Commentary

Penny-pinching? No, it's four-sight

Jets saving up to re-sign their Core Four -- but they'd better make progress soon

Updated: June 10, 2010, 11:11 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The Jets have been criticized for making unpopular, seemingly financially driven player moves -- namely the dumping of Alan Faneca and Thomas Jones. Now, with Darrelle Revis upset and others chirping about wanting new contracts, the Jets are being accused of pinching pennies (in this case, millions) because of unsold PSLs in the new stadium.

That's a stretch.

The Jets are executing a game plan, and the crux of that plan is to re-sign their version of the Core Four -- Revis, Nick Mangold, David Harris and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a league source familiar with the team's thinking said Saturday. The club has "allocated enough money" to get all four players locked up to long-term deals, the person said.

While the person acknowledged the Faneca and Jones moves were motivated, in part, by finances, the idea was to take the savings and re-invest the money in their younger foundation players. They'd better save up because, according to league executives, the Big Four will cost at least $100 million in guarantees.

[+] EnlargeNick Mangold
Geoff Burke/US PresswirePro Bowl center Nick Mangold wants a new contract -- by the start of the season.

Critics will argue that, in an uncapped year, money should be no issue. Owner Woody Johnson, in a recent interview with ESPNNewYork.com, admitted the Jets are operating from an internal budget, but he claimed they're no different from other teams. He described it as "a pretty hardy budget in the NFL. I don't know if it's the highest, but we're spending quite a large chunk."

The Jets' top 51 players account for approximately $104 million in 2010 payroll, 18th-highest in the league, but they will soar up the rankings as soon as they re-sign one of their key veterans. Presumably, that will be Revis, as the Jets seem to have made him their No. 1 priority.

In fact, spending is down throughout the league. Only 51 unrestricted free agents have changed teams, the lowest number in the free-agency era, according to sources. The previous low was 85 in 1997.

Because of tighter free-agent restrictions and conservative spending, only 11 UFAs have landed deals averaging $4 million per year or more. The Washington Redskins have signed a league-high nine UFAs, but those contracts averaged only $970,000, sources said.

That's bargain-basement shopping, typical of the climate around the league.

The Jets are severely restricted in free agency because of the "Final Eight" rules, which won't be lifted until July 24. Basically, it's a lose-one, sign-one situation. They lost kicker Jay Feely to the Arizona Cardinals and signed linebacker Jason Taylor from the Miami Dolphins.

Johnson said "it's pretty much a miracle" that, considering the restrictions, they were able to acquire veterans such as Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson, who was a "street" free agent after being released by the San Diego Chargers. Cromartie and Holmes arrived in trades.

In the coming months, the Jets will be under pressure to satisfy their top players. Revis was a no-show for Thursday's voluntary practice because he's unhappy with his negotiations. He wants to be the highest-paid cornerback in the league -- about $16 million per year -- and there appears to be a huge gap in negotiations.

Revis has three years remaining on his current contract for a total of $21 million, assuming the Jets exercise a buyback for 2011 and 2012. The Jets are showing no sense of urgency, and they still have two months before training camp.

They're proceeding with caution, in part, because of the uncertain future of the collective bargaining agreement. But they're also taking a big risk because Revis is their best player and is revered in the locker room. T he organization would take a PR hit if it alienates their most valuable defensive player.

Mangold and Harris are entering the final year of their deals; Ferguson is signed through 2011, but the final year is a $10 million option.

Mangold has been a good soldier, showing up for practices and saying the right things, but he's privately seething, according to a source. The All-Pro center, hinting he might consider a training-camp holdout, said he wants a new deal by the start of the regular season.

The Jets have been saving for this rainy day. It's not pouring yet, but the dark clouds are gathering.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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