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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets dumped their nine-time Pro Bowl left guard, Alan Faneca, and will replace him with a player who has no NFL experience -- second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse or second-year backup Matt Slauson. That sounds like a downgrade for their vaunted offensive line.
But not according to Rex Ryan.
"You either stay the same, get better or get worse. We're getting better," Ryan said Saturday, shortly after the team announced the expected release of Faneca. "That's why we made the move."
|With Alan Faneca gone, Mark Sanchez will play behind a less experienced left guard.|
Football purists might disagree, but the Jets opted for youth over the grizzled vet. The Jets have experienced their share of left-guard problems in the past -- does Pete Kendall ring a bell? -- and this move will be debated throughout the season.
The Jets led the NFL in rushing last season with a five-man crew that has started a league-high 32 straight games. Faneca, 33, was the senior member of the group, easily the most accomplished player, and they will miss his intangibles.
But the front office, which had been dangling Faneca for several weeks in trade talks, felt it was time.
"That line couldn't stay together forever," GM Mike Tannenbaum said. "Now is the time. The easy decision would've been, 'Let's try to get through another year,' but that wasn't the correct decision in our minds."
Privately, the organization believes Faneca slipped in his pass protection. According to STATS, he allowed 6½ sacks last season, high for an interior lineman. Faneca's agent, Rick Smith, shot down a report that said the Jets offered his client a chance to stay if he took a pay cut.
Faneca was the centerpiece of a blockbuster free-agent class in 2008, signing a five-year, $40 million contact that included $20 million in guarantees. The Jets were a little concerned about his age, but they felt they could get at least three productive seasons out of him.
This was a costly decision for the Jets -- even without a salary cap. Consider the deal from their perspective: two years, $20 million in guranteed money. For a guard.
That was the final bill for Faneca, who was due to make $7.5 million in salary for 2010. But here's the catch: $5.25 million of that salary is fully guaranteed. He gets it no matter what. But for an extra $2.25 million, of which -- if they got rid of Faneca -- they could put towards other players, it didn't make sense to keep him.
They got two good year from him, although they felt his play had diminished. But he still was effective as a run blocker and was considered a team leader, instrumental in the development of linemates D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
The Jets are taking a risk, messing with the chemistry on one of the best lines in the league. But it's too late now. The deed is done. Faneca received the bad news Friday night, a phone call from Ryan while he was out for dinner with Mangold.
Tannenbaum said Ducasse, a standout at UMass, will compete with Slauson (sixth-round pick in '09) for the starting job. Ducasse was a left tackle at UMass, and hasn't played guard since spring drills as an underclassman.
The soft-spoken Ducasse, a native of Haiti who didn't starting playing football until his junior year in Stamford, Conn., believes he'll fit in nicely with the Jets' Ground & Pound style.
"That's the kind of offensive line I like, running the ball over and over again," he said.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.