New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan used a "Gang Green" approach to upgrade the team's starting lineup. He threw plenty of green (money) at the problem -- $179.33 million in free agency, to be exact -- and it worked.
The spending spree solidified a secondary with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine and safety Marcus Gilchrist, whose contracts are worth a combined $154.5 million. Maccagnan also invested wisely in guard James Carpenter, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level on a four-year, $19.1 million deal.
Maccagnan's best deals, though, came via trades: a fifth-rounder for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and a sixth for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both have been terrific -- Marshall with 89 catches for 1,187 yards and Fitzpatrick on pace for a 3,851-yard season. That duo has helped propel the Jets to 8-5 and, potentially, a playoff berth after the team finished 4-12 last season.
This type of improvement is unusual for big spenders in free agency. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles dropped $127.4 million on unrestricted free agents. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ronald Brown were the headliners from that group. Eagles quarterback Vince Young called it "The Dream Team."
He was dreaming. The Eagles went from 10-6 to 8-8. The 2014 Buccaneers followed a similar pattern, dropping from 4-12 to 2-14 after pacing the free-agent market.
So what gives? Are the Jets starting a new trend in free agency? The answer is no. The Jets' moves were all in an effort to give first-year coach Todd Bowles a short-term fix, while the team rebuilt the back end of the roster. It was a smart philosophy, as they had a favorable schedule, with the AFC East playing the NFC East and AFC South (the Jets are 5-2 against those teams).
Organizationally, everyone knows much more work is ahead even if the Jets make the playoffs. They'll have to continue to find talent through the draft; 2015 first-rounder Leonard Williams looks like a terrific pick. New York now has 10 starters in their 30s, including quite a few at key positions -- linebacker (David Harris and Calvin Pace); tight end (Kellen Davis); offensive line (D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Breno Giacomini); and cornerback (Cromartie and Revis).
Cromartie, 31, will most likely be released during the offseason to free up cap room. The Jets' main priority will be to stockpile young talent -- and retain some key vets -- without breaking the bank. If the cap is at $155 million next year, New York will be around $20 million under.
Bowles has already said he would like to sign Fitzpatrick, who will expect to make more than $5 million per year. The Jets will most likely have to franchise Muhammad Wilkerson. That will eat up over $15 million of the 2016 cap. And they also have to re-sign running back Chris Ivory.
So the math will be a little trickier this time around -- and so will the schedule. The AFC East has to play the NFC West and the AFC North. Finishing second in the AFC East this season means the Jets will most likely play the Kansas City Chiefs and whatever team finishes second in the AFC South in 2016.
As long as the Jets can keep Fitzpatrick, they should be around eight to 10 wins next year. The team is loaded along the defensive line (Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams) and in the secondary (Revis, Skrine, Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor).
Bowles should again have a defense that allows less than 20 points per game. Fitzpatrick gives them a chance on offense. And with a good base built from this year's acquisitions, the Jets might be on their way to sustaining their success from this season.
It turns out Gang Green worked.