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Jets don't expect to be big players in free agency

Jay Feely #3 of the New York Jets

Jay Feely #3 of the New York Jets kicks against the Carolina Panthers at Giants Stadium. (November 29, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Jets have been handcuffed by their own success, finding themselves in a peculiar situation that tempers any enthusiasm about truly improving their team via free agency.

Thanks to the lack of a new collective-bargaining agreement and the rules governing an uncapped season, they face stiff restrictions along with the seven other teams that advanced to the NFL's divisional playoff round. Those limitations are even more stern for the Jets given they fall under rules associated with teams that advanced to the conference title games.

So that means unlike this time a year ago, when Rex Ryan showed up at Bart Scott's doorstep at midnight once free agency began to woo the linebacker, it's going to be nearly impossible for the Jets to stage a similar type of campaign when free agency commences at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow. They're hampered by the rules that accompanied their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.

"I think it's a penalty for sure," Ryan said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week. "Maybe you need a tight end, maybe you need - whatever it is - and you really don't have that ability to go out and get some of the top guys that might be available."

Essentially, the Jets can't sign an unrestricted free agent until they lose one of their own. They have six unrestricted free agents - led by kicker Jay Feely, defensive tackle Marques Douglas and fullback Tony Richardson - and none should command a huge amount of interest.

"We're prepared for the uncapped year," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said at the combine. "Our staff has done a great job going through all the rules. We're prepared . . . and when opportunities present themselves, we're going to try to take advantage of those. The rules are going to be a little different for us. We're embracing that challenge and we have to look at all different methods to improve the team."

There are certain contractual stipulations the Jets face when signing UFAs. The first-year salaries of any UFA they sign to replace any UFAs they lose can't exceed the lost player's salary in the first year of their new contract. There's also limits on the per-year increases of the contract, complicating matters even further.

But although they're long shots to sign any of the big-name UFAs, there are still other ways the Jets can add free agents, like via trade. They can also sign a player that's waived from another team, provided that player's contract extends beyond 2010. Additionally, they can ink a player who was tabbed with a restricted free-agent tag but wasn't offered a contract by their team.

For the most part, though, expect the Jets to be watching the bulk of the frenzy from the sidelines. The majority of their new additions will likely come from April's draft.

"We have to find a way," Ryan said. "I challenged our players, our coaches to find a way to get better, each guy get a little bit better and maybe that will be the difference. We have to build from within. That's the way this thing sets up. There won't be that much roster turnover from our football team, but we've got to find a way to get better and I believe we can.

"I think we will improve as much or more than any football team in this league and that's what I'm excited about."

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