron Rodgers, due to count $14.6 million on the 2023 cap if he's traded under his current contract. They could try to get Lawson to swallow a pay cut.

Most likely outcome: He stays. Look at it this way: He's a 27-year-old edge rusher with a seven- to 10-sack potential. Someone would scoop him up quickly.

S Jordan Whitehead

Why keep him? He's young (26 on March 18), durable and solid against the run (third on the team with 89 tackles). With Lamarcus Joyner heading to free agency, the Jets would maintain some continuity at safety by keeping Whitehead.

Why move on? His cap charge ($10.2 million) is on the rich side for a box safety who doesn't make many game-changing plays (two interceptions, no sacks, no forced fumbles). The Jets allowed 1,039 receiving yards to tight ends, per NFL Next Gen Stats, and Whitehead was one of the reasons why.

Financial gain? Releasing him would save $7.25 million on the cap. It's the last year of a two-year contract, with no guaranteed money.

Most likely outcome: Whitehead's cap charge is 14th among safeties, which doesn't square with his production. The Jets could slow-play this, waiting to see if they can find an upgrade in free agency or the draft.

OT Duane Brown

Why keep him? Brown is a classy pro who played well in stretches despite a mid-August arrival and a four-game stint on injured reserve to start the season. Playing with a torn rotator cuff, he finished 28th among 64 qualified tackles in pass block win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Why move on? Brown turns 38 in August and he'll be coming off shoulder surgery.

Financial gain? The Jets gave him a two-year, $20 million contract -- they were desperate after Mekhi Becton's season-ending injury to his right knee -- so there will be a fairly significant cap penalty. Brown's cap charge is $11.3 million. If he's cut before June 1, the net savings is only $5 million, meaning the dead hit is $6.3 million. If they wait until after June 1, the savings this year is $9.7 million, but that leaves a chunky cap hit in 2024 ($4.7 million).

Most likely outcome: Brown said at the end of the season that he'd take some time to decide his future. The Jets need to get younger at tackle and Brown is too expensive to keep as a backup. Best bet: He's released and then retires.