FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In a matter of a few hours on Tuesday -- Bloody Tuesday, we'll call it -- the New York Jets' ongoing rebuilding plan took a sharp turn in another direction.
Their GPS has a new destination: Tanksville.
I hate to invoke the 'T' word -- tanking -- but this sure looks it. David Harris and Eric Decker, both of whom were informed that they're no longer wanted at One Jets Drive, are solid players who could've helped the Jets in 2017.
But that doesn't seem to matter anymore. This team is more concerned about 2018 than anything else.
The Jets' plan (if it really is a plan) is to go young, develop talent and, if necessary, draft the best available stud quarterback in 2018 -- their 2017 record be damned. You had a feeling they were moving in this direction based on the March roster purge, but this latest action confirms it.
A somber Mike Maccagnan, who had an evening sit-down with reporters to explain the bombshell moves, was asked about the tanking scenario. His response was tepid.
"That's not something we're focused on," the general manager said. "We're focused on making decisions that will help this team going forward."
To me, this reeks of owner Woody Johnson trying to save money. By dumping Harris and Decker, who will be released or traded by the end of the week, Johnson will save $13.75 million in cash payroll. He probably figures the team is going to be miserable anyway, so why not save some money?
Money aside, the overriding theme is that Johnson has put coach Todd Bowles in an almost impossible situation. It's one thing to dump an aging player with a prohibitive contract (Darrelle Revis) or a young player with a bad attitude (Calvin Pryor), but to fire two proven veterans on June 6?
There's a fine line between rebuilding and tearing down for the sake of tearing down. This is the latter. The Jets are also undercutting the coach's chances of succeeding. This is an ominous sign for Bowles, who has to feel helpless.
"It's not like they're going behind my back when they're making decisions," Bowles said, playing the good soldier and insisting that these were "organizational" moves.
Sorry, I'm not buying that.
Bowles doesn't have final say over personnel, but he should have some input on key decisions. If the coach stands on the table for a player, as I believe Bowles did with Harris, why not defer to the coach? This tells me there could be a disconnect in the organization. Mark my words, this will be a big story as the season unfolds. Bowles is trying to win now to save his job, and his bosses are thinking big picture.
Let's examine what unfolded Tuesday, starting with Harris.
It made no sense from a football perspective, and it was a lousy way to treat a loyal, classy player who rarely missed a day of work in 10 years and never -- repeat, never -- got into any trouble off the field. Harris was one of Bowles' favorite players, and no one can convince me that Bowles was in favor of this move. He was stung by it, and it was written all over his face.
First of all, the Jets don't have an obvious replacement on the roster. Darron Lee and Demario Davis, re-acquired last week in a trade, aren't "Mike" linebackers. Bowles mentioned Davis, Bruce Carter and Julian Stanford as candidates to replace Harris. Give him credit for keeping a straight face when mentioning Stanford, a marginal player who might not make the roster.
Harris' salary -- a non-guaranteed $6.5 million -- wasn't prohibitive. The Jets easily could've kept him on the roster because, let's face it, it's not like they've been paying top dollar for talent this offseason. Why not just carry the $6.5 million?
"That's a good question," Bowles said.
The Jets made it about money by approaching Harris about a pay cut a few days ago. They should've done that in March; that would've been better for both sides. Because Harris was in the final year of his contract, there was no cap benefit to waiting. Why wait until early June?
"That's a good question," Bowles said again.
The NFL is a cold-blooded business, and there isn't much loyalty among players and owners, but there's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. The Jets opted for the latter with Harris, as they fired a future Ring-of-Honor member after the eighth OTA practice. Harris deserved better.
On paper, Harris didn't fit the youth movement, but you can't have a team filled with young players. You need some wise heads to lead the transition, and Harris would've been ideal because he has no ego. Ditto for Decker, who was the Jets' top receiver. Now their top receivers are Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson, who have a combined 122 career catches.
It's going to be a long, painful season.
Check that: It's going to be longer and more painful than you first thought.