John Idzik’s "potential coup" -- last season’s acquisition of Percy Harvin -- has left his successor, Mike Maccagnan, with a fascinating and complex decision, one that will require input from different branches of the New York Jets' organization.
Before we jump into the pros and cons of keeping Harvin, let’s review the facts:
Harvin has four years, $41.5 million remaining on his contract, none of which is guaranteed. That includes a $10.5 million base salary for the coming season. If Harvin is on the roster March 19, the conditional draft pick owed to the Seattle Seahawks escalates from a sixth-round choice to a fourth rounder. If they cut him before the 19th, the compensation is simply a sixth rounder in next month’s draft.
Basically, the Jets have three options. Let’s examine, looking at the positives and negatives in each scenario.
1. Keep him under his current contract
You could argue that the Jets, with a dearth of playmakers on offense, should do whatever they can to keep talented players, not toss them out. Because the salary isn’t guaranteed, they would essentially be signing up for one year, with the ability to cut him if, say, he reverts to his disruptive ways of the past. There is no long-term commitment, which might be the way to go with a player who wore out his welcome with two teams previously.
The Jets also must consider how Harvin might fit into Chan Gailey’s scheme. This is where Maccagnan must lean on his coaching staff for input. If Gailey installs a spread offense, as many suspect, it would be a nice fit with Harvin’s skill set. He’s at his best in a short-passing game, making yards after the catch. He could line up anywhere in the formation, creating matchup problems for the defense.
With more than $50 million in cap space, the Jets can easily swallow the salary.
Analysis: At $10.5 million, Harvin would be the highest-paid player on the team in terms of 2015 compensation. That’s out of whack.
2. Keep him with a restructured contract
Harvin wants no part of a pay cut, presumably because he believes he can fetch at least $10.5 million on the open market. He would be amenable to a simple restructuring, meaning the conversion of salary into signing bonus.
In other words, they could cut his base pay to $870,000, the veterans’ minimum, giving him the difference ($9.63 million) in the form of a signing bonus. That would allow them to pro-rate the bonus over the four years of the contract, lowering his cap number this year to a palatable $3.28 million.
There’s a downside, though. By doing this, the Jets would be sinking money into Harvin beyond 2015 (with regard to the cap) and that could come back to bite them. If they decide in a year to cut Harvin, they would get hit with his bonus acceleration in 2016, a cap charge of $7.2 million (pre-June 1).
By then, he will have cost the Jets a total of $17.6 million (salaries for ’14 and ’15) and a fourth-round pick for 24 games (assuming he plays every game). That’s not a cost-effective way of doing business.
To Harvin’s credit, he was a model teammate last season, as he tried to squash his reputation for being a divisive influence. He played hurt and he adapted nicely to a new environment and a new offense. Cynics will say he was on his best behavior because of the financial motivation. Will he revert to the old Percy if he scores the $10.5 million salary? That, no doubt, will be part of Maccagnan’s decision.
One thing to remember: The Jets have two forms of leverage. Under the current contract, they can cut Harvin with no salary-cap ramifications. They also can benefit from the timing of the deadline -- March 19, one week into free agency. By then, the big money will have been spent on other receivers. The Jets can hurt his negotiating position in the open market by holding on to him until March 18.
Analysis: If the Jets guarantee $10.5 million, which is what they would be doing by restructuring the remaining four years, they would be looking at least a two-year commitment because of the cap situation. That would be risky, considering his checkered background.
3. Release him
Unless Harvin is willing to take a straight pay cut, this probably will be the outcome. They would lose a starting receiver with tantalizing skills, but we’re talking about a player who has never had a 1,000-yard receiving season.
His recent production (52 catches over the past two seasons) doesn’t justify an exorbitant cap charge ($10.5 million) or his average per year ($10.4 million). The Jets have the cap space, but they evidently don’t feel he’s worth the big number, as Maccagnan hinted recently that they might ask him to restructure. Teams don’t like to overpay if they can help it.
The other layer to the decision is the draft-pick compensation. For a rebuilding team like the Jets, a fourth-round pick has value. It’s a potential starter, a cost-effective player whose rights they would own for four years. If the Jets have concerns about Harvin’s long-term viability, they should cut bait, surrender the sixth rounder and call it a day. It wouldn’t make sense to part with a fourth-round pick for what could be a one-year proposition.
What’s more, they could replace him via the draft. It’s another terrific draft for receivers, and there is a good chance they would get one of the top two receivers -- Amari Cooper or Kevin White -- with the sixth overall pick.
Analysis: The Jets should try to sign a starting-caliber receiver during the first week of free agency. If they find one, the Harvin decision is academic. It probably would cost more than $10.5 million, but they would feel more comfortable in the long term and would still have their fourth-round pick.