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New Jets GM Mike Maccagnan not afraid to spend in free agency

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan addresses the media

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan addresses the media during a press conference on Jan. 21, 2015 in Florham Park, N.J. Credit: Getty Images / Rich Schultz

INDIANAPOLIS - Say what you will about deposed general manager John Idzik and his ill-fated two-year run with the Jets, but he left his successor with a pretty sweet deal in his first year running the front office. If you're Mike Maccagnan, you have to like what Idzik left behind.

Flush with more than $40 million in salary-cap room, which Idzik squirreled away by dumping Darrelle Revis' contract two years ago and being frugal with free-agent signings, Maccagnan says he'll be active on the open market to increase the talent level on a team that is better than their 4-12 record would suggest. And with the sixth overall pick and a shot to get a marquee player at the top of the draft -- possibly even Oregon's Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota -- this is heady stuff for a first-year general manager.

The trick, of course, is to make sound decisions about the players you do decide to sign and draft, which is no small feat in a league that is riddled with failed decisions on players. But it's all right there for Maccagnan, who delivered what has to be music to Jets' fans ears when he proclaimed the following during an interview Wednesday at the NFL Combine:

"We will be very active in free agency. Whether that's with the high-dollar guys, I would think we're going to be potentially in that market. We'll also be in the middle and lower-tier market. We have a lot of cap space. Our thing is to maximize the return on that cap space."

Idzik's big splash last year was a $36-million deal for wide receiver Eric Decker, who isn't a true No. 1 receiver and wasn't the dramatic upgrade the Jets needed at the position. Idzik wanted to draw from his experience in Seattle, which relied on a host of successful draft picks from GM whiz John Schneider and built a Super Bowl champion within four years. But Idzik didn't hit on quarterback Geno Smith like Schneider hit on Russell Wilson, and his two drafts weren't deep enough to make the Jets competitive in a division dominated for more than a decade by the Super Bowl champion Patriots.

Maccagnan now has a chance to replenish the talent pool with a blend of free agents and draft picks. Flush with cap space, Maccagnan can make a run at Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas if Denver doesn't work out a deal with the Pro Bowl star. Or he can bring in dynamic running back C.J. Spiller from Buffalo. Or Denver tight end Julius Thomas. Or Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. And maybe a veteran free-agent quarterback such as Josh McCown, whom the Jets met with Wednesday morning.

Or maybe even Revis, who is likely to test the market after playing on what was essentially a one-year deal with the Patriots.

Maccagnan doesn't have to overspend on free agency -- we've seen far too many teams make the mistake of trying to buy a championship -- but getting three or four quality players is certainly doable. And there's still money left over to re-sign core players such as defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and linebacker David Harris.

"Overall, we're going to try to make every position as competitive as we can," he said. "We're still very early on in the process, so whether it's via the draft or free agency, that's where we're going to focus our attention."

And even though Maccagnan isn't at a spot in the draft where he's guaranteed to come away with either of the top two quarterbacks -- Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston, who appears to be the favorite to go first overall to the Buccaneers -- Maccagnan is in a good spot with a top-10 pick.

"The No. 6 pick is a nice pick to be at," he said. "At the end of the day, I don't think we're going to lock ourselves into looking at one position to go out and basically get. I think that's where a lot of teams become undisciplined and make mistakes because they force the picks. At No. 6, if someone slides down to you, you may be sitting there with a really good player, or another team may want to come up to your pick. Or, if you feel there's a player who is exceptional that you want to go chase, then you have the ability to do that."

Maccagnan and new coach Todd Bowles will be looking carefully at the top prospects this week, and their hope is to come away with a franchise-caliber player with their top pick, and then hit on a few players later in the draft. Maybe they get Mariota. Or a defensive star like USC tackle Leonard Williams, or a pass rusher like Nebraska's Randy Gregory or Dante Fowler Jr. of Florida. Or one of the draft's top receivers like Alabama's Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker of Louisville or Kevin White of West Virginia.

Plenty of choices, but most of them good for a first-year general manager who figures to benefit from what the last guy left behind.

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