The NFL calendar hasn’t even flipped to training camp yet, and Jets fans are already chanting their favorite verse: “J-E-T-S, Just End The Season!”
While the other 31 NFL teams are only now starting to move on to 2017, the Jets are already on to 2018.
General manager Mike Maccagnan continues to make significant cost-cutting moves, releasing popular linebacker David Harris ($6.5 million in cash savings) last week, and quietly revealing intentions to trade or release productive receiver Eric Decker ($7.25 million).
They join several other expensive veterans on the wrong side of 30 to be discarded by the Jets this offseason, including cornerback Darrelle Revis, receiver Brandon Marshall, and center Nick Mangold.
“Will they have enough people to line up? Man, that’s the question,” Marshall told TMZ.
All told the Jets are saving $40.25 million in cash and cap space by releasing those five veterans. The Jets also didn’t invite back quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith, who became free agents in March.
The moves have put Maccagnan on the defensive, with the obvious implication that the Jets are tanking the season. The Jets desperately need a long-term solution at quarterback, and the 2018 draft has three intriguing options in Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
Maccagnan, of course, denied on Tuesday the notion that he’s punting on 2017, telling local media, “Our focus from Day 1 has been to build this thing through the draft.”
Maccagnan has to keep a straight face for the season ticket-holders and others investing money into this season. But the fact of the matter is that the Jets definitely are “tanking” in 2017, and it’s probably the right thing to do — especially if Maccagnan has the blessing of owner Woody Johnson.
The Jets were sitting on an aging, expensive roster that finished 5-11 last year. Marshall, Harris, and Mangold were all entering the final years of their contracts, Decker had two years left, and Revis had his option declined.
The Jets went with a veteran-heavy “all-in” approach in 2015 that produced a 10-6 record but fell just short of the playoffs. The Jets went for it again in 2016, and the results were disastrous.
So the Jets had three options this offseason: 1) Bank on a group of aging, expensive veterans to bounce back and lead the Jets to the playoffs; 2) Sign a bunch of other veterans in free agency, hoping to get the right mix this time; 3) Start over and build through the draft.
They chose Option 3, of course. Now their quarterback is Josh McCown, their top receivers are Quincy Enunwa (actually pretty good) and Jalin Marshall (who?), and they didn’t sign anyone of significance in free agency.
It’s the same strategy employed last season by the Browns and 49ers, who both sat out of free agency, stashed a boatload of salary-cap space, and hoarded draft picks for the future.
“The thing that worries me is that the Browns essentially tanked the season last year and no one — except a few of us — said anything about it,” ESPN’s Bill Polian said last week. “And it may well be that this is something that can spread around the league, and I don’t think that’s good for the sport in the long run. Because in the end it robs the customers of the chance to see a competitive team.”
But for the long-term health of the Jets, tanking is absolutely the right strategy. Just ask Colts fans, who suffered through one horrific season, but one that resulted in a pot of gold in Andrew Luck. The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 or won a Super Bowl since January of 1969, and finding that franchise quarterback is far more important than patching together an expensive, mediocre team that will still lose to the Patriots anyway.
This year is not about losing on purpose but about getting experience for young players, identifying core players to move forward with, and not impeding progress with costly veterans. Jets fans surely won’t mind sitting through one more bad season if it results in a top pick and a quarterback.
The timing of Harris’s release is unfortunate — the Jets could have made the move in March to give him a better chance of finding another team — but this is a team that needed to hit the refresh button and start over. And that can’t happen overnight, or even in one offseason.
The Jets only had $8.9 million in cap space before the releases of Decker and Harris, and now will have about $22 million, just above the $20 million NFL average. The Jets will also clear more cap space at the end of roster cuts in August, and look like they’ll be able to roll over $15 million to $20 million to next year.
And they’re clearing the deck for 2018. They have $108 million in cap space committed to 47 players for 2018 (nearly 20 percent of it belongs to Muhammad Wilkerson, who has a $20 million cap number next year). The Patriots, by comparison, have about $155 million committed to 62 players.
