What does rock bottom look like? The Jets are about to find out.
In sports, there are fire sales, rebuilding movements, trusting “the process” and whatever the heck this is. RotoPat may have put it best in yesterday’s Eric Decker blurb when he referred to the Jets’ tanking tactics as “scorched-earth.”
Life comes at you fast. Two years ago, the Jets were on the cusp of a postseason berth. A pair of late interceptions by Ryan Fitzpatrick in a Week 17 loss to Buffalo spoiled New York’s playoff aspirations while laying the groundwork for the team’s eventual implosion. With most of the roster still intact, the Jets scuffled to a disappointing 5-11 finish in 2016. Eric Decker got hurt, Brandon Marshall bickered with Sheldon Richardson and Fitzpatrick reverted to his usual, underachieving self. Then the Jets tore it all down by cutting Marshall, Nick Folk, Breno Giacomini, Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis in rapid succession. Fitzpatrick, Ryan Clady and Erin Henderson were not re-signed, continuing the mass exodus out of East Rutherford.
Which brings us to the Jets’ latest round of cuts. Tuesday New York parted ways with long-time linebacker David Harris while informing Eric Decker that the team would either trade or release him by the end of the week. While the moves certainly save cap space—Harris and Decker were due a combined $13.75 million in 2017—cap room is only valuable when you have something to spend it on. Even if the Jets offered top dollar to any number of big-name free agents, how many would willingly join a team quarterbacked by brittle 37-year-old Josh McCown?
Maybe the Jets want it that way. This team was built to bottom out. What other explanation could there be for constructing an NFL offense around a journeyman starting quarterback, a running back entering his age-32 season (Matt Forte) and a slew of no-name wide receivers? It all adds up to one of the worst rosters in football. But that was their plan all along, right?
Not so, says Steve Smith Sr.. The former Panthers/Ravens wideout and current NFL Network analyst confirmed Tuesday that the Jets touched base with him to see if he’d be interested in playing another season. Smith quickly shot them down, but that’s not the point. After spending the better part of three months ridding the team of any and all veterans, why would the Jets attempt to lure Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler, out of retirement? The Jets can’t even commit to their own philosophy. One minute they’re giving Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick the cold shoulder, the next they’re putting the full-court press on Steve Smith? Come on guys—either tank or don’t.
So let’s assume—and it’s not that big of a stretch—that the Jets are indeed tanking. What’s the game plan here? Are they gearing up for a run at Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in 2018 or is reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson their preferred target? Whoever the Jets end up taking, quarterback will certainly be their emphasis. Or at least it needs to be. The Jets ranked dead-last in RotoPat’s annual quarterback rankings and for good reason. McCown is an injury waiting to happen, Bryce Petty made Ryan Fitzpatrick look competent by comparison last year while frequent Rotoworld punch-line Christian Hackenberg wasn’t even equipped to handle pre-game warm-ups.
The old adage is that defense wins championships but if Tom Brady’s relentless dominance has taught us anything, it’s that teams live and die by the strength of their starting quarterback. Once the Jets upgrade at that position, they can stop tearing the roster apart and begin building.
Rebuilding or not, Harris and Decker are both getting a raw deal. Rather than testing the waters at the start of free agency like the Jets’ first wave of cuts, Harris and Decker will hit the market in June, long after teams have already filled their rosters. Both will surely land on their feet, but neither is afforded the leverage they would have had in March, when bidding wars can often lead to bloated contracts.
The Jets showed us their cards by making Decker available for trade. Being so upfront about his future with the team—or lack thereof—isn’t a great negotiating tactic. Even if teams have interest, and many will, why would they give up something if the Jets are planning to cut Decker loose in a few days anyway?
Decker should be an immediate contributor wherever he winds up. The 30-year-old missed all but three games last year while battling hip and shoulder injuries that eventually required surgery, but has so far been a full participant at OTAs and shouldn’t have any restrictions heading into the regular season. Decker has quietly been one of the league’s steadiest talents, averaging 1,085.3 yards and 81.5 catches over his last four healthy seasons. He’s also been a frequent visitor to the end zone, amassing double-digit touchdowns three times in his seven-year career.
Maybe Decker doesn’t offer as high a ceiling as Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham, but his floor might be just as high. In a feat of incredible consistency, Decker went 18 straight games with a touchdown or 80 yards receiving before his streak ended in Week 3 last year. Decker should succeed wherever he goes next, though it’s important to note that he’s spent the bulk of his career as a No. 2 wideout, first starting opposite Demaryius Thomas in Denver before joining forces with Brandon Marshall in New York. Decker has undoubtedly benefited from this arrangement, usually drawing easier assignments than his more heralded teammates. That’s merely an observation, though I’d be curious to see how Decker responds to the challenge of playing without an elite wide receiver.
