The playmaking linebacker was released Tuesday, a stunning move in which the team parted ways with one of its most productive and well-respected players.
“It was an organizational decision,” coach Todd Bowles said.
Cutting the franchise’s second-leading tackler, who practiced with the team Tuesday and was in the locker room afterward, will save the Jets $6.5 million on the salary cap. Bowles said the team and Harris, a second-round draft pick out of Michigan in 2007, had been discussing a salary reduction.
“They didn’t come to an agreement, and we didn’t come to an agreement, and it led to this,” Bowles said. “It wasn’t an easy time. David has been a Jet all his life. He … bled green.”
The move was a surprise because of Harris’ status as the Jets’ longest-tenured player — and it being so late in the offseason.
In a statement released to The Associated Press, Harris’ agents, Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler, called the timing of the decision “very disappointing.”
“The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months,” the statement said, “especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years.”
General manager Mike Maccagnan was not made available to comment on the move, which is the latest involving a veteran player being cut this offseason. Cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold, kicker Nick Folk, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and offensive tackle Breno Giacomini were all released — but before the NFL’s free agency period began in mid-March.
“Talks broke down,” Bowles said of the discussions with Harris. “I wasn’t in those meetings. It happened abruptly. Obviously, what we wanted to give him and what he was willing to play for, it’s part of the business and part of the problem. There was a gap there.”
The Jets reacquired Demario Davis from Cleveland last Thursday for safety Calvin Pryor. Davis is the front-runner to assume Harris’ starting spot, but Bowles said the deal for Davis didn’t have any bearing on the decision to cut Harris. Bruce Carter and Julian Stanford will also be in the mix at middle linebacker.
“We’re going to mix it up and let those guys go to camp,” Bowles said. “And if we don’t sign anybody else, we’ll see what happens.”
Nicknamed “The Hitman” for his knack for making big tackles, Harris had at least 113 in every season but his second, when he had 87 after missing six games with an injury. He ranks second to only Kyle Clifton (1,471) on the team’s career list with 1,260 tackles, according to stats compiled by the team. Harris led the Jets last year in that category, the ninth time in his 10 seasons doing so.
Harris has never been a flashy guy off the field, preferring to keep out of the New York spotlight despite his status as one of the Jets’ best players in recent years. His humble approach made him a favorite of teammates and fans alike.
“He’s obviously a guy who is well-liked in the building,” Bowles said.
When asked if he was on board with the team’s decision, Bowles said he was simply “in favor of what we decided as an organization.” Harris, who made the calls for the defense, spoke with Bowles after the decision was made.
“We have a good relationship,” Bowles said. “Obviously, it’s never easy. He’s a stand-up guy, he’s a stand-up person, and we’re very honest with each other. We’ll still be close, whether it’s 10 or 20 years from now.
“It’s never easy seeing somebody like that walk out the door, but that’s part of it.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)