Jets GM goes from executive of the year to pivotal year

One year ago, almost to the day, Mike Maccagnan was named NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. He was lauded for the roster moves that helped transform the New York Jets into a 10-win team in his first season as general manager. It was a Gary Sanchez-like debut. Then ...

The sophomore slump.

The NFL is a fickle industry, and no one knows that better than Maccagnan, who went from Magic Mike to Mediocre Mike in the eyes of some fans. That's what happens when you sit in the big chair at the head of the table.

"This is what you sign up for," he said. "It doesn’t matter what market you’re in. It’s a position where you’re going to be constantly evaluated and scrutinized. I think from my standpoint it’s [about] always going forward. It’s trying to make sure you make the right decision as best as you can and learn from the ones that may not have worked out as well."

Let's focus on free agency because that will be here before you know it. If Maccagnan learned anything from his first two swims in the free-agency pool, it should be this:

Save the long-term deals for those coming off their rookie contracts. Translation: No big money for old guys.

For the most part, Maccagnan avoided that in 2015 by signing James Carpenter, Marcus Gilchrist and Buster Skrine, all of whom hit free agency for the first time. Clearly, Gilchrist and Skrine haven't worked out as well as Carpenter, a terrific acquisition, but you'd rather be wrong on a player in his mid-20s than someone on the downside of his career. Maccagnan employed the same philosophy this week, signing pending free agent Brian Winters, 25, to a four-year extension.

The GM made two glaring exceptions -- one in 2015, one in 2016 -- and now the organization is paying the price because the contracts are hard to dump. We're referring, of course, to Darrelle Revis and Matt Forte.

Revis received a $39 million guarantee as a 30-year-old cornerback, with Forte landing $9 million at the same age, which is old for a running back. Revis slowed down last season and should be released, but he's still owed $6 million in guaranteed salary. Forte ran out of gas and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, but he still has a $4 million guarantee coming to him. The way his contract is structured, it would cost more to send him packing ($6 million cap charge) than to have him on the team ($5 million).

If the Jets decide to keep Forte and Revis for financial reasons, it could have a domino effect. For instance: Would they pass on running backs Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook with the sixth pick in the draft if they feel they have too much money tied up in Forte and Bilal Powell? You get the point.

There will be some big names in free agency, but Maccagnan would be wise to stay away from the older players. Invest in youth, the players getting their first bite at the free-agent apple.

Potential targets that fall into that category are tackles Rick Wagner and Riley Reiff; cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, A.J. Bouye, Logan Ryan and Trumaine Johnson; safety Tony Jefferson; and quarterback Mike Glennon.

These players will be in demand and land top-of-the-market contracts. Because of cap issues, the Jets may have room for only one or two big deals, so they have to be judicious with their money and take a long-term view.

The landscape has changed dramatically in only one year.