General managers will tell you it's one of the hardest decisions they have to make, knowing when to say goodbye to a popular player whose skills have succumbed to Father Time -- or knowing how to handle the phasing-out of that player. The Yankees are experiencing something like that now with Jorge Posada, and it's not pretty.
The Jets have made several tough decisions in recent years on older players, decisions that seemed unpopular at the time they were made. For the most part, GM Mike Tannenbaum and his staff have been on the money, although these calls are harder to evaluate in football than baseball because of the team nature of the sport.
Right now, Tannenbaum has a few of those decisions on his plate -- namely DE Shaun Ellis, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, QB Mark Brunell, FB Tony Richardson and LB Jason Taylor. From all indications, the Jets have decided to keep Tomlinson, almost 32, for one more season. The same goes for Brunell, 40, but that could come back to bite them if something happens to Mark Sanchez. It looks like Richardson, 39, is a goner. Ellis, almost 34, is up in the air, depending on his contract demands as a free agent. Taylor, 36, is a long shot to return.
Let's take a look at some of the Jets' recent over-30 cuts:
• NT Kris Jenkins. Because of injuries and salary, this wasn't a tough decision. The Jets have a solid nose tackle in Sione Pouha, and they feel they drafted Jenkins' long-term replacement, picking Kenrick Ellis in the third round. Verdict: Jury still out.
• RT Damien Woody. Again, this was dictated by injuries and salary. This was riskier than the Jenkins move because, as of now, there is no proven replacement. They're gambling on Vladimir Ducasse. Verdict: Jury still out, way out.
• LG Alan Faneca (2010). This was controversial, risky and unconventional. The Jets ate $5 million to cut a potential Hall of Famer, asking a couple of unknowns -- Ducasse and Matt Slauson -- to battle for the job. The Jets suffered in the short term, as Slauson experienced major growing pains, but he settled down. Faneca started every game for the Cards, but he wasn't the Faneca of old -- and he knew it. It probably factored into his decision to retire last week. Verdict: A win for the Jets.
• RB Thomas Jones (2010). Another unpopular decision. Jones was coming off a career year, but he faded toward the end of the '09 season and Jets felt he was almost out of gas and not worth his $5 million salary. Jones was a productive player last season for the Chiefs, rushing for 896 yards, but his yards-per-carry dropped significantly, from 4.2 to 3.7. The Jets replaced him with Tomlinson, who rushed for 914 yards, a 4.2 average and provided a new dimension to the offense as a receiver. Verdict: Win for the Jets.
• WR Laveranues Coles (2009). They parted ways with one of the best receivers in team history after a 70-catch season, thinking young WR Chansi Stuckey could step in. The Jets were right about Coles; he showed little in '09 for the Bengals, finishing with 43 catches and a 12.0 average. Stuckey wasn't the answer, and they went out and traded for Braylon Edwards a month into the season. Verdict: A win for the Jets -- but a costly, delayed win.
In recent years, the only aging player who thrived after being released by the Jets was C Kevin Mawae, who was cut after the '05 season. In 2008, at the age of 37, Mawae was named All-Pro for the Titans. It's hard to quibble with this decision, though, because the Jets replaced him with Nick Mangold, a first-round pick in '06. He was All-Pro in '09 and '10.
QB Chad Pennington is borderline in this category. He was 32 when he was released, but it wasn't about age; it was because Woody Johnson developed a man crush on Brett Favre. And, yes, the Jets got burned in '08 because Pennington led the Dolphins to the division title and the Jets ... well, you know the story.
The Jets have released or traded several players that have gone on to success elsewhere -- Danny Woodhead, Leon Washington, Jonathan Vilma, John Abraham,Kerry Rhodes, et al. Most of those moves were dictated by contract demands and scheme changes. They were all players in their prime, but at least the Jets received something in return -- in most cases, anyway.
But when it comes to the outright dumping of older players, the Jets usually know what they're doing.