Mike Maccagnan matter-of-factly suggested at last month's NFL Combine that the Jets would be aggressive when the free-agency signing period opened. When asked how he planned to deal with the impending opportunity to reshape his roster, Maccagnan replied, "We will be active in free agency. We have a lot of [salary] cap space. Our thing is, we want to maximize the return from the opportunity."
Three days into free agency, Maccagnan has done precisely that, taking advantage of a whopping $51 million in salary-cap space by splurging on cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, trading last week for Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, dealing for Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and re-signing linebacker David Harris and running back Bilal Powell.
It has been a dizzying week for Maccagnan and new coach Todd Bowles, and while we generally offer a cautionary note about teams that use free agency to fix their problems, all of the moves make the Jets a significantly better team -- at least on paper -- than they were at this point last week.
Success is never guaranteed in the NFL, and championships cannot be bought through free agency and trades. But with a sensible plan and plenty of money to work with, the Jets are in a good place.
They still need a championship-caliber quarterback and have to hope that Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who had his pro day on Thursday, somehow can either drop to them at No. 6 or be available in a trade.
But you can't build successful rosters overnight, so even if they can't get the blue-chip quarterback, there will be opportunities down the line to address the position.
In the meantime, the Jets have to hope that either Geno Smith can demonstrate significant improvement in Year 3 or Fitzpatrick can be an adequate game manager. Translation: The stopgap quarterback who will be good enough not to mess things up.
A few other observations as we sift through Maccagnan's spending spree:
What about Dee Milliner? Remember the cornerback the Jets drafted in the first round two years ago? Well, it's pretty obvious that after doling out a whopping $127 million for three free-agent cornerbacks, Maccagnan and Bowles have reservations about his health and his skill level. So what to do with an oft-injured cornerback who spent much of his rookie season being benched and is recovering from Achilles surgery? My sense is Maccagnan will let it play out and see how Milliner does once he's healthy. "If he comes back well from his injury, suddenly you have a good player in him," Maccagnan said at the Combine. "You have to kind of prepare for the worst-case scenario, but if you do get him back and he plays well, if we go out and address that position and he comes back strongly, it just makes that position stronger. I will say this with cornerbacks: You can never have enough good ones. I'd be very happy if we had a surplus at that position."
Cromartie still can play. The Jets shouldn't have let him go in the first place, especially with a chance to keep the cornerback for a little more than $3 million, which he settled for with the Cardinals. Cromartie still is a top cornerback, and with Revis back, he'll be that much more effective. And if his play deteriorates before his four-year, $32-million deal expires, the Jets can get out from under it with minimal salary-cap implications.
Thank you, John Idzik. The former general manager was a lightning rod for criticism, especially last year, but he actually left the Jets in tremendous fiscal shape and set the stage for his successor's early spending binge. Idzik's plan was to build through the draft, similar to what the Seahawks did when he worked in their front office. But Smith didn't develop as hoped, and many of his other draft picks weren't at the same level as Seattle's ultra-talented, ultra-young roster. The plan was right, the execution was flawed, and Idzik was sent on his way -- but not before leaving Maccagnan with an ideal salary-cap situation.
Quarterback concerns. The position will continue to be an issue, but Maccagnan's plan is to eventually draft a stud passer and go from there. Whether it's Mariota this year or a top prospect next year or the year after remains to be seen. Regardless, the fact that drafted players are much cheaper to develop means that the GM's spending spree won't hamstring the Jets' salary-cap situation. Unlike the Ravens, who had to shed players once they re-signed Joe Flacco, and the Saints, who are doing the same largely because Drew Brees takes up an inordinate amount of cap space, the Jets have flexibility with no major quarterback investment in the near term.
Put it all together, and the Jets are in good shape. Certainly better now than they were before Maccagnan started putting Woody Johnson's millions to good use.