So the Jets have already sent their punt team onto the field for 2017. The defense under coach Todd Bowles should actually still be pretty competitive, with Leonard Williams, Darron Lee, and Jamal Adams looking like the next wave of young stars the team can build around.
On offense, maybe McCown can hand the ball off, make a few throws, and not embarrass himself.
Most likely the Jets will finish 4-12, and they’ll enter 2018 with a top draft pick, a treasure chest of cap space, and a youthful roster. And if it takes a T-A-N-K to get there, so be it.
Edelman given a just reward
Julian Edelman signed a two-year extension with the Patriots on Thursday to keep him under contract through the 2019 season.
We haven’t seen full details yet, but per ESPN, the deal comes with a $5 million signing bonus and will pay Edelman base salaries of $3 million, $2 million, and $2 million the next three seasons, with $1.5 million more available in bonuses and incentives in 2017 and 2018 and $4.5 million available in 2019. So that’s three years and somewhere between $12 million and $19 million, based on health and performance.
Some thoughts on the move:
■ First of all, good for Edelman. In a league where five-year free agent deals really mean “two years and we’ll see,” Edelman saw his four-year contract from 2014 all the way through, then got another two years tacked on. While he’s not getting elite dollars, Edelman makes up for it off the field with endorsements and opportunities that come from being Tom Brady’s sidekick. Most NFL players never make it to a second contract, and Edelman is now on his fourth.
■ This is mostly about the Patriots hooking up Edelman in the short term. Edelman was entering the final year of his previous contract, and, with his new contract, his 2017 pay remains the same — a maximum of $4.5 million based on health and performance — plus a $5 million signing bonus. It’s the same signing bonus he got with his 2014 contract.
■ We say “maximum of $4.5 million” because Edelman has $750,000 tied to being active on game day ($46,875 per game), $500,000 for on-field incentives, and $250,000 for participating in offseason workouts (which he did). He has basically the same terms for 2018, but in 2019 he has a whopping $3.5 million in incentives.
■ Interestingly, the potential $9.5 million payout for Edelman in 2017 is just about the same as Wes Welker had in his final season with the Patriots, when he played for a $9.515 million franchise tag in 2012 (although the hunch here is the Patriots split Edelman’s signing bonus into a $2.5 million payment now and $2.5 million next March).
■ Edelman certainly earned the bonus. He had 98 catches for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, then added 21 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs, including the season-saving fingertip grab in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Also notably, Edelman played in all 19 games after coming off a foot injury in 2015.
■ The contract seems a little low for someone who might be even more important than Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots’ offense. But while Edelman maybe left a few dollars on the table, his skills don’t translate to big dollars on the NFL’s free agent market. The receivers that get paid are tall and make big plays down the field, and that’s not Edelman’s game.
Edelman was fourth in the NFL with 98 catches last year, but it’s a bit misleading.
Since emerging as Brady’s top target in 2013, Edelman has averaged 69.6 yards per game (last year was 69.1, 15th best among receivers and tight ends). He averaged 11.3 yards per catch last year, ranking 80th among 154 qualifying players. He tied for 85th with three touchdown catches. He had just one catch over 40 yards, the 77-yard touchdown sprung by Michael Floyd’s block. Among the top 50 receivers, Edelman was 34th in first-down percentage (56.1 percent of catches).
Edelman also is 31, and has had a recurring foot problem that cost him a good chunk of the 2015 season. So three years and $12 million to $19 million seems pretty realistic given how he fits within the NFL landscape.
■ Finally, it’s interesting to see the Patriots re-sign Edelman at 31 after they had a messy divorce with Welker at age 32. There’s no doubt that Edelman is more clutch than Welker was and has arguably been a better fit for the offense. But the biggest reason is that Edelman is willing to play ball with the Patriots, and Welker was not.
Welker’s relationship soured with the Patriots after he received the franchise tag in 2012, and in 2013 they parted ways after a contentious free agent negotiation. After Welker signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos, Robert Kraft revealed that the Patriots pulled a two-year, incentive-laden offer off the table when Welker’s demands exceeded their budget, and they turned instead to Danny Amendola.
Welker ended up making $21 million from 2012-14 with the Patriots and Broncos. Edelman’s contract that he signed in 2014 paid him $13.67 million over the last three years, and Edelman now has a chance to make somewhere between $12.25 million and $19 million over the next three years.
Mixon’s bonus equals free money
When the Chiefs drafted Tyreek Hill last year, a controversial player due to a domestic violence incident in college, they found a way to protect their interests and make Hill earn his contract.
Instead of giving him his full $218,720 guarantee in the form of a signing bonus, they only gave him $70,000 up front, and are making him earn the rest in per-game roster bonuses. Hill doesn’t earn that money unless he’s on the 46-man roster each week, meaning he has to stay healthy and out of trouble.
But the Bengals did no such tinkering this year with their controversial draft pick, running back Joe Mixon, who in 2014 punched a woman and fractured bones in her face. According to details of his contract, Mixon received his full signing bonus of $2,103,752 and overall will make $5,450,162 on his four-year deal as the 48th overall pick.
Injuries already making impact
Injuries are by far the most important news of offseason workouts. And with one week still to go, a few notable players have gotten nicked.
Lions left tackle Taylor Decker might miss some regular-season time after undergoing shoulder surgery, Ravens cornerback Tavon Young tore his ACL, Panthers cornerback James Bradberry will be shelved for six weeks after fracturing his wrist, Broncos linebacker Shaq Barrett might miss the start of training camp with a hip injury, Browns receiver Corey Coleman suffered a leg injury and might miss the start of camp, and tight end Dennis Pitta’s career may be over after he suffered his third hip injury, resulting in his release from the Ravens with an injury settlement.
Interesting to see the Falcons announce a special retirement ceremony for Monday for Michael Vick and Roddy White. This marks the first time the Falcons have welcomed Vick back into the family since his dog fighting scandal broke in 2007, resulting in his incarceration and release from the Falcons in 2009. The team’s press release Friday did not mention anything about Vick’s troubles, but also was specific that Vick and White won’t sign one-day contracts to retire as Falcons, as Vick had hoped to do. “We do not need a contract in place to consider them a part of our family and honor their decision to retire as a Falcon,” owner Arthur Blank said . . . Former Lions teammates Anquan Boldin, Glover Quin, and Johnson Bademosi and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins penned a passionate editorial for CNN last week urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the justice department not to reignite the war on drugs. The foursome has twice traveled to Washington to speak with members of Congress and expressed optimism that both parties want to reform to the criminal justice system. “We believe America is locking the wrong people up for the wrong reasons for too long,” they wrote. “We believe treatment and rehabilitation are often better alternatives to prison. And we believe that for those who do deserve prison time, there should also be second chances.”
The Steelers skipped OTAs last week for a trip to Dave & Buster’s. Most teams do these types of team-bonding trips as a way to reward players for an offseason of hard work, but the flip side is it costs young fringe players a day of practice to impress their coaches . . . Browns No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett received a signing bonus of $20.2 million. The Patriots will pay a total of $2,304,636 in signing bonuses to their four draft picks. The Patriots aren’t so keen on spending big money on unproven players . . . Steelers kicker Chris Boswell tweeted that he got kicked out of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh. His offense? “Got kicked out for banging on the glass?! Man that’s crazy!! Sorry we just won two fights!” . . . The Offseason Dedication Award goes to Bills cornerback Shareece Wright. Stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last Monday night, he knew of just one other way to get to Buffalo for Tuesday’s practice — he called an Uber. Driver Hadi Abdollahian originally thought Wright wanted to go to Buffalo Wild Wings, but when Wright told him the destination was Western New York, the 26-year-old kept his promise and drove Wright the 547 miles to the Bills’ practice facility, arriving at 7 a.m. The fare came to $632.08, and Wright provided a nice $300 tip to help Abdollahian get home.
Out of the blue
The Chiefs surprisingly released wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The 2014 Pro Bowler has been a productive and consistent contributor throughout his career. Maclin is one of six players since 2009 to start 100 or more games and have more than 6,000 yards receiving and 45 touchdowns.