Setting the table for Jets' offseason: 81 days that could reshape team

Will the Jets pursue Kirk Cousins this offseason? AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Now that the football part of the football season is over, it's time to focus on key dates in the offseason, looking at them through a New York Jets lens:

February 5 -- The waiver period begins. Basically, this is the waving of the green flag, signaling teams they can start cutting players. The Jets have a handful of veterans on the bubble, led by Muhammad Wilkerson and Matt Forte.

In Wilkerson's case, they don't have to do anything until March 15. If they don't cut him by then, his 2018 salary ($16.75 million) becomes fully guaranteed on the 16th -- and they won't let that happen. The team's intentions became clear near the end of the season, when they turned a one-game disciplinary benching into three games because they didn't want to risk having to pay a massive injury guarantee.

The Jets will incur a $9 million cap hit by releasing Wilkerson, but they will realize an $11 million savings. With Forte, the numbers are $1 million and $3 million, respectively.

February 20 -- Deadline for players with option bonuses. Tackle Ben Ijalana and linebacker Josh Martin each has a clause in his contract that states the team must declare 22 days before the start of the league year whether it will exercise the 2018 option. In Ijalana's case, the numbers are relatively steep -- a $500,000 option bonus, plus a $4.5 million salary.

February 20-March 6 -- Period in which teams can designate franchise and transition players. This doesn't apply to the Jets, who don't have any prospective free agents who rise to that level. But they will be paying attention to the Washington Redskins. If the Redskins apply the franchise tag to Kirk Cousins, which emerged as a possibility on Sunday, it could alter the Jets' free-agent plan. If he's tagged, the Jets would have to compensate the Redskins to complete a trade in addition to signing Cousins to a long-term deal.

February 27-March 5 -- Scouting combine. General manager Mike Maccagnan & Co. will trek to Indianapolis to evaluate 300-plus draft prospects. This will mark the first time the top quarterback prospects are under the same roof, an opportunity to compare them side by side.

The combine also is where teams lay the groundwork for free-agent contracts and potential trades. Chances are, Maccagnan will meet with the agents for his top free agents -- Morris Claiborne, Demario Davis and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Tampering rules prohibit teams from speaking to agents representing other teams' free agents, but that doesn't stop it from happening. Could Maccagnan have a "chance" encounter with Cousins' agent? Hey, you never know. Wink, wink.

March 12-March 14 -- The "legal" tampering period. Teams are permitted to enter into negotiations with prospective unrestricted free agents. This will be a crucial window for the Jets, especially with regard to their quarterback plan. It would be risky to put all their eggs in the Cousins basket, so it's important to maintain an open line of communication with other free-agent quarterbacks -- i.e. Tyrod Taylor and Case Keenum.

March 14 -- The league year and free agency begin. It's "go" time, and the Jets have the ability to be aggressive spenders. As of Feb. 5, the Jets have $72 million in projected cap space, according to overthecap.com. By March 14, that number should be at least $90 million, setting them up nicely for free agency. That doesn't take into account their own players that may re-sign before then.

March 14 -- Must submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents. The Jets' top RFA is Quincy Enunwa, whom they absolutely don't want to lose. The question is whether they give him a second-round tender or a first-round tender. A year ago, those numbers were $2.7 million and $3.9 million, respectively. Enunwa is an ascending talent, but he missed last season with a neck surgery, which could complicate the decision.

March 15 -- Adios, Mo (if he hasn't been released already).

April 26 -- Day 1 of the draft. The Jets own the sixth pick for the third time in four years. Will they take the quarterback plunge?