Commentary

Jets stripping down while rivals add

Hard part for John Idzik will be building something from Gang's skeleton roster

Updated: March 16, 2013, 8:07 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

It was Monday night, and Mike DeVito was getting ready for a flight to Kansas City. There was an offer on the table from the Chiefs -- a good offer -- and he was leaving the next day to sign it.

Then the New York Jets called his agent.

"They made an offer at the last second," the former Jets defensive lineman said in a phone interview. "I don't even know what it was. With everything going on -- the salary cap, [John] Idzik being new ... it was just time to go. It was one of those things that had to happen."

DeVito didn't know the specifics of the Jets' offer, but it was nowhere close to the three-year, $12.6 million contract he landed with the Chiefs. No hard feelings, said DeVito, who loved his time in New York.

Nevertheless, DeVito's situation reflects the upheaval taking place at One Jets Drive. That the Jets let a solid, still-in-his-prime player get to the door before making a token offer illustrates a dramatic change in philosophy from the previous regime.

[+] EnlargeJohn Idzik
AP Photo/Jack DempseyNew GM John Idzik is taking a patient approach toward rebuilding the Jets.

The Jets are a strip tease.

They're being stripped down by Idzik, the new general manager, and the frustrated fan base is being teased by having to watch division rivals load up on big-name players.

The Jets?

They've lost five free agents: A 1,000-yard rusher. A Pro Bowl safety. Another safety that played almost every defensive snap last season. One of the most prolific pass-catching tight ends in team history. And the blue-collar DeVito, who bled green. He still has an old picture of himself as a kid, wearing a Jets cap.

Now he's gone, along with running back Shonn Greene, safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell and tight end Dustin Keller.

The Jets are being dismantled and, understandably, many fans are rattled. To which I ask: Why would you want to keep a bad team together?

For the most part, Idzik is doing it the right way, dumping salary and trying to get younger. It's jarring for fans because there have been so many defections in a short period of time, three of whom made significant contributions to the teams that reached back-to-back AFC Championship Games.

But this is the way it has to be.

For years under Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets operated with a win-now mentality. They imported big-name veterans, spending big bucks. They went after a championship, went after it hard, coming tantalizingly close a couple of times.

Now they're suffering from the hangover, a hangover born of excess without celebration -- the worst kind. They got stuck with too many big contracts, too many old players, not enough young talent and a regressing quarterback.

Tannenbaum fired, Idzik hired.

Hello, rebuilding.

It would be different if the Jets had a franchise quarterback. In that case, you'd want to keep the window open as long as possible. But they don't have that guy. In fact, they're rebuilding at quarterback, too, looking for live bodies with small price tags to come in and compete with Mark Sanchez.

"This is self-imposed," an opposing team executive said of the Jets' plight. "Many of the Jets' issues were created with a short-sighted approach, satisfying the here and now."

Make no mistake, the Jets lost some talent in the first week of free agency. The Former Five has combined for 286 career starts, with only one player (Bell) over the age of 30. But there's another statistic that should be considered.

Total Pro Bowls: One.

The Jets expressed interest in retaining DeVito, Keller and Landry, but they had no intention of waging bidding wars even though they began free agency with about $15 million in cap room -- roughly $6 million of that earmarked for the draft.

The Former Five ended up signing contracts that will eat up a total of $15.7 million in 2013 cap space for their respective teams. Landry and Keller alone are counting a combined $10 million on this year's cap.

Do the math.

"They really wanted [my client], but they just didn't have the money," said one agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They're in a re-tooling stage. The new guy [Idzik] is tearing it down, but I think he's handling it unbelievably well."

Clearly, Idzik is the anti-Tannenbaum, avoiding splashy moves and demonstrating patience. Of course, that's easy to do when you're new on the job; there's no pressure to win. Let's see if he's the same way in a year or two. For now, he wants salary-cap flexibility for 2014, perhaps with an eye toward securing his quarterback of the future.

The '14 draft will include Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner. If the Jets receive a 2014 first-round pick for Darrelle Revis, whom they're dangling in trade talks, they'd have an extra bargaining chip.

Right now, Idzik has only two chips -- Revis and the No. 9 pick in the draft.

The mass exodus has fueled speculation that perhaps the players left because they perceived the Jets as a sinking ship, captained by a lame-duck coach, Rex Ryan.

Keller hinted that played a factor in his decision, telling the South Florida media, "[The Dolphins] are all about winning, and winning now. This is the time to win. That really excited me."

But another player described it differently, saying the Rex-odus was financially driven. There's a lot of truth to that. Consider the profile of the players that defected:

For Keller, Greene and DeVito, it was their first bite at the free-agent apple, their long-awaited opportunity to make a big score. Keller will get another shot next year because he signed a one-year contract. For Greene and DeVito, it probably was their final shot for financial security.

Landry, a one-year rental for the Jets, scored a four-year, $24 million contract from the Indianapolis Colts. He's a very good player, but several agents said the Colts overpaid in a buyer's market. The Jets, realizing it was hopeless, didn't even make a formal offer.

Tearing it down is easy; the hard part for Idzik will be building something from this skeleton roster.

So far, he has dabbled in the bargain bin, signing four free agents that will eat up an estimated $5 million in cap space -- running back Mike Goodson, quarterback David Garrard, guard Willie Colon and defensive tackle Antonio Garay.

Suffice it to say none of these additions will be featured in the team's 2013 marketing campaign.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins and New England Patriots are spending major money and signing big names. That used to be the Jets, remember?

Not long ago, they were the perennial champions of the offseason, stealing the headlines. In 2008, when they imported Alan Faneca, Brett Favre, et al, they were the "Dream Team" before the Philadelphia Eagles stole the moniker.

How'd that work out for them?

Idzik has analyzed the free-agent market, determining he will be able to find down-the-road value. There are still plenty of proven veterans available. For the next few months, the Jets will have a revolving door, players coming and going.

The team that gave us the Butt Fumble has experienced tremendous turnover. Since the end of the season, they've parted with 10 coaches and 10 players.

"There's a new GM and a new culture," DeVito said. "We got used to seeing the same guys in the locker room, especially on defense. But this happens to a lot of teams. I'm not surprised by it. The locker room, wow, it'll be a lot different."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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