By Steve Lichtenstein
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Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan was wise to stay far away from the frenzy that accompanied the opening day of NFL free agency Thursday.
Though Maccagnan cleared significant salary cap space by discarding veterans Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and others, there was no need to rush into new commitments, especially overpriced ones, with so many roster needs to fill.
The Jets’ most crucial hire for next season, of course, is the quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gang Green’s starter the last two seasons, was the first to go in the purge. Embattled backup Geno Smith, who is coming off ACL surgery, also did not receive a contract extension.
No matter what Maccagnan does this offseason, he’s not going to alter the current landscape in the AFC. He could have overpaid for someone such as Mike Glennon, who is no guarantee to be any better than Fitzpatrick. Or he could use the club’s sixth overall selection in next month’s draft to reach for one of the quarterbacks who most experts have concluded won’t be ready to play right away.
Unfortunately, Maccagnan is going to get reamed the most in the New York press if he does nothing. No one in town believes Bryce Petty has what it takes to be a full-time starter, and if Christian Hackenberg, Maccagnan’s second-round selection in the 2016 draft, wasn’t prepared to play even a single NFL snap at the end of a dreadful 5-11 campaign, then it’s going to take more than one offseason of makeovers to get him to that level, if at all. And heaven forbid Maccagnan brings back Fitzpatrick. Or, even worse, Smith.
Sending one of the above from that quartet into the fire to start next season will have Jets fans apoplectic. Some, like me, currently hold the long view that prefers that the Jets stink next season in order to be first in line at the 2018 draft, where a superior selection of quarterbacks are projected to be available, but most aren’t wired for tanking before the games even start. Though I’m not a season ticketholder, I get that no one spends thousands of dollars hoping to watch a miserable football team.
Maccagnan would be facing the same charges of negligence that got his predecessor, John Idzik, run out of town unless he does something to appease the base.
He needs a plan, even if it calls for another placeholder, because in his view this draft won’t allow the Jets the opportunity to select a franchise quarterback.
That means Maccagnan has to ride out the quarterback game of musical chairs going on this week and sign whoever is still standing to a cap-friendly deal.
Even if it’s Jay Cutler.
The polarizing 33-year old, who was cut by the Bears on Thursday, would not instantly transform the Jets into a playoff contender. To the contrary, Cutler’s interception bug and recent injury history suggest that the Jets would still be a wreck by the end of next season.
That’s not the point anyway. Cutler is a name, someone owner Woody Johnson recognizes and can talk about over tea in England while watching the games with other rich snobs. Cutler still has plus arm strength and is capable of bringing a few fleeting moments of joy into the game before his brain malfunctions make it reverse course.
A Cutler signing would in one stroke repudiate any tanking charge in the fans’ eyes without compromising the Jets’ future.
The key for Maccagnan is money. Any Cutler deal should be laden with incentives. There can be no guarantees or dead cap charges beyond the 2017 season. There were rumors that Cutler would rather retire before taking such a pay cut, but let’s see where he is once the dust clears and he’s out of options.
Maccagnan must be frugal. He has about $24 million in cap space, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, after re-signing the Jets’ own free agents Ben Ijalana, Josh Martin and Corey Lemonier in addition to tendering restricted free agents Marcus Williams and Wesley Johnson on Thursday.
Cimini, NFL Network’s Rich Eisen and many others are adamant that signing Cutler would be the worst move the Jets could make at any price. In addition to Cutler’s ineffectiveness on the field, they assert that his alleged negativity in the locker room would infect a young team.
Maybe they’ve forgotten what the locker room vibe was last season, when it seemed like every week coach Todd Bowles had to deal with distractions. Losing breeds discontent, unless you’re the Brooklyn Nets.
Besides, who can be had by the Jets who would come without baggage?
I wouldn’t mind Colin Kaepernick, who at least has known winning at some point in his career, but there’s no way Republican Woody would bring the politically conscious ex-49er on board.
The Texans just paid $16 million so they wouldn’t have to look at Brock Osweiler, last season’s prime quarterback on the free agent market, anymore after one season of 15-yard passes nosediving into the ground. Some reports stated that the Browns are already trying to trade Osweiler but could also just dump him. He wouldn’t even work as a placeholder on the Jets.
Trevor Siemian, should the Broncos snag Tony Romo and make him available, would cost a draft pick — and he isn’t very good. Neither is Nick Foles, who would cost nothing. Robert Griffin III, released by the Browns on Friday, is damaged goods.
Would Cutler really be worse than any of the above?
Oh, I forgot one other name who is still out there: Mark Sanchez. My apologies, that wouldn’t even work as an April Fool’s joke.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1