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With all signs pointing toward a big rebuild, the Jets enter free agency looking for some players who, indeed. will want to work for free. With only 10 of 22 starters under contract and a ninth pick in the draft to sign, their reported $8.1 million in cap space is even tighter than John Idzik's lips, which, so far, are pretty tight indeed.
There will be some contracts redone and somewhat more room created. Still, the Jets' new GM is going to have to spread limited dollars around, just as new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will need to spread the ball around to receivers not named Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace or Wes Welker. Likewise, Mark Sanchez, David Garrard or Tyler Wilson is going to have to hand it to someone other than Ahmad Bradshaw or probably even Shonn Greene.
The Bilal Powell era is about to begin. So don't fight it, Jets fans, embrace it. There is no other choice for a team about to conduct a quarterback tryout camp, a team that last season was 30th in the NFL in offense and 25th in defense. That is not a club one or two key players away from Super Bowl contention, even if those guys would be Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson, who aren't available anyway.
Two years removed from consecutive AFC title games, the Jets have chased their tail all the way down to 6-10. They have neither the means, nor any longer the motivation, to continue. If Woody Johnson believed this was a quick fix, he would have given Mike Tannenbaum one more try at it, rather than hiring Idzik from a Seattle franchise that has built a team through the draft, like almost all contenders are constructed.
The last three Super Bowl champions — Ravens, Giants and Packers — didn't buy their way to a confetti bath. They drafted, the more proven method already endorsed by Idzik. So Jets fans waiting for the big splash when the official free agency period begins Tuesday are only going to get a cold one in the face.
The Jets need a rush linebacker, a cornerback should Darrelle Revis be traded, plus a receiver of significant promise. The probability being that LaRon Landry priced himself beyond their means with a strong 2012, the Jets also are going to require a strong safety and, should Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore receive offers they can't refuse, two starting guards.
Assuming Idzik and Johnson are not going to put any money into Dustin Keller, who barely made it onto the field last season, Idzik also needs to find Rex Ryan a tight end. Unless you have lived under a rock, you understand that is a lot of stones to turn over looking for some competitive, competent guys, never mind difference makers.
Our guess is that the linebacker will be coming with the ninth overall selection, the running back in the second or third round, and the wideout, corner or quarterback with picks they will want for Revis.
If the Jets select well and find a quarterback they can grow around, then by 2015 they will have a rising team, whether or not this coaching staff is around to harvest the fruit. In the meantime, this largely turned-over staff had better be good, because respectability in 2013 is more in the hands of Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach David Lee than in Johnson's to write any big checks. Revis is the very best player in the league at his position, so we'll see how this plays out. But however it is resolved, there is no sense in continuing to throw more big money at guys who can't earn it by producing a championship.
Desperate teams overpay. Smarter ones bite the bullet, weather the criticism, think two and three years ahead and become the 49ers, who now have the team and the picks to get themselves over the top.
Of course, to get there requires better judgment than using a sixth overall pick on Vernon Gholston. The Jets should have had an above-average starter with that selection by now, which really hurts, as does a No 5 selection for Sanchez, who is entering a fifth season with his job on the line. With Pro Bowl players on the roster from those choices, the Jets would be reloading, not rebuilding.
Mo Wilkerson was a good decision and the start of a foundation toward a new house. Quinton Coples, Demario Davis and Powell can play while Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and Kenrick Ellis still have a chance to add to the Jets' promise. But if Vladimir Ducasse is not better than a backup, the Jets have two guards to replace, which is one too many for their situation.
Assuming Landry is gone, our biggest priority would be finding a way to keep Moore and defensive tackle Mike DeVito. Neither should command a cap-busting deal and both are mature locker room influences, which this team is going to need to remain competitive through a transition.
That's not impossible. Remember, this is the NFL, where, if you take care of the ball, you can be alive into December. Nobody expected a thing of Eric Mangini's first team, which went 10-6, a reminder that unexpected things happen in pro football's short cycle. In the long run, though, the homegrown teams are the ones with perennial expectations.