With one fell swoop, the New York Jets have nearly repaired their dire salary cap straits.
The New York Jets announced on Tuesday the release of linebacker