It fits with the general narrative of Jets history that their trip to the AFC Championship Game comes with a catch. As one of the final eight teams standing in the NFL this season, the Jets are going to be saddled with serious free agency restrictions if the league and the players union don't come to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before March 5th.
Since there's a better chance of the Israelis and Palestinians joining together for a lavish musical production of "Hair" than those two sides ironing out their differences, that means the Jets will have to swallow the rules. They'll be barred from signing unrestricted free agents unless they lose one of their own and then they can only sign them for equal or less money. There are also restrictions about which players you can trade for, although those are bit more convoluted. They can sign any player who has been released and any player designated as a transistion player or restricted free agent, but they'd lose draft picks in either of those cases.
It's not all bad news. There's no salary cap for the 2010 season, which means they won't be forced into a choice on Thomas Jones earlier than they're ready to make one, and several of their own players -- Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, Leon Washington -- won't be unrestricted free agents.
The rule that makes those players restricted free agents serve to limit the total pool, so it's not like there are superstars around every corner. It would be easier to live without the restrictions, but it was never going to be easy to find the edge pass rusher or starting corner the team needs. The best news of all, however, is that Mike Tannenbaum is their general manager.
Not every move Tannenbaum has made over the years has worked out, but he's won more than he's lost and he's showed a willingness to go out on a limb to make the moves he thinks will help the team. That's helped to create a very clear plan about who the Jets are as a team and how to get there. His hands may be cuffed this offseason, but it's a good bet he'll find a way to fill the team's needs one way or another.
Compare that to Omar Minaya, to name another local general manager, and you see how lucky the Jets are. Minaya and the Mets have all the freedom in the world to implement a strategy of team building, but fail to do so over and over again for one reason or another. The mechanisms to build a winner in the two sports are very different, obviously, but the basic job description is the same.
The Jets did a fine job of building themselves to win now while setting themselves up for the future. These restrictions shouldn't do anything to damper the anticipation for next season as long as Tannenbaum is the man calling the shots.