New York Jets deny tanking as they cut ties with more veterans

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  June 7, 2017 at 1:45 PM
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The "T" word, whispered around the New York Jets throughout an offseason overhaul, can now be yelled at the loudest of volumes: tanking.

Operation 0-16 kicked into full swing in a matter of hours Tuesday, when the Jets released their longest-tenured player, linebacker David Harris, and announced plans to part ways with wide receiver Eric Decker, who will be released if he can't be traded in the coming days.

Getting rid of Harris and Decker will save the Jets $13.75 million in 2017 salaries, though at this point in the offseason, the cap savings are not likely to be used to upgrade the roster.

Coupled with the massive cuts the Jets made earlier in the offseason -- when they released or declined to re-sign 30-somethings such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis -- Tuesday's transactions send the Jets into the rarefied air traveled last season by the Cleveland Browns and by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros over the last half-decade.

Of course, general manager Mike Maccagnan insists the Jets aren't tanking.

"That's not our focus," Maccagnan said during a rare offseason press briefing Tuesday night.

Instead, Maccagnan said, the moves are about creating opportunity for the rest of the roster. But the Jets already know the likeliest replacements for Harris and Decker won't adequately fill their shoes.

Linebacker Demario Davis, whom the Jets reacquired from the Cleveland Browns on June 1 in exchange for safety Calvin Pryor, was drafted by the Rex Ryan/Mike Tannenbaum regime in 2012 with the belief he eventually would replace Harris, who leaves the Jets as the franchise's second-leading all-time tackler. Alas, Davis lost his job to Erin Henderson in 2015 and exited for the Browns after that season.

Once Decker is traded or released, he will take with him the 163 receptions and 19 touchdowns he collected for the Jets since the 2014 season. The rest of the receivers on the roster have combined for 173 catches and eight touchdowns in their careers. Only Quincy Enunwa has more than one year of NFL experience among that group.

Add it all up and the Jets -- who, don't forget, are planning to start two rookies at safety and a 38-year-old quarterback, Josh McCown, who is 2-20 as a starter the past three seasons -- certainly look like a team with an eye on the top of the first round of the 2018 draft.

Yet despite the Jets' complete teardown, Maccagnan said he expects the Jets to be judged as any other team, on "wins and losses (and) how players develop.

"We'll evaluate it going forward," Maccagnan added.

The Jets went backwards on Tuesday, but that appears to be part of the plan.

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