New York Jets

New York Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan and Head Coach Todd Bowles may have to choose between Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell when they hit free agency.

By Jeff Jarboe

In his first year as general manager of the New York Jets, Mike Maccagnan was able to completely rebuild a 4-12 team into a 10-6 team who nearly made the playoffs.

I’m hesitant to say it was easy for the first-year GM because nothing in the NFL is ever easy, but Maccagnan did have nearly $50 million in free agent spending money and a number of top draft picks to work with.

Maccagnan’s second off-season as the New York Jets GM however, does not come with the same luxuries of cap space and top draft picks.

This off-season, New York is only projected to have around $18 million in cap space (a number that Maccagnan will try to increase by releasing and/or restructuring a few players) and they have a number of key players to re-sign on both sides of the ball.

First and foremost, defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison are both set to hit the open market, though Harrison may be the only one who gets that far–Wilkerson is likely to receive the franchise tag.

Wilkerson’s franchise tag is projected at $16 million, while Harrison’s top nose tackle status should warrant offers in the $4.5 million/yr range.

On the other side of the ball starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are also free agents and all three will be looking for multi-year deals.

Re-signing Fitzpatrick is a no-brainer considering the New York Jets quarterback troubles in the last decade, and despite his age (33), Fitz earned a contract in the $10 million/yr range, which leaves me with this deduction: If Maccagnan’s top priority is re-signing Harrison ($4.5m/yr) and Fitzpatrick ($10m/yr), and slapping Wilkerson ($16m) with the franchise tag, even if he trims the fat on the roster there is not going to be enough money to bring back both running backs.

RELATED: Five New York Jets Off-Season Moves That Must Happen Immediately

Let’s break it down even further by looking at some of the moves that Maccagnan can make to free up cap space, the first of which should be to restructure LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson‘s contract. Ferguson is set to make a league-high (among offensive linemen) $14.1 million in 2016, which is obviously ridiculous.

If Maccagnan can cut Ferguson’s pay down to the $8-9 million/yr range, and release the washed up Antonio Cromartie ($8 million), their rarely used tight end Jeff Cumberland ($1.9 million) and their former slot receiver Jeremy Kerley ($1.3 million), New York would have around $34 million to try and bring back the aforementioned players.

If Wilkerson gets his $16 million franchise tag, Fitzpatrick gets $10 million next year, and Harrison gets $4.5 million next year, that leaves $4 million to re-sign Ivory and Powell.

Don’t expect Chris Ivory to settle for a contract that pays him less than $4 million/yr after he just enjoyed his first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career and finished top five in the league in rushing. There are going to be teams stupid enough to offer Ivory a fat contract even though the running back position has been devalued in recent years, and if that happens, the 27-year-old will leave New York without a second thought.

The question is whether the New York Jets are going to be of those dumb teams. Will Maccagnan overpay to bring back Gailey’s bulldozing running back? I don’t think he will.

From a business standpoint and a longevity standpoint, the running back position simply is not as valuable as other positions. Namely, the quarterback position and every position on the defensive line. New York can easily re-sign Powell to a manageable two-year deal, move forward with him as the starter and add another running back in the early rounds of the draft.

This would give the team some wiggle room to offer Harrison the contract he wants and deserves, while also retaining the two leaders on either side of the ball in Fitzpatrick and Wilkerson.

It wouldn’t be easy to let Ivory walk as he’s been the most exciting running back this team has had on its roster since, I dare say, Curtis Martin. But with so many other key players hitting the open market at much more important positions, it may be in Gang Green’s best interest to move forward with Powell and add another exciting player to replace Ivory in the draft.

Derek Henry has dreads too…

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I'm a senior journalism and communications major at THE University of Connecticut, as well as a die hard Jets and Knicks fan. College football and basketball have their place in my heart, but the NFL is my pride and joy.