Decker isn’t the only top-flight wideout looking for a new home. The Chiefs moved on from Jeremy Maclin last week, leaving the 29-year-old to fend for himself on the open market. Decker is the more accomplished receiver, though he’s also a year older than Maclin and coming off two major surgeries. Maclin has already drawn interest from the Bills, Browns and Ravens and it wouldn’t be a surprise if those same teams pursue Decker now that he’s available.
If the Jets’ goal was to get younger this offseason, they’ve succeeded. Once Decker is gone, the Jets will only have four players on their roster over the age of 30. Nowhere is the Jets’ youth more evident than at wide receiver where 25-year-old Quincy Enunwa stands as the elder statesman. He’ll be joined by the likes of sophomore deep threat Robby Anderson (24) and third-round rookie ArDarius Stewart (23). All three would have benefited from playing beside a veteran presence like Decker, but they won’t have that luxury now. It’s sink or swim in the Big Apple.
When a reporter asked Tuesday how the Jets determined that David Harris was too expensive to keep, head coach Todd Bowles responded, “That’s a good question.” Well at least somebody in New York knows what’s going on. This is fine.
Quick Hits: Footage of Rex and Rob Ryan in the middle of a Nashville bar fight has made the rounds and now Colorado native Matthew Havel has filed a police report accusing the brothers of assault. The former Bills coaches were in town for the Stanley Cup Finals … Marcus Mariota has participated in some full-team activities during OTAs and could have the training wheels come off at minicamp next week. The Titans signal caller has spent the offseason recovering from a broken leg … Aaron Rodgers hinted he was looking for a raise earlier this offseason but it doesn’t sound like he’s too worried about his contract. “I’m going to continue to make myself an indispensable part of this roster,” said Rodgers at Tuesday’s OTAs. “When you do that, when your time comes up to get a contract, you usually get a contract extension” … Tramaine Brock is facing a felony domestic violence charge and a misdemeanor for child endangerment stemming from an April arrest. Brock was released by the 49ers mere hours after the incident … Bengals rookie Joe Mixon will spend a couple of weeks working out with Adrian Peterson before training camp begins next month. Mixon and Peterson both played their college ball at Oklahoma … Julio Jones still isn’t practicing but he’ll be a full-go for training camp next month. The Falcons are taking their time with Jones, who had a bunion removed from his foot earlier this offseason … Chargers first-round wideout Mike Williams has been diagnosed with a “mild disc herniation” in his lower back. The injury will sideline him until training camp … ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson considers Mark Sanchez the favorite to back up starting quarterback Mike Glennon this year. That would be a surprise after all the Bears gave up to land Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick … Zach Miller believes he’s at close to full health after ending last year on injured reserve with a Lisfranc fracture. The Bears added a pair of tight ends this offseason (ex-Dolphin Dion Sims and second-round pick Adam Shaheen) just in case … Mike Jones of the Washington Post reported Tuesday that extension talks between the Redskins and Kirk Cousins were still at a stalemate, though ESPN’s Adam Schefter is now reporting that discussions between the two sides have taken an “improved, encouraging tone.” The Redskins have until July 15 to lock up Cousins long-term … Dolphins OC Clyde Christensen considers Jay Ajayi the team’s “most improved player” this offseason. Only Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell and Jordan Howard averaged more rushing yards per game than Ajayi in 2016 … Jaguars executive VP Tom Coughlin believes Blake Bortles has “pretty much” ironed out his mechanics after struggling with them during a down year in 2016. In a surprise move, the Jags exercised Bortles’ fifth-year option last month … Andrew Luck has yet to resume throwing following offseason shoulder surgery. The Colts haven’t given a timetable for when that might happen, though Luck is still expected to be ready for Week 1 … James Bradberry suffered a broken wrist at Monday’s practice but returned to action a day later. He’ll be in a cast for the next six weeks … Jordan Matthews has been sidelined with knee tendinitis at OTAs. Formerly the Eagles’ go-to receiver, Matthews will take a backseat to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in 2017 … After being stranded at O’Hare Airport in Chicago on Monday night, Shareece Wright opted to take a 550-mile Uber ride to the Bills’ practice facility in Orchard Park so he would be on time for voluntary OTAs. Wright’s bill for the eight-hour ride came out to $932.08—$632.08 plus a $300 tip.
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