New York Jets – Winning Free Agency Not Priority

Dan Marcus on managing expectations in free agency for the New York Jets

You have to hand it to the Jets’ new shot-caller, Mike Maccagnan, as he didn’t wait until the Free Agency period officially starts on Monday to start making a big splash to help improve this roster. He was able to acquire the legitimate “number one” receiver, the likes of which the Jets have been lacking since the days of Keyshawn Johnson, by sending a 5th round pick to the Chicago Bears. 

Mere hours later, Maccagnan opted to lock-up David Harris to a deal that quite honestly is a little bit too rich for my blood. Yet, one that you can’t really take issue with when you consider the alternative of allowing him to go up North and join Rex Ryan’s “three-ring circus” in Buffalo as he makes his last stand as an NFL Head Coach. $15 million guaranteed feels like a lot for Harris but it’s a move that makes sense from a continuity standpoint and because free agency is a classic free market. It was a virtual certainty another team was willing to offer him that and then-some. By and large, the early returns from pundits and fans alike have Maccagnan at a modest “two for two” on his first two significant moves as the “head honcho” in Florham Park. You can also be assured that once we break the seal on a new league year on Monday, there will be several more where those came from, considering the number of holes the Jets still need to fill and the war-chest of cap room they have at their disposal.

However, despite all of the hullabaloo about the amount of cap space that has fans salivating. There needs to be a voice of reason capable of curbing enthusiasm and managing expectations and considering Mike Francesa has denied our request for an interview, it looks like that responsibility falls to me.

As much as I would like to think the $50 some-odd-million the Jets have on hand will suffice to cure all that as ailed this team over the last few years, I also need to be realistic in that you can only improve a team so much via free agency. NFL free agency isn’t terribly different from free agency in other sports but because of the brutal nature of the game, the calculated risks teams take on players that have been ridden into the ground by the former teams while they were cost-controlled players make it a limited avenue for building a contender. In fact, most of the teams that have graded out extremely well in free agency over the last few years have been colossal busts. My favorite example/case study has to be the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, where in a lock-out shortened free agency period assembled what many considered to be a “dream team”, bringing in the likes of Nnamdi Asomougha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Jason Babin. Despite all of the hype, that Eagles team struggled early and never recovered en route to an 8-8 finish.

All teams that spend big in free agency on flashy names are not doomed to experience the same fate but if there’s anything the Tannenbaum regime showed us, it is that free agency can buy you a window of being competitive but the only way to build for sustained success is through the draft.  For Tannenbaum, it was his free-wheeling draft strategy of consolidating picks to move up and get “his guy” is what ultimately sealed his fate (although he’s landed on his feet pretty nicely). Regardless of what moves the successor to Tannenbaum’s successor makes over the next month, it will be his drafts that will define and dictate his tenure as General Manager. When it comes to running a team, the key is to attain that often sought-after balance between veteran free agency and the draft. For Maccagnan, the challenge will be finding the balance between the ultra-aggressive Tannenbaum school of thought and the painfully conservative “Idzikian” way of doing things.

How Maccagnan treats free agency will give you a glimpse towards which end of that spectrum he falls in his methodology for building a roster/team. If these first two moves are any indication, it appears as though he leans more towards Tannenbaum than he does Idzik, which hopefully was one of the hiring criteria for Woody’s football think tank. Again, that picture will become a lot clearer when we see how he approaches the draft because fans and media alike are still very much in our “feeling out” phase.

The bottom line here is that winning teams aren’t bought because trust me, if they could you can bet that Daniel Snyder would have figured out a way to do so by now. Championship teams are ones that can find and cultivate their own talent via the draft so as we head into Tuesday, I urge you not to focus on the war chest but on how it is being used and that this is only the first step on the road to turning this team around.