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New England’s biggest rival is having a contract nightmare

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While the New England Patriots need to find new contracts for a lot of their young stars, the New York Jets are having far more serious contract problems this offseason.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Football is just better when your rivals are just as much of a threat to take the division as you are.  The entire AFC North is great to watch because the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals have been consistent threats to take the division – and the AFC – for what seems like forever.  Sorry, Browns, there’s always next year.

So after the New York Jets had the best season last year that they’ve had since their back-to-back AFC Championship years (’09 and ’10), surely Jets fans are hoping that Gang Green will pick up right where they left off.

Instead, they’re arguing about contracts with some of their best players.

Let’s start with Pro Bowl defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who gave an exclusive – and quite frustrated – interview to the New York Post today about how the Jets apparently don’t want to pay him.

From the Post:

"It’s shocking. It’s frustrating," Wilkerson told The Post in an exclusive interview. "Because I feel like I’ve earned it and I deserve it. It would be different if I was just a mediocre player. I feel like each and every week I’m dominating and it’s showing. The stats speak for themselves. Basically, what more do I need to do? You know what I mean?"

"Do I feel that they want me back? As of right now, no. I don’t feel like they want me," Wilkerson said in his first public comments since last season. "I’m a talented guy. Everybody knows that. I feel like they’re going to get the best they can out of me and just let me go. That’s how I feel. Do I like that feeling? No. I’m a New Jersey guy, born and raised and would love to raise my family here."

"I don’t think they’re trying like they should. We’ve still got time," Wilkerson said. "The deadline is in a month. We’ve got some time."

Bummer.  We all just want to be wanted, man.

Let’s check in on the Ryan Fitzpatrick situation – who, let’s not forget, set the Jets franchise record for passing touchdowns last season and seems like everyone on the team likes him – and…oh, boy.

From Pro Football Talk yesterday:

A day after saying there was no "drop-dead deadline" to get quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under contract and back with the team, Jets coach Todd Bowles told reporters that the Jets have discussed potential veteran backup options and said "there comes a point" that the team would shift from its current plan of holding the starting job open for Fitzpatrick.

"We’re not at that point yet," Bowles said. "If it’s Week Four in training camp and he’s not here, you know who your starter is going to be Week 1.

"It’s to the extreme, but there’s a ticking clock. You have time until you don’t have time."

So what’s the problem?  The Jets have two BAMF players that need new deals, and…

Well, actually, scratch that, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s no BAMF, but he’s certainly better than anyone else on the roster at throwing footballs, so, let’s leave it at that…

But the Jets just don’t have the cap space to pull off either of those things – and that’s counting their cap situation AFTER stud tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired this offseason.

How the heck did this happen?

Simple: the Jets "won" the offseason last year.

Remember when New England let Darrelle Revis walk and he pulled his own LeBron James "I’m coming home" move?  Revis got 5 years and $70,000,000 from the Jets with $39,000,000 guaranteed – and oh, BTW, $17,000,000 of that counts against the Jets’ cap this season.

The Jets also snagged cornerback Buster Skrine in free agency last year.  He counts $7,750,000 against the cap this year.  They also traded for beastly wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was every bit as good as you’d expect, but is their third-highest cap hit at $9,500,000.  Defensive back Marcus Gilchrist, who also got signed in the 2015 offseason, counts $5,625,000 against the cap this year, and re-signing linebacker David Harrisalso in that offseason – will cost the NYJ $7,500,000 against the cap.

And it worked, to an extent!  The Jets went from a putrid 4-12 record in 2014 to a darn respectable 10-6 in 2016, and barely missed their first playoff appearance since 2010 when they lost out on a tiebreaker against common opponents with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They also went 1-1 against the Patriots last season, which has to be nice for Jets fans that still have to hear about the Butt Fumble on a regular basis.

But compare the Jets cap situation – with two crucial players either extremely unhappy with their contracts or lacking one altogether – with New England’s.  New England’s roster is somehow loaded with talent and potential (see: Chris Long, Donald Brown, Terrance Knighton, Shea McClellin), their homegrown talent is all under contract for at least this season, and, according to PatsCap.com, the Pats have over $9,000,000 in cap space, in case they wanted to take a swing on, say, fresh-on-the-market tackle Eugene Monroe.

Say what you want about Bill Belichick releasing or trading all of your favorite players a year too early instead of a year too late.  Say what you want about Bill playing hardball over restructuring with guys that are still good, but overpaid for what they’re doing.  Say what you want about the Patriots straight up cutting a guy and taking the dead money hit instead of paying an underachieving or cranky player.

But it keeps New England out of messes like this.