FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In one afternoon, the Jets parted ways with almost two decades of NFL experience and close to $14 million.
Hours after the organization released veteran linebacker David Harris, general manager Mike Maccagnan confirmed they’ll cut wide receiver Eric Decker this week if a trade cannot be worked out.
That leaves Quincy Enunwa as the Jets’ new No. 1 receiver and Todd Bowles’ defense without a clear starter at middle linebacker. But Maccagnan insisted Tuesday night that the roster moves weren’t solely financially motivated and that the team isn’t tanking for a top pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
“That’s not our focus,” the GM said.
Harris, 33, signed a three-year, $21.5-million deal in 2015 that included $15 million guaranteed. By cutting their longest-tenured player, the Jets save $6.5 million in salary-cap space. Decker, 30, was due to earn a non-guaranteed $7.25-million salary in 2017.
So what message does their dismissal send to the locker room? Said Maccagnan: “It’s going to be a roster of opportunity.”
Curiously, Bowles said Tuesday afternoon that he was “not sure” if the front office had had any discussions with Decker about taking a reduced salary. But by the evening, a somber-looking Maccagnan told a small group of reporters in a boardroom at the team’s facility that he spoke to Decker about the impending move: “We will move forward without Eric” if there’s no trade partner.
Maccagnan also stressed that though he has the “utmost respect” for both players, the team’s focus “from Day 1 has been to build this thing through the draft . . . It’s going to be a competitive roster.”
Hours earlier, however, Bowles gave the impression that Harris’ release was strictly about money. “It was an organizational decision,” Bowles said, hours after Harris and Decker participated in OTAs. “They were talking about a salary reduction and they didn’t come to an agreement — or we didn’t come to an agreement, and eventually it led to this.”
According to Bowles, “talks broke down” recently between the Jets and Harris, one of the team’s most respected leaders and the franchise’s second-leading tackler (1,260). “David has been a Jet all his life. He bled green,” Bowles said. “Obviously, he’s a guy that’s very liked in the building.”
Though Bowles insisted the front office doesn’t make moves “behind my back,” it was evident he didn’t have all of the answers behind the contract impasse. Asked how it was possible Harris’ contract situation reached this point in June, Bowles replied: “That’s a good question.” And when pressed on the fact that the team isn’t currently in dire need of cap space, he again responded: “That’s a good question . . . I wasn’t in the meetings. It happened abruptly, obviously . . . I’m not doing the numbers, I’m not the salary guy. I don’t handle those types of things. I just coach the team. So that would probably be a question for somebody else at a later date.”
Harris, a second-round pick in 2007, spent 10 seasons with the organization. His streak of 121 straight games at middle linebacker was snapped in 2016 because of a hamstring injury in Week 6. Before that, he hadn’t missed a game since Nov. 30, 2008. Harris also was the last remaining player on the roster from the Eric Mangini era (2006-08). Freeport’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired before the start of the 2016 season and Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis were released in March.
Last week, the Jets traded safety Calvin Pryor to the Cleveland Browns for inside linebacker Demario Davis, their third-round pick in 2012. Bowles and Maccagnan said Davis’ return didn’t influence the team’s handling of the Harris situation, but Davis could end up being Harris’ replacement. Julian Stanford and Bruce Carter are also options.
Bowles acknowledged Harris’ release “happened at a bad time,” but said he was in agreement. “I’m in favor of what we decided as an organization,” he said, adding that “whether you agree or disagree, we’re all on the same page, so yes.
“I understand from a coaching aspect and I understand from a management aspect. So I’m on both sides of the fence and I see what everybody’s seeing . . . You voice your opinion, you hear everybody out and together you come at an agreement. And this is what the result was.”
In a statement to ESPN, Harris’ representatives, Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler, said: “Very disappointing in the timing of this event and the decision. The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months, especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years.”
The Jets have saved nearly $60M by releasing or trading these players since the end of the 2016 season:
Player, Pos. Games as a Jet Cap Savings
Nick Mangold, C 164 $9.075M
David Harris, LB 154 $6.5M
Darrelle Revis, CB 108 $9.3M
Nick Folk, K 104$3M
Calvin Pryor, S 44$1.6M
Breno Giacomini, G 37$4.5M
*Eric Decker, WR, 33$7.25M
Brandon Marshall, WR 31 $7.5M
Dee Milliner, CB 21—
Ryan Clady, OT 9$10M
*The Decker move has not been officially announced by the team.