For the first time in his five-year tenure, New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan can spend his week at the NFL scouting combine without having to worry about the quarterback position. It means he won't have to scrutinize every pass during Saturday's throwing drills and he won't have to break bread with quarterback agents who want to leverage his desperation into an astronomical, free-agent pay day. Maccagnan has Sam Darnold, and that is a good thing.
Now he can focus on the other 147 or so items on the week's to-do list.
Over the next six days, Maccagnan will be one of the busiest NFL executives in Indianapolis, site of the league's most important offseason event. The combine is more than 40-yard dashes and three-cone drills; it's a massive job fair in which teams and agents hold clandestine meetings to discuss potential contracts. By the time they leave early next week, the teams usually have a pretty good idea of the market for certain players. The actual signing period begins March 13.
With $102 million in salary-cap room and nearly half his roster poised to hit free agency, Maccagnan's itinerary will be hotter than the shrimp-cocktail sauce at the legendary St. Elmo's Steakhouse in downtown Indy.
This could be a make-or-break offseason for Maccagnan, who will attempt to rebuild his rebuilt roster. He accomplished his No. 1 goal last offseason, securing a long-term answer at quarterback, and now the new objective is to put a playoff-caliber team around him. The beauty of the situation is the Jets have a ridiculous amount of roster flexibility, and it will be fascinating to see how they use it. By the start of the season, it wouldn't be a surprise if they have a 50 percent roster turnover -- staggering, even by today's standards.
The Jets have a league-high 26 unrestricted free agents, counting the three players whose options they declined to exercise -- nose tackle Mike Pennel, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis and safety Terrence Brooks.
Of the 26, they don't have anyone worthy of a franchise or transition tag. They also don't have an absolute, must-sign player, although there are several they would like to bring back. That group includes a couple of Pro Bowl specialists -- kicker Jason Myers and kick returner Andre Roberts. They also have varying degrees of interest in defensive tackle Henry Anderson and cornerback Morris Claiborne. Notable veterans such as running back Bilal Powell, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, cornerback Buster Skrine, guard James Carpenter and nose tackle Steve McLendon don't appear to be on the high-priority list.
For Maccagnan, the most pressing matter is whether to engage in the Antonio Brown trade talks. Knowing the Jets' reputation for checking out everyone and everything, it's quite likely they already have called the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Jets decide to make an offer for the uber-talented but headache-inducing wide receiver, they will face formidable challenges. They can't trade their first-round pick because it's too high (No. 3 overall), they have no second-round pick and they play in the AFC. The Steelers reportedly prefer to send him to the NFC.
What the Jets do have are a couple of third-round picks and a receiver with some (not much) trade value, Robby Anderson. Don't be surprised if they slow-play the situation, waiting to see if the Steelers' asking price drops. Brown, not worth the potential distraction (just one man's opinion), has hurt his market value with his behavior. Still, the Jets are desperate for an offensive playmaker, which is why some league insiders expect them to show interest.
Ditto on Le'Veon Bell, the free-agent running back who would take pressure off Darnold. He, too, comes with baggage, but he's only 27 -- four years younger than Brown -- and would require no trade compensation, just money. Lots and lots of money. It would be a surprise if the Jets don't make an offer, but it's unclear how high they're willing to go. Would they go as high as $15 million a year for a running back?
Maccagnan and new coach Adam Gase have to decide what kind of team they want. Do they want to spend big money on talented players with me-first attitudes or do they want to build with homegrown players that exhibit team-based intangibles?
This much is clear: Maccagnan has to do a better job in free agency than last offseason. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson disappointed, center Spencer Long was released three weeks ago, running back Isaiah Crowell could be next, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor didn't last the season and ... well, you get the point. The best bang for the buck came from Roberts, linebacker Avery Williams and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was traded for a third-round pick.
Remember, the Jets went into last offseason with about $100 million in cap room. After all that spending, they finished 4-12. They need to flip that script, and it starts this week in Indianapolis.