INDIANAPOLIS — The Jets are in a strong position to fix what ails them in free agency because they have the second-highest cap space in the NFL, $90 million.
General manager Mike Maccagnan has a number in his head of what he’s willing to spend once free agency begins March 14. He isn’t willing to share that number, but he knows the price will be high to sign a quarterback, retain some of his own free agents and acquire an elite player.
“I think our approach will be to try to figure out every position and make it as competitive as possible,” Maccagnan said Thursday at the NFL Combine.
His priority is finding a quarterback, and Kirk Cousins is his No. 1 free-agent target. Cousins’ price tag reportedly has gone up to $30 million to $35 million a year, and numerous teams will chase him.
Maccagnan doesn’t have to break the bank for Cousins because he has the No. 6 overall draft pick, which he could use on a quarterback. He also has 17 unrestricted free agents to deal with on his own team in addition to the free agents about to hit the open market.
The Jets have some priorities with their own free agents. Quarterback Josh McCown is at the top of the list, and he has expressed interest in returning as a bridge for a rookie quarterback if the team drafts one. McCown could get an incentive-laden one-year deal.
The Jets’ leading tackler, inside linebacker Demario Davis, might play for someone else in 2018. Davis is seeking an average yearly salary of $8 million to $10 million; the Jets think he’s worth $3 million to $4 million.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, second on the team with eight pass breakups in 2017, wants to play for the Jets again. Claiborne has eight to 10 teams seeking his services, and a source said there are no guarantees he will return. If Claiborne leaves, the Jets are interested in cornerback Malcolm Butler, who played the last four seasons with the Patriots. Butler will command a contract that should be much higher than Claiborne’s based on his talent and age. He turns 28 on Friday.
Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins produced career highs in catches (50) and yards (357). The Jets held preliminary talks with Seferian-Jenkins, offering a two-year, $8-million deal that was declined. Others on Maccagnan’s list to bring back are kicker Chandler Catanzaro, defensive end Kony Ealy, defensive tackle Mike Pennell and guard Dakota Dozier.
“In a perfect world, you’d like to sign your own free agents because you know them the best,” Maccagnan said. “But there’s always avenues to improve the talent on your roster.”
The Jets have the money to make a splash in free agency, especially at quarterback. The big question: Will they?
“We’re not where we want to be,” Maccagnan said. “But I do think there is a lot of potential to move that process along as we acquire talent and build this team with an idea that not just we want to do everything for this current season. We also want to lay the groundwork to build it for the next two or three years.”
NFL teams who have the most salary-cap space:
1. Cleveland $109.4M
2 Jets $90M
3. Indianapolis $73.5M
4. Tampa Bay $70.5M
5. San Francisco $68.9M
Sources: overthecap.com, NFLPA