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Thursday, March 7, 2013
Rebuilding Jets face 'flee' agency

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets are coming off a painful season. Warning: Free agency won't be much different.

With nine starters headed to unrestricted free agency, and with only about $8 million in salary-cap room, it'll get worse before it gets better.

The Jets might be able to keep one or two core veterans, but they will lose a handful of key players who helped them to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010.

Mainstays Dustin Keller, Brandon Moore, Mike DeVito, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson ... they're all expected to hit the open market at 4 p.m. Tuesday, when the signing period begins. (Negotiating starts 12:01 a.m. Saturday.) And you can add Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry to the list.

Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller
Do the Jets have replacements for Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller waiting in the wings? Not really.

Prepare for a Rex-odus.

This is a team in transition, with new general manager John Idzik trying to get the salary-cap house in order while upgrading a roster with serious deficiencies. He has only two bargaining chips -- the ninth pick in the draft and star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is on the trading block and likely will be dealt.

"It's not a matter of if, it's when," one league source said of Revis' departure.

The Jets won't chase the big names in free agency; they can't. They will try to find value, striking after the initial wave of crazy money is paid to the select few, according to sources. They're hoping the flat cap makes it a buyer's market, allowing them to find players in the $1 million- to $2 million-a-year range.

This is what happens when you have eight players eating up $84 million of a $123 million cap.

"They're in trouble for a year with their cap problems," said a rival executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They have nearly 10 starters hitting free agency, and never mind the Revis issue and the quarterback issue. They did this to themselves."

Idzik will try to rebuild through the draft, the most affordable way to replenish a roster. But you can't find nine immediate starters in one draft, so the Jets will have to rely on cheap alternatives on the current roster or plug a few holes with low-cost free agents.

It's a long list of needs: two guards, two safeties, two outside linebackers, running back, tight end and fullback. They don't have any plug-and-play replacements at these positions, unless you count marginal starters Vladimir Ducasse at guard, Bilal Powell at running back and Jeff Cumberland at tight end.

They could also use a legitimate quarterback to challenge Mark Sanchez and a playmaking wide receiver who would give Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense a chance.

No matter how they spin it, the Jets are rebuilding.

"There's a negative connotation associated with rebuilding, but honestly I think every NFL team retools or rebuilds to a certain extent," said Idzik, claiming the Jets have a "fine foundation."

When you're willing to sell off your best player to the highest bidder, as the Jets are doing with Revis, it's rebuilding.

So forget Mike Wallace. Forget Wes Welker. Forget Ed Reed. The Jets won't go there.

Idzik isn't opposed to big contracts -- his previous team, the Seattle Seahawks, spent on free agents -- but he realizes he has the clean up the old mess before making significant investments.

The quarterback position could be a microcosm of Idzik's plan. With $8.25 million committed to the underperforming Sanchez, virtually assured of a roster spot because of the large guarantee, the Jets will bring in low-cost alternatives to create competition.

They've already flirted with David Garrard, who represents the low end of the free-agent food chain. The best available quarterback on the market is Matt Moore, but he will command at least $3 million a year, and that may be too rich for the Jets.

Idzik preaches competition, and he has told people he has no problem keeping millions of dollars on the bench. The Seahawks did it last season with Matt Flynn. Hear that, Sanchez?

"We want to improve competition at every single position," Idzik said. "Are there positions of need? Of course there are positions of need that you're going to focus on, but ... even if you think there's an incumbent, we don't want complacency."