By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You may have already penciled in two wins for the Patriots when they face the Jets in 2017, even before this week. But not only are the Jets light years behind the Patriots in their aspirations for the coming season, they may actually be in full-on tanking mode.
The Jets’ efforts to jettison any and all viably talented players off their roster has turned heads in recent days, leading some to believe that they are simply diving for the bottom of the barrel in the league in an attempt to secure a top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, if not No. 1. It even led a reporter to ask Jets GM Mike Maccagnan if the Jets are, indeed, tanking.
“That’s not our focus,” he said.
Maccagnan obviously wasn’t going to publicly admit that the Jets are purposely stripping their roster of any semblance of quality, but it’s hard to believe otherwise in the wake of their latest cuts. The team officially announced on Tuesday that they are releasing veteran linebacker David Harris, and also that they plan to release wideout Eric Decker if they cannot facilitate a trade.
The fact that the Jets are holding out hope for a trade shows that they know the 30-year-old Decker, who is coming off hip and rotator cuff surgeries after an injury-plagued 2016 season, could still give the team some value if they kept him around.
Decker played just three games in 2016, but earned a solid 78.5 grade from Pro Football Focus, while Harris earned a 77.6 (including a strong 80.2 for his coverage). Harris could have been considered pricey with his $6.5 million salary as a 33-year-old linebacker, but you can also expect both players to find new homes sometime between now and the start of the regular season. Maybe even the Patriots would be inclined to take a look at Harris, considering their murky depth chart at linebacker behind Dont’a Hightower.
The cuts will save the Jets $13.75 million in cap space, which they obviously don’t need for any practical reason in 2017.
Most importantly, the Jets’ quarterback situation is comprised of spectacularly mediocre journeyman Josh McCown (and those labels are being generous) along with future mediocre journeymen (if that) Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. Whether they have to compete against Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo – hell, even Ryan Tannehill – the Jets have to know by now that they need to get a damn quarterback for once in their lives if they want to contend in the AFC East for the foreseeable future.
The biggest reason that the Jets appear to be tanking is because USC quarterback Sam Darnold is being hyped up as the NFL’s next great franchise QB. He’s topping virtually everyone’s early rankings and being compared to Andrew Luck. He has the size, arm strength, and accuracy that is prototypical of high-end starting QBs. Other potential top picks in 2018 at the QB position include Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
The Jets don’t necessarily have a bad long-term outlook for the future, as 2017 first-round pick Jamal Adams could be the NFL’s next great safety. Third-year defensive end Leonard Williams also has big-time upside. But they won’t go anywhere without a quarterback, which is why they appear poised to flop around in the muck with the Clevelands and San Franciscos of the world for at least one year.
Are the Jets becoming a “Sham For Sam”? I also like “Lamb For Sam”. It certainly appears that they are leading themselves to an absolute slaughter.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.