Thoughts and observations on our first Sunday without a football season:
1. The new league year begins in a month and, as usual, the Jets have some cap issues. Get this: Their 10 highest-paid players will count $90 million toward the 2012 salary cap, which is projected in the $120 million to $128 million range. Break out the shoe horn. Right now, the Jets have about $128 million committed to the cap, so they will have to do some trimming. In case you're wondering, the top 10 are Mark Sanchez, David Harris, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Darrelle Revis, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore.
2. A lot of fans are up in arms over the decision to guarantee RT Wayne Hunter's $2.45 million salary. It seems like a head scratcher, but here's what the Jets could be thinking: The free-agent market has slim pickings and, even if they replace him with a high draft choice, they'll still need an insurance policy -- and you're not going to find a decent insurance policy for less than $2.45 million. Plus, keep in mind that Hunter didn't receive a signing bonus last offseason with his new contract, so it's not like they've made a huge investment. Hey, I'm just trying to come up with possible reasons here.
3. ... And another thing: It would've looked bad, real bad, if they had dumped Hunter the same week they guaranteed Fort Knox to Holmes. Remember, Hunter was the guy who called out Holmes in the huddle on that fateful day in Miami, standing up to a player many had felt quit. As ESPNNewYork.com's Jane McManus reported at the time, Hunter screamed at Holmes, "If you don’t f------ want to play, get your a-- the f--- out!” If the Jets told Hunter to get out, it would've sent a bad message.
4. Some bookkeeping: Several players, with escalators in the final year of their contracts, received salary bumps for 2012: Dustin Keller ($2 million raise) is up to $3.05 million, Mike DeVito ($300,000) is up to $2.26 million and Matt Slauson ($740,000) is up to $1.3 million and Shonn Greene ($50,000) is up to $615,000. This is pretty standard stuff.
5. As for these rumors the Jets might try to trade Keller because his blocking isn't good enough to fit in Tony Sparano's scheme ... please. It would make no sense to unload Sanchez's security blanket. Keller is a very good receiver. Figure out a way to use him.
6. Bill Belichick is taking too much grief for the Mario Manningham catch. Yeah, he implored his defense to make Eli Manning throw it to Manningham -- the coach was miked by NFL Films -- but that was the right strategy: Force the opponent to go to its No. 3 WR, not its No. 1 or No. 2. The Patriots got burned because Manning made the perfect throw and Manningham made a sensational catch, but Belichick played the right percentages.
7. Belichick's big mistake was letting the Giants score one play too late. He should've done it on the play before Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard TD run. The Patriots would've had the ball with 1:04 left and two timeouts instead of :57 and one timeout. Big difference.
8. A few days before the Super Bowl, I wrote a column calling Tom Brady an "average" post-season quarterback since winning his third Super Bowl. That wasn't received too well in Patriot Nation, but facts are facts: Since winning his first 10 post-season games, Brady is 6-6, with 26 TD passes and 17 interceptions. His fourth-quarter numbers from his last two Super Bowls: 16-for-33, 155 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He failed both times to rally his team on his final possession.
Brady's worst moment was throwing off-target to a wide-open Wes Welker. Yes, Welker had both hands on the ball and should've made the catch, but it would've been a lot easier if Brady hadn't choked. It was akin to missing a three-foot putt. The game came down to two throws: Brady missed an open receiver from 23 yards, Manning was on the money to Manningham from 38.
9. Kudos to former Jets QB Erik Ainge, who has started his own football academy in Knoxville -- the Ainge Academy. The former Tennessee standout, basically thrown out of the NFL because of drug and alcohol problems, is trying to give back. He has a powerful story to tell, and he wants to help kids avoid the same mistakes he made. Good for him.
10. Former Jets and Dolphins QB Chad Pennington, in an interview with the Palm Beach Post, all but acknowledged he's ready to retire. He's always had a passion for coaching; wouldn't be interesting if he reunited with Sparano on the Jets? Pennington had this to say about Dolphins QB Chad Henne, a free agent: "For Chad, the best thing is a change of scenery. It was for me after eight years in New York." I wouldn't be shocked if the Jets make a play for Henne.