The surprise isn’t so much that the Jets released David Harris today. It’s the way they went about doing it, which was savage, even by the NFL’s frosty standards.
It’s one thing to dump high-priced veterans and to start over; that’s clearly the flight path the Jets have laid out for 2017, and this sort of transaction is a common enough occurrence in a salary-capped NFL anyway. It’s another to shitcan your longest-tenured player and a future team Ring of Honor member three months after the start of free agency, long after his best options to find other work have dried up. The Jets can’t even tank properly.
Harris has quietly been one of the Jets’ few longstanding bright spots, though that’s not to damn him with faint praise. He’s spent all 10 years of his NFL career with the Jets, and he’s missed one game in the last eight seasons. Harris is exactly the sort of heart-and-soul “leader” coaches love to yammer on about. His presence resonated. He was respected by his teammates and coaches; he was beloved by fans. He never had an off-field issue. While he’s certainly on the decline, he was still playing well enough to be the Jets’ best linebacker. “Without him,” head coach Todd Bowles said two years ago, toward the end of what would be a 10-win season, “I don’t know where we’d be.”
The 33-year-old Harris was due to earn $6.5 million this year, though none of that was guaranteed. The Jets instead will save that same amount against the salary cap, but that’s not the point. They’d already spent the early part of the offseason whacking virtually every other dude on the roster over the age of 30, including big names like Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Marshall. But they waited till June 6 to do the same with Harris, even after they’d made a serious push to land potential replacements like Dont’a Hightower and Tony Jefferson early in free agency. They also didn’t bother to draft an inside linebacker. (The Jets are reportedly set to sever ties with Eric Decker, too, but the 30-year-old receiver is coming off shoulder and hip surgeries.)
ESPN’s Rich Cimini spoke to Harris today and reported that Harris seemed to have no idea he was about to get cut. Adam Schefter broke the news maybe 20 minutes later. Even Bowles, who was left to face the media instead of GM Mike Maccagnan, seemed caught off guard. Why now, Bowles was asked during a subsequent press conference?
“That’s a good question,” he said, according to a recording of the presser provided by the Jets. “Talks broke down. I wasn’t in those meetings. It happened abruptly.”
Those meetings were to discuss a possible pay cut. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, citing a source, said the Jets never approached Harris about a reduced salary back in March, when his agents would have preferred such a discussion. Those agents later released this statement:
“Very disappointing in the timing of this event and the decision. The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months, especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years.”
The real lesson here?