Should NY Jets try a Love-style extension with Mekhi Becton?

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By: Rivka Boord

The New York Jets should consider giving Mekhi Becton a one-year extension in case he plays well in 2023

As the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options for the 2020 draft class passed, the New York Jets made the obvious move: they declined Mekhi Becton‘s option. After an impressive rookie season, Becton has played just 48 snaps over the last two years.

This leaves the Jets in an interesting situation. On one hand, Becton clearly has not pulled his weight toward any sort of payday (pun intended). However, he does still have the potential that made him the 11th overall pick, and he is just 24 years old.

That leaves the Jets in a conundrum: what if Becton dominates in 2023? He will then want a long-term commitment, but the Jets will not want to give it to him. No matter how well he plays, his weight issues alone make such a contract difficult to imagine.

The alternative, though, would be to let him go for a compensatory pick in 2025. Although the Jets would likely get a third-round pick if he signed a big deal elsewhere, it would be a small consolation prize.

What if, though, there could be a third option, one that would mutually benefit both Becton and the team?

Jordan Love

This brings us to what the Green Bay Packers did with Jordan Love. Love is set to be their starting quarterback for the first time in his career after sitting for his first three seasons.

No matter how much a team loves a quarterback, they can’t commit $20.3 million to a player who has barely seen the field. Packers GM Brian Gutenkunst said as much. However, declining Love’s option could potentially put the Packers in a situation where Love plays well and then either leaves next offseason or demands a big deal based on just one strong season.

Therefore, Green Bay came to a compromise with Love, one that gives him some measure of security in 2024 if he does not play well in Year 1. It also provides escalators for him to earn back his fifth-year option and protects the Packers in case Love scuffles.

These are the terms of Love’s new deal:

Without breaking down all the technical details of the contract and exactly how the Packers got to these numbers, there are a couple of important points here.

  • There are escalators based on his 2023 performance.
  • Those escalators will impact his 2024 salary based on how he performs in 2023. This is different from an incentive, which applies a financial reward for the year in which the performance target was reached.

Why Becton?

The Jets could consider a similar kind of deal with Becton. That way, if he does play well in 2023, he gets paid in 2024. A the same time, the Jets still keep him around at a reasonable number to see if he can replicate his success. A second year should give them enough time to decide whether they want to give him a long-term contract. If they don’t, it will give them more time to find a replacement.

Becton would have the incentive to sign such a contract in case he doesn’t perform well in 2023 or gets injured again. It would give him some security and potentially another year to prove himself.

The Giants’ situation with Daniel Jones is a classic example of what the Jets could face with Becton. They declined Jones’ fifth-year option, but his improvement in 2023 put the team in a bind. They were forced to commit $82 million over the next two years to him.

In hindsight, Giants GM Joe Schoen likely would have preferred to have one more year to see if Jones could maintain his growth. Though declining the option was the right decision, it came back to bite Schoen.

This could happen to the Jets with Becton, except they’d be unlikely to give the big deal. The 2024 franchise tag for offensive linemen is projected to be $23.8 million, while the transition tag is $21.5 million. That’s too much money to commit to a player with (a projected) 1.5 good years and two years lost to injury.

This is why a one-year extension might be the wisest course of action.

Difficulty of terms

Coming to an agreement with Becton on a contract might be tricky for several reasons. One is the Jets’ 2023 cap situation.

After signing Al Woods and Randall Cobb, the team will likely have only around $4 million in cap space, and that’s including Aaron Rodgers at a $1.165 million salary. Rodgers will restructure his contract and will count more than that against the cap.

The Packers converted $1.97 million of Love’s base salary into a bonus but also added approximately $5.177 million in a further signing bonus. This means that instead of counting $3.94 million against the Packers’ 2023 cap, Love now counts for $5.4 million. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s something.

For a Jets team that’s tight on cap space, they’ll hardly want to add to Becton’s 2023 cap hit, which is currently $5.869 million.

Another difficulty will be finding escalators and/or incentives that Becton will agree to. The simplest performance target would be in the percentage of offensive snaps that he plays, but finding a balance might not be easy.

Possible contract

The fifth-year option for Becton that the Jets declined had a value of $13.565 million. This was the basic level of the option without any snap count or performance escalators. The Jets should structure Becton’s extension in such a way that if he hits playing time and performance milestones, he should be able to earn back most if not all of that money.

For reference, Love’s fifth-year option would have been for $20.3 million; the maximum value of this extension is $22.5 million.

Here is a possible contract that the Jets could give Becton:

  • $6,859,197 million signing bonus
  • $1.01 million 2023 adjusted base salary (down from $3,125,371)
  • $4 million 2024 base salary (fully guaranteed)
  • $1.5 million 2024 escalator for playing at least 75% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2023
  • $1 million 2024 escalator for making the Pro Bowl in 2023
  • $1.5 million 2024 incentive for playing at least 75% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2024
  • $1 million in 2024 incentives for making the AP All-Pro team (first or second team) in 2024

This contract would mean that Becton’s 2023 cap hit would actually go down slightly from $5.869 million to $4.44 million. In 2024, he would have $8.44 million in total guarantees from the outset.

If Becton reached just the 2023 and 2024 playing time incentives, he would make $11.44 million total in 2024. If he actually maximizes his high-end potential, he could get up to $13.44 million, which is close to the value of the fifth-year option.

Escalators vs. incentives

If Becton hit his escalators in 2023, he would earn a higher salary in 2024. If he hit his incentive targets in 2024, he would increase his 2024 salary at the season’s end.

Interestingly, the 2024 incentives for playing time and All-Pro selection would only count against the Jets’ cap if he achieves those performance targets in 2023. The collective bargaining agreement states that an incentive is likely to be earned (LTBE) if it was achieved in the previous season, while it is considered not likely to be earned (NLTBE) if it was not met in the previous season.

LTBE incentives count against the salary cap in the given season; NLTBE incentives do not count that year. The cap will be adjusted the following season to reflect whether the incentive was actually earned.

The Jets would have some protection if Becton did not play the majority of the offensive snaps in either year. While $8.44 million is still a high salary to pay for a player who has missed two seasons, it’s a bet on Becton’s upside.

The Jets could lower the signing bonus or guaranteed 2024 base salary and simply place larger escalators instead. However, Becton would have less incentive to accept such a deal because it wouldn’t afford him extra security.

Joe Douglas could also add a void year in 2025 to spread out the cap hit further. He’s been doing that with many players’ contracts, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him do it again.

Will the Jets do this?

My guess is that the Jets will not extend Becton. They are wary of his weight issues at this point. They already have three backup offensive tackles as insurance for his injuries.

Becton’s weight has fluctuated wildly before. In January 2019, he reportedly weighed 389 pounds. By August, he was down 35 pounds to 354. He weighed 364 at the NFL Combine.

ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported that Becton is now down to 342 pounds and has dropped 50 pounds. This occurred over the course of no more than 10 months (and likely less).

Given this history, it’s a big risk to take. Becton showed in 2020 that the payoff could be tremendous. On the flip side, he hasn’t had much opportunity to work on his technique over the last two years due to the injuries. Did he improve his pass-blocking, particularly against speed rushers?

I think it’s more likely that the Jets are hoping one of Carter Warren or Max Mitchell can earn a starting tackle spot in 2024. Getting a comp pick if Becton leaves would not be the end of the world.

Still, the Jets likely won’t have a 2024 first-round pick due to the Rodgers trade. For that reason, having Becton under contract may not be a bad idea. The team will have other offensive line questions next offseason, as Duane Brown will be a free agent and Laken Tomlinson may be a post-June 1 cut.

It might behoove the Jets to bet on Becton’s upside for one more season. At worst, he’ll be an expensive backup next year.

It will be interesting to see what the Jets do with Becton. Rodgers’ contract must be squared away first, but Douglas’ offseason work is still in full swing. How will the team address its most enigmatic player?

Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord

Next Article: Al Woods could prompt a major change to Jets’ rotation philosophy 

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