No Free Rides: Jets Need to Build Through Draft

Before making any personnel decisions, new Jets GM Mike Maccagnan would be well-advised to ask WWJD -- what would John (Idzik) do? -- and then do the exact opposite. For reasons we’ll never know, Idzik, who was deposed as Gang Green’s GM after a two-year run that would be best-described by words that can’t appear in this space, spent so little on the player payroll that the leftover salary cap room roughly equaled the GDP of a small country.

In fact, in both of his seasons at the Jets’ helm, Idzik ran afoul of the NFL’s “89 percent rule,” which mandates that franchises spend at least 89 percent of the available salary cap on their rosters. The punishment for violating the rule is unclear, but many Jets fans were hopeful that it would land their ex-GM a long jail sentence.

Maccagnan has said the team will be “very active” in free agency, although he added in his introductory press conference last week that “building through the draft is ideally what I’d like to do.”

Sounds like a good plan… at least the draft part. Concerning free agency, well, it’s very concerning. While it’s an effective way to fill holes with dependable players and add depth, depending too much on free agency --  especially when it comes to big-ticket personnel -- can kill a team faster than you can say Neil O’Donnell.

Just look at the two teams that will be lining up against each other in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Both the Patriots and Seahawks were built assiduously though the draft, and each franchise features an array of discoveries that have enjoyed far better careers than their draft position suggested.

Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, two of the best defensive backs in football, were both fifth-round selections. Five quarterbacks were chosen ahead of Russell Wilson in the 2012 NFL Draft, including Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler. New England WR Julian Edelman was a 7th round pick, and though he was drafted in the second round, Gronk -- the most dominant skill player not under center -- somehow wasn’t the first tight end picked in 2010. Oh yeah, almost forgot, 198 guys were selected before some kid named Brady in 2000.

Both teams have also studiously avoided big-money free agents and their often-disastrous long-term deals. Neither the Pats nor the Hawks have a free agency acquisition that ranks among the 35 highest-paid players this season. Darrelle Revis, whose $12 million compensation ranks 39th (although his cap hit is significantly lower, at $7 million) was smartly signed to a one-year deal by Bill Belichick, who obviously wanted to see what Revis had left after his season-ending injury with Gang Green in 2012 and an up-and-down campaign for the Bucs in 2013. If Sherman wasn’t the NFL’s best cornerback in 2014, Revis surely was.

Coming off a four-win season, the Jets obviously have plenty of holes to fill, and free agency will undoubtedly play a key role in the rebuilding process. But smart drafting is what sets the best teams apart.  

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