The Jets delivered a message to their fans on Tuesday: Tanks for nothing.
The team continued its offseason teardown by releasing veteran linebacker David Harris and informing wide receiver Eric Decker he will either be traded or released in the coming days, transactions that reeked of pinching pennies by owner Woody Johnson.
These moves added onto the purge this winter of veterans Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Nick Mangold have left the Jets roster almost unrecognizable and made the 2017 season feel like a march toward the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. MetLife Stadium should be like a morgue this season. The Jets look like the worst team in the NFL, a team that could possibly go 0-16.
That may be good news to Jets fans hoping the team will tank the season and finally land a franchise quarterback in next year’s draft with USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen all projected as top draft picks.
General manager Mike Maccagnan met with reporters on Tuesday night and was asked if the Jets are tanking the 2017 season.
“That’s not something we’re focused on,” Maccagnan said. “We’re focused on making decisions to help this team going forward. … That’s not our focus.”
The rebuild comes in year three of the regime of Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles. Johnson said last month he supports a youth movement and he may have been behind the cost-cutting moves Tuesday. Still, you have to wonder how Maccagnan and Bowles can survive a 1-15 or 0-16 season if the Jets bottom out.
“I would say simply our focus — Todd, myself and Woody — we communicate all the time about the direction of the organization,” Maccagnan said when asked if he has been given any assurances about his job beyond 2017. “We all understand each other in terms of our roles and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
By cutting Harris and either trading or cutting Decker, the Jets save the Jets $13.75 million in cash and cap space. Both the contracts of Harris ($6.5 million) and Decker ($7.25 million) were unguaranteed this year. The Jets approached Harris about taking a pay cut, but could not make a deal.
It continues with the trend of the Jets cutting salary and age from their roster. Harris, 33, and Decker, 30, are the latest veterans to get the ax. The team has just four players remaining over 30 years old — Josh McCown, Tanner Purdum, Steve McLendon and Matt Forte.
Maccagnan claimed the moves were not strictly financially motivated, saying it will improve competition on the roster for younger players. In the process, the Jets may have built the worst roster in football.
“We’re in a competitive business,” Maccagnan said. “Our focus is to see we create competition on our roster going forward. We’ll do everything in our power to be competitive. That’s the business we’re in.”
The timing of the Harris cut was particularly surprising. Typically, these moves are made in February or March, and the player has a chance to hit the free agency market. Instead, Harris, who was a respected and well-liked player inside the Jets, now has to search for a job with teams having their rosters mostly filled. Harris’ agents expressed their displeasure with the timing of the move.
“Very disappointing in the timing of this event and the decision,” Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler said in a statement. “The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months, especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years.”
Maccagnan defended the timing by saying there is no ideal time to cut players.
Harris and Decker both participated in the team’s organized team activity practice Tuesday. Bowles spoke after the Harris move was made but before the announcement about Decker. It was clear Bowles was not in favor of releasing Harris.
“It was an organizational decision,” Bowles said. “They were talking about a salary reduction. They didn’t come to an agreement … we didn’t come to an agreement, and eventually it led to this. It wasn’t an easy time. David’s been a Jet all his life. He bled green. He was a guy that was very well liked in the building by management, coaches and players alike.”
Harris was the longest-tenured Jet and the last player on offense of defense from the team’s last playoff appearance in 2010. Long snapper Tanner Purdum is now the longest-tenured player on the team. Harris was remarkably durable, playing in 121 straight games starting in before missing one last season. He started 147 of 154 games for the Jets and finished as the second-leading tackler in franchise history with 1,260.