Trumaine Johnson has become a weight around the neck of the Jets defense, and his benching on Monday night likely was the beginning of his end. The 29-year-old cornerback likely won't be in the long-term plans, as the Jets continue rebuilding their defense.
But don't expect him to be replaced by Jalen Ramsey, who has asked the Jacksonville Jaguars to trade him. Johnson's albatross of a contract makes it very difficult for the Jets to do that.
That's the part that makes the latest mess with Johnson so bad -- the fact that he's only in Year 2 of a five-year, $72.5 million contract. He's already been paid more than $26 million, and he's costing the Jets $12 million against the salary cap this season. And the way his deal is structured, they might have to endure his presence on the roster for another two years, at least.
So, even if they are tempted by the idea of trading for Ramsey, the financial ramifications are enormous. Ramsey wouldn't cost them much this season (roughly $3 million in salary and salary cap space), but he's due $13.7 million in 2020. He also is seeking a long-term contract extension, and you can bet he'd want more than Johnson got.
The Jets are projected to have $54 million to spend under the salary cap in 2020 (according to OverTheCap.com). But having two enormous contracts tied up at the cornerback position when they need help at edge rusher, receiver, and maybe along the offensive line? That doesn't seem like it would be a smart way for Jets GM Joe Douglas to go.
Also, according to reports, the Jaguars want two first-round picks in return for Ramsey. That's probably way too high of a price for the Jets, even if they could do something about Johnson's deal.
Unfortunately, they really can't. That deal seemed surprisingly large even when then-GM Mike Maccagnan made the offer to him in March 2018. At the time, the Jets were desperate for defensive help and had plenty of cap room. Also, Johnson was still regarded as a very good, if not great, corner with plenty of upside even though he had never been named to a Pro Bowl and was already 28.
He wasn't good last season, though. He also missed five games with injuries. Then, to add insult to the injuries, he was benched for the season finale for disciplinary reasons. Still, the Jets had high hopes for him this season since he had his best seasons while playing under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with the Rams.
One game, though, was all they needed to realize Johnson simply isn't the player he was.
"It just hasn't worked out as well as we need it to," Jets coach Adam Gase said on Wednesday. "The good thing is we got a long ways to go."
Yes, but what if things don't improve? Unfortunately, there's nothing the Jets can do about it. They can certainly leave Johnson on the sidelines if they want. In fact, Gase indicated they would when he was asked if Johnson's contract would prevent the Jets from benching him.
"That's irrelevant to me," he said. "I don't care how much money you make."
The Jets, particularly Douglas, will as they plan for their future. And therein lies their problem. They can't cut or trade Johnson now because his $12 million cap hit would suddenly jump to $24 million this year -- an astronomical number they can't afford. They could cut him at the end of the season, as long as they do it before mid-March when his 2020 salary of $11 million salary become guaranteed. They'd still be on the hook for $12 million in dead money in 2020, though, which only saves them $3 million of what he's scheduled to cost them against the cap.
So it's probably most likely that they can't get rid of him until after 2020, and even then he'd still be worth $8 million of dead money on the Jets' cap in 2021. That means if they were able to trade for Ramsey, they'd have $15 million tied up in two corners this year, and $28 million in 2020, though the latter could be adjusted if Ramsey were to get a long-term deal.
Ramsey's certainly worth inquiring about. The Jets don't have many good, young corners and he's a promising 24-year-old who has already been to the Pro Bowl twice in three seasons. The Jets have been interested in him in the past, though that was under Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles. If they didn't have Johnson weighing them down, they'd probably be one of the teams lining up at the Jaguars' door.
But they really can't do it now, thanks to Johnson. Their best bet at corner is to hope Williams can find a way to get Johnson to turn things around. More and more, though, it seems likely that's something he won't be able to do.