Writing for the National Football Post, notorious salary cap cage-rattler Jason Cole writes that, "A Storm is Brewing." He's suggesting that some players that would have been expecting a new deal after their third season will now be forced to wait.
Each of the 2011 first rounders (and all first rounders since then) signed a four-year deal with a fifth-year option and Cole is suggesting that - having talked to general managers around the league - teams will simply execute that option rather than extend their players. The writer suggests that this is increasingly likely because those fifth-year salaries - based on average salaries at the player's position - are going to come in lower than projected.
ESPN New York's Rich Cimini expands on this, agreeing with Cole that this might now mean that Mo Wilkerson won't get the extension everybody's anticipating and that players are, "being jobbed by a pro-management collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect for the 2011 draft." Of course, the main reason everybody's anticipating that he'll get an extension now is the fact that the media have been telling us this all season long.
You'd expect the media to be excited over the opportunity to exert their influence on another extended contract dispute and now the first blows have been struck by Cole, a writer with a reputation as a puppet for the agents' point of view, a reputation that is enhanced whenever he is challenged on such matters and struggles to defend himself.
At the moment, this is about one or two players/agents who might end up disgruntled with their situation and it's entirely predictable that Cimini would project this onto Wilkerson with no evidence to suggest it's going to be an issue.
How can we assert this?
Teams have known about the fifth year option since the CBA was signed and if those salaries have come in at slightly lower than originally projected, I would still doubt this difference would be big enough to get teams to rethink their long-term cap structure. However, when you get a transcendent player like Wilkerson or J.J. Watt, then conventional thinking goes out of the window anyway.
It's essential to hear an independent expert analysis on this issue and that's why it's important to note that Jason from OverTheCap.com has investigated the issue in more depth yesterday. You need to read the full article, but key takeaways are that the situation under the old CBA, 1) wasn't actually that different to what we have now and, 2) the situation for the players is not as bad as is being made out.
As Cimini states, the Jets could effectively control Wilkerson's rights for three more seasons at a seemingly reasonable cost, but if that would alienate the player against the team that could lead to holdouts or the player wanting to leave when those three years are up. A much more sensible situation would be for the Jets to use this opportunity to get Wilkerson locked up for a longer period of time (preferably six years) at a price that suits both parties.
As the executive in Cole's report suggests, it doesn't make sense for a team not to exercise this option. However, that doesn't preclude them from still negotiating an extension at this time once that fifth year is in place. As Jets fans are well aware, you don't have to wait until the final year of a contract before you negotiate an extension (and often the player involved will resist that). What the option instead does - and this is something I've been discussing for a while - is to give the team leverage when coming to terms. Not leverage in terms of no longer needing to do an extension, but leverage in terms of the price they can offer in those early years. Due to signing bonus proration and a desire for longer term cap flexibility an extension will often have lower salaries in the early years, especially if signed with years remaining on an existing deal with low cap numbers in the final year(s).
A deal like the one Darrelle Revis just signed, where the Bucs tore up the remainder of his old contract and signed him to a deal that pays $16m per season from the very outset is extremely rare. From what we know about contract extensions the Jets have offered and agreed to in recent years, the price at which the team continues to control the player's rights does have an influence on the cap hits and compensation in those early years.
At this time, it's too early to concern ourselves with whether or not the Jets plan to lock up Wilkerson long term. There is no sign of any dispute, be that public or behind the scenes. While the Jets appear to be in a position of strength, that should be viewed as something that makes agreeing to a fair market value contract easier, not something that gives them the option to retain him as cheaply as possible for as long as they can.
The Jets may give Wilkerson a contract extension this year, or they may wait until next season, but either way we can be assured that him getting a contract extension at the end of his third season was never a certainty and the situation with the fifth year option is unlikely to have changed the team's ongoing plans.
Whether or not he does sign a new deal, it's likely that anyone who is factoring in a requirement for $10-12m of extra salary cap room in 2014 is over-estimating that cost significantly. That's unless the team aims to exploit their available cap space to front-load the deal - but as we've seen in the past, that's a strategy loaded with risk.