“Longtime kicker Nick Folk, right tackle Breno Giacomini released by Jets.” That is the notification that came up on my phone several hours ago when my favorite NFL team, the New York Jets, began cutting back roster to clear salary cap space before free agency and the draft in the coming months. As a fan of a team trying to rebuild, this is exactly the news I wanted to hear.
While Folk and Giacomini are decent players, they are both on the wrong side of 30 and frankly, are paid too much for how they’ve performed. By releasing the two players, the Jets opened up $7.5 million dollars in cap space and I expect them to do more of the same in the next few weeks, given the lack of roster talent and number of older players with excessive contracts. That is how the business works, unfortunately for some players, but it is the right first step for a team trying to rebuild its roster. The second step? The draft.
Think for a minute about how all of the best teams in the NFL have built and molded their rosters. The Super Bowl champions New England Patriots, for example, have consistently grown so through the draft. They occasionally look for a free agent here or there, but will almost never splurge to bring in a big name. The Pats always stockpile picks and choose all the right guys on draft day, while also finding players that didn’t succeed elsewhere to fit into the Belichick system.
The Dallas Cowboys have done something similar. Their offensive line, the most dominate in the league, is a product of utilizing high draft picks to win in the trenches. Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith were all first-rounders and are among the best at their positions in the entire league. Furthermore, the Cowboys have used the draft to find franchise players at the skill positions, such as running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receiver Dez Bryant and quarterback Dak Prescott.
The same goes for the Green Bay Packers, a team that has relied on the draft as a team-building philosophy over the years. In fact, general manager Ted Thompson signed only eight unrestricted free agents from the time he took over the job in 2005 (and drafted Aaron Rodgers) through March 2016. The list goes on and on. This is how the best teams build their rosters.
Thus, this suggests that the quintessential method of rebuilding NFL franchise is dumping the contracts of declining veterans and filling the roster with cost-effective free agents until a young core is established. Very rarely do you see this done differently.
This past year’s New York Giants’ roster was loaded with free agents, which led them to the playoffs. And would be true, to some extent. The offseason additions of Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon were huge for the Giants’ defense, which was among the best in the league. Although they were all great signings, truthfully they were probably overpaid to ensure that they would sign and could cause cap room problems in the future.
On the other hand, some of the team’s best players such as Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins, Jason Pierre-Paul and, Eli Manning have all been crucial to the team’s core and were drafted without having to be too overpaid in free agency. Teams who commit too much to free agency, as the Jets did over the last few years always end up having to dump the older, more expensive players, often leave the roster devoid of talent when the money dries up.
Therefore, it is huge that the Jets are starting to get rid of the excessive contracts on their roster. In addition to Folk and Giacomini, they could release longtime center Nick Mangold, linebacker David Harris, receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and future Hall-of-Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis. Releasing all these players would open up an extra $30 million or more in cap space, allowing the Jets to start the roster overhaul with draft picks and undrafted free agents.
A few months ago, I wrote a column on how the best way to find a franchise quarterback was to draft at least one quarterback during the annual NFL draft. Ultimately, the methodology of building works the same way. You just have to keep going through the draft and put all the resources into scouting the right guy, while dumping the contracts that take up too much cap room. I can only hope the Jets continue to do so and start drafting the right pieces to finally, truly rebuild the franchise.