<
>

Jets can't wait to clean up this mess

In the New York Jets' caste system, Calvin Pace and Bart Scott were old money. They represented the extravagant spending years of 2008 and 2009, respectively, when the Jets attacked free agency with a red-hot checkbook.

To sign Pace, they outlasted Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins in a bidding war. They practically threw themselves at Scott, showing up on his doorstep at midnight for the first minute of free agency.

As a result, they overpaid for both, throwing crazy money at a couple of average-to-solid football players.

The meter stopped running Tuesday, when the Jets released Pace and Scott in anticipated salary dumps. The two linebackers walk away from owner Woody Johnson's mint having collected about $30 million apiece.

What did the Jets get in return? Pace and Scott combined for zero Pro Bowls and zero championships. They contributed to a couple of playoff defenses, including the unit that led the league in '09, but this was a clear case of the bang falling well short of the buck.

Let this serve as a cautionary tale for new general manager John Idzik. You can't buy a championship. Proof: The top seven spending teams last season all failed to reach the playoffs, according to an ESPN study.

Eventually, the credit card bill arrives in the mail, and right now it's sitting in the Jets' mailbox. They were $23 million over the salary cap, and now they're about $7 million under the cap after cutting Pace, Scott, Jason Smith and Eric Smith.

The Jets will create more room by reworking some contracts, but don't get too excited. Only 10 starters from last season are under contract, meaning they have a lot of holes to fill and very little money to do it. This transition period -- go ahead, call it "rebuilding" -- will be painful.

The Jets' bill would be more palatable if they had a Lombardi trophy in the display case, but all they have are fond memories of a couple of playoff runs and a handful of lead-weight contracts.

It's up to Idzik to clean up the mess. Based on his early comments, he believes in building through the draft -- the "lifeline," he called it. Recent history supports his philosophy. The most recent Super Bowl champions -- the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers -- constructed their rosters primarily through the draft.

This especially holds true for quality quarterbacks. The Jets' front office has studied this very closely, determining that only five winning quarterbacks (in their opinion) weren't drafted by their current team -- Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Matt Schaub.

Idzik's predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, believed in a quality over quantity approach, so he traded drafts picks -- lots of them -- for higher picks and established veterans. It's a costly way of doing business with little margin for error. You miss on a high pick, and you end up paying significant money for a quick fix that didn't work.

In recent years, Tannenbaum started to move away from the big-ticket free agents, opting to reinvest in his own players. In fact, Scott was the last blockbuster free agent – a six-year, $48 million contract, including $22 million in guarantees.

Midnight madness, indeed.

Coach Rex Ryan wanted Scott in the worst way. He had coached him for several years with the Ravens, and he wanted Scott to follow him to New York and be the centerpiece of his defense.

Tannenbaum wanted to please his new coach, so he let Scott's agent take him to the cleaners. This should be another lesson for Idzik: Be wary of Ryan's personnel recommendations, especially now that he's entering a make-or-break season. Ryan can be quite persuasive, but it's on Idzik to keep an eye on the big picture.

Truth be told, the Jets were interested in the Ravens' true star linebacker, Ray Lewis, who also was a free agent that year. They sent feelers to Lewis' camp, discovering there was virtually no chance of convincing the future Hall of Famer to leave Baltimore.

Scott never came close to equaling Lewis as a player or a leader. A solid contributor in '09 and '10, Scott brought a much-needed swagger to the defense, but he wasn't an $8 million-a-year linebacker. He was awful in the 2010 AFC Championship Game, and it went downhill from there.

By last season, Scott was bitter, criticizing fans and picking fights with reporters -- a loudmouth whose time had passed. He played hurt, demonstrating toughness, but he was an ineffective player who failed to raise the play of those around him.

He was no Lewis, but who gets the last laugh? Scott walks away with $30 million, not bad for someone whose bark created more headlines than his bite.