Brian Winters could avoid becoming Jets’ cap casualty

INDIANAPOLIS — The Jets have yet to make any of their cuts to clear cap space before free agency begins in three weeks.

It has been assumed when they do make those cap cuts, veteran guard Brian Winters will be among them. Nevertheless, this week general manager Joe Douglas made it sound like Winters may stick with the team for another year.

“We haven’t made any decisions in terms of releasing anyone yet,” Douglas said at the scouting combine. “We plan on making those decisions, but again, with Brian, special case because he’s the only returning starter. We’re not looking to leave ourselves even more of a hole.”

Douglas is referring to the Jets’ opening day starters on the offensive line last year. Kelvin Beachum, Brandon Shell and Ryan Kalil are all about to hit free agency. The Jets moved on from guard Kelechi Osemele last fall following a dispute over a shoulder injury.

That leaves Winters as the only member of that starting five still under contract. Winters has one year remaining on the four-year deal he signed in 2017. He is scheduled to make $7 million this year, but his salary is not guaranteed. The Jets would clear $7.2 million in salary-cap space by releasing him.

Winters, 28, played in just nine games last season as he battled a shoulder injury he suffered in training camp. Winters played through it, but underwent season-ending surgery in November. He is one of the longest-tenured Jets — a third-round pick in 2013 who has started 79 games.

Douglas may just be trying to be respectful of a player who has been a good Jet and played through injury last season. It still seems likely the team will cut Winters, but Douglas cast at least a little doubt on that this week.

“[He is] a guy that just battled, battled his tail off all year after injuring his shoulder in the preseason and fighting through,” Douglas said. “And you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better teammate, a tougher guy than Brian Winters. … I’ve heard a lot of optimism and positives about his rehab. So again, seeing him around the locker room, you know, it’s always good to see Brian. He’s got a big smile on his face and he’s an outstanding Jet.”

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