By Steve Lichtenstein
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As fans, we often wonder if the Jets know what they’re doing. Nearly 50 seasons of mostly lousy football will do that.
After Gang Green announced on Tuesday that they were releasing 10-year linebacker David Harris, maybe you can count coach Todd Bowles in that category as well.
Bowles, who was forced to take the initial hits from the media in a press conference, did his best to put the word out that this was “an organizational decision” with general manager Mike Maccagnan.
He wasn’t very convincing.
And this was a few hours before Maccagnan informed the media that he will also be issuing a pink slip to Eric Decker, his best wide receiver, if he can’t find a trade fit this week.
Maccagnan may not have gone behind Bowles’ back at any point during this offseason’s purge of 10 veteran starters — following a horrid 5-11 2016 season, there was definitely room for changes — but you could tell that the Harris cut stung Bowles more than others.
According to a pair of tweets from The Record’s Andy Vasquez, when asked why the Jets waited until June (after allowing Harris, not to mention the 30-year-old Decker, who was coming off two offseason surgeries, to risk injury competing in this week’s voluntary OTAs), Bowles replied, “That’s a good question.”
And to a follow-up as to why keeping Harris at a $6.5 million cap hit was such a bad thing given that the Jets were already about $17.5 million under the salary cap, according to Spotrac.com, Bowles replied, “That’s a good question.”
The reporter should have retorted, “Thank you.”
Bowles’ appreciation for what the 33-year-old Harris brought to the football field every Sunday is public record. Bowles has called Harris “the glue that holds everyone together.”
Harris played 121 consecutive games before sitting out in Arizona during Week 6 last season. Oh, the Jets lost that one, 28-3, while allowing 171 yards rushing.
More impressively, Harris played 87 percent of the snaps in the other 15 games, according to pro-football-reference.com. He may no longer have the requisite sideline-to-sideline speed, but Harris was trusted by Bowles more than anyone in every situation, be it as a part of run defense, blitz packages, or zone coverages.
At least with Decker’s departure, the Jets have a boatload of young receivers, including third- and fourth-round draft choices ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, to compete for roles in new offensive coordinator John Morton’s West Coast offense.
Who’s replacing Harris? They can’t possibly think that undersized sophomore Darron Lee, who is being investigated by the NFL over an altercation at a music festival last weekend, is the heir apparent. He’s a guy who thrives in space.
As for Demario Davis, who was re-acquired last week in a deal that sent safety Calvin Pryor, a former first round pick, to Cleveland, it was Maccagnan who let Davis bolt to the Browns in free agency after the 2015 season. The GM did it because Davis wasn’t considered the eventual long-term solution at the position in the first place. Davis’ $3.7 million base salary for this season isn’t guaranteed, which makes me believe he, too, could be on the chopping block.
After all, the basis for cutting Harris was admittedly, at least according to Bowles, only about money. The Jets wanted Harris to agree to lower pay. He balked. Now he’s gone.
Congratulations, Woody Johnson. The Jets’ owner is now $13.75 million richer after both cuts. Some reporters have opined that the moves may have had Johnson’s fingerprints on it. Johnson might have figured that if the Jets were going to be miserable again, he might as well save as much money as he can.
By the way, wasn’t Johnson supposed to be hobnobbing in England by now?
Only Maccagnan then contradicted Bowles by telling the press that these decisions weren’t financially motivated. Instead, he wants “to build a competitive roster.”
That’s a pretty big disconnect. And also a pretty lame joke.
My preliminary feelings about the upcoming season concurred with the experts who had the Jets at the bottom of their NFL rankings even with Harris quarterbacking their defense and Decker back to full health, all because they lacked a real QB. With such a soft layer now left in the defensive middle and no proven pass catchers except Quincy Enunwa, this could get high school-ish ugly.
That might be fine for fans like me who have jumped into the tank for the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, but it stinks for Bowles, who is paid to win football games. I mean, can you see this team winning any games? He has all these young players, but a team also needs respected locker room leaders to show the kids what it takes to stay in the league.
When he was told of the Davis trade, Harris, a true pro who deserved better, said to ESPN, “It was unexpected, but it’s the NFL. Crazy stuff happens all the time.”
Especially when it comes to the Jets.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveLichtenst1