Dramatic look at how Jets flipped top of roster in 16 months

The Jets' top-10 salaries are younger and cheaper than they were in 2016, and the overall roster GM Mike Maccagnan has assembled could contend soon. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets ended the 2016 season with an old, overpaid team that suffered from a serious talent deficiency. The powers-that-be expected the playoff-contending window to stay open that year, but it came crashing down with such force that it shattered the glass.

They decided to start over, but instead of another half-baked rebuild -- the story of the Jets' history -- they really meant it. What we've seen over the last two offseasons has been nothing short of dramatic. If this were a book, it would be entitled, "How to Overhaul a Football Team in Only 16 Months."

The Jets will report to training camp in a month with a team that barely resembles the not-so-sweet '16 group -- only seven holdovers among the starting 22. General manager Mike Maccagnan flipped the roster, and the best way to appreciate that is to heed the famous line from "All the President's Men."

Follow the money.

In 2016, seven of the 10 highest-paid players on the team (based on cap charge) were in the 30-and-over category. It's always dangerous when you invest in players on the downside of their careers, as the Jets painfully discovered.

Three of the 10 were so close to the end they're now retired -- Nick Mangold, David Harris and Ryan Clady. Darrelle Revis appears close to retirement, Eric Decker is looking for work and Brandon Marshall is barely hanging on, hoping to make the Seattle Seahawks' roster in training camp.

In essence, the 2016 Jets were built on a faulty foundation, with cracks galore and no hope of withstanding the inevitable storm. At that point, Maccagnan made the only logical decision: He tore it all down, tossing out big names and big salaries with such cold-blooded conviction that he appeared to be tanking.

The current top 10 has a radically different look because there's only one holdover (Buster Skrine) and only one player is north of 30 -- Josh McCown, who turns 39 on July 4. The average age of the top 10 is 28.7, down from 30.5 in 2016. The current combined cap charges account for 40 percent of the salary cap, down from 54 percent.

The Jets are a younger team with a healthier cap situation than two years ago.

Just missing the top 10 this year are Leonard Williams ($5.9 million) at No. 11, Sam Darnold (a projected $5.5 million) at No. 13 and Jamal Adams ($5.1 million) at No. 14. They represent the future of the Jets, and they will ascend into the top 10 next year.

Younger and cheaper doesn't always mean better. The Jets' retooled roster went 5-11 last season, same as the old, creaky and occasionally dysfunctional team in 2016, but only someone in a vacuum would put any stock in that comparison. It was Year 1 of a massive rebuild and nobody expected them to win five games.

The real question is whether this year's version of younger and cheaper will exceed 5-11. Vegas has the over-under at six wins. While the team still has some obvious deficiencies, there's no reason why it can't win more than six, especially with a favorable schedule on paper.

"It's always going to be about progress," CEO Christopher Johnson said after the season, adding that his goal is "to be like one of those great franchises that seem to go from year to year to year and they are there for a decade. We want to be in that conversation."

Chances are, the top of the roster will have a different look in 2019 because 10 of the Jets' 17 highest-paid players will be unrestricted free agents, including seven on offense. With a projected $90 million in cap room, the plan in Year 3 is to pour money into the offense, which should have the most important piece in place -- quarterback Sam Darnold.

Realistically, the Jets need one more productive draft and another free-agent cycle before the roster is ripe for contention. That would constitute a three-year plan, which should be enough time to get it right.