A look at what's going on around the New York Jets:
1. Setting the table: If you're frustrated by the team's methodical approach in free agency, hang tight. The Jets have the resources to be major players next offseason. They will have plenty of cap space, extra draft picks and only one key player heading to free agency -- Muhammad Wilkerson, assuming he doesn't get a long-term contract. (Sheldon Richardson's contract will expire, but his fifth-year option will be exercised.) General manager Mike Maccagnan set it up this way, managing contracts and the cap to create the flexibility. Every decision now is made with an eye on the future.
Only two non-rookie contracts next year contain significant guaranteed money -- Darrelle Revis ($6 million) and Matt Forte ($4 million). Revis' contract includes an offset, meaning they won't get stuck with the entire $6 million cap hit if they release him (assuming he plays elsewhere). Teams are expecting the cap to spike in 2017, providing additional room. In theory, the Jets could have enough space to carry Wilkerson again on the franchise tag ($18.8 million), although that wouldn't make much cap sense.
The Jets also could receive at least three compensatory draft picks, the result of losing Damon Harrison, Chris Ivory and Demario Davis. Compensatory picks will increase in value next year because, for the first time, they can be traded.
Yes, the Jets are being squeezed now, but the future looks bright.
2. A defensive switch? We all know coach Todd Bowles prefers a 3-4 front, but based on the current personnel, it makes sense to consider a 4-3. Look at it from a numbers standpoint: With the additions of Steve McLendon and Jarvis Jenkins (their deals still haven't been made official by the team), the Jets have five starting-caliber defensive linemen. We're including the Big Three, of course -- Wilkerson, Richardson and Leonard Williams. At linebacker, the only experienced starter is David Harris, a classic "Mike" 'backer.
Bowles has a versatile group of linemen, all of whom are capable of playing multiple positions in a 4-3 front. What they don't have is a proven, speed-rushing end, which may explain why they flirted with free agent Olivier Vernon, who signed with the New York Giants. They could use second-year linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin in that role or draft somebody. The decision-makers at One Jets Drive recognize that Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams are their best front-seven players, and they've discussed ways to get all three on the field -- i.e. a 4-3 front.
Bowles isn't married to a traditional 3-4 -- he uses hybrid fronts as well -- but his preference was clear late last season, when he turned the 295-pound Richardson into an outside linebacker for the sake of running a 3-4. Look, it's early in the offseason and the roster is evolving. The draft could have an impact on which direction they choose, but know this: Good coaches adapt to their personnel.
3. Big Mac: The Jets lost a terrific run stuffer in nose tackle Damon Harrison, but McLendon isn't a shabby replacement. Consider: The Pittsburgh Steelers yielded 3.62 yards per carry without McLendon on the field, but only 2.31 yards with him, according to NFL stats. The +1.31 differential was the highest in the NFL last season among defensive linemen who played at least 300 snaps. In case you're wondering, Harrison's differential was +0.23.
4. Fitz soap opera: It's starting to look as if the Ryan Fitzpatrick situation won't be resolved until the No. 1 domino in the quarterback market falls -- Colin Kaepernick. That could go all the way to the draft, but the first pressure point is April 1. If he's still on the San Francisco 49ers' roster, his $11.9 million salary becomes guaranteed, although that wouldn't preclude them from trying to trade him.
If Kaepernick is traded to the Denver Broncos, it crushes what little leverage Fitzpatrick has. The Broncos are thought to be the only team not named the Jets that has a level of interest in him. If Kaepernick lands somewhere else, perhaps the Cleveland Browns, it improves Fitzpatrick's bargaining position. No matter what happens, I still think he ends up with the Jets.
5. Ryan's hope: Fitzpatrick wants to cash in on his career season, and you can't blame him, especially with some of the crazy money being thrown around for mediocre quarterbacks. I mean, $18 million-a-year for Brock Osweiler? That's a bit rich for a quarterback with seven starts. At the same time, Osweiler is an outlier. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, in place since 2011, only four quarterbacks have changed teams and received more than $10 million guaranteed, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They are Osweiler ($37 million), Peyton Manning ($18 million), Chase Daniel ($12 million) and Matt Flynn ($10 million).
6. Prepared to splurge: With serious cap restraints, the Jets have been signing moderately priced free agents. In fact, their four top additions -- Forte, McLendon, Jenkins and Bilal Powell -- are all making in the $3.5 million to $4 million-a-year range. Some people might be surprised to learn they were involved with two of the big-money free agents, Vernon and guard Kelechi Osemele. There are conflicting signals on their interest in Vernon, but they were definitely hot for Osemele, who landed a five-year, $59 million contract from the Oakland Raiders.
How could the cap-strapped Jets afford a big contract like that? It's certainly fair to wonder, but it shows teams are willing to spend if they identify a must-have player. The Jets felt Osemele was one of the best players on the open market and they made a run at him. It's a good approach; it shows they're not operating with blinders on.
7. Love for Geno: You remember Geno Smith, don't you? He could be a factor if Fitzpatrick leaves, according to Maccagnan. The GM said Smith "could definitely be a possibility in that [starting] role," although he tempered that statement by saying Smith is "a bit of an unknown" because he rode the bench last season. Guard Willie Colon, for one, still believes in Smith.
"I think Geno has been humbled," Colon said on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "I think he's been at the bottom; he's taken on everything. I think he's ready to rise. I still have confidence in him. ...If Fitz doesn't come back, I'd like to see Geno get another shot."
8. Go South, men: The owners meetings begin Sunday evening in Boca Raton, Florida. The Jets' top decision-makers will be there -- Maccagnan, Bowles and owner Woody Johnson. Bowles is scheduled to address the media Tuesday morning at the AFC coaches' breakfast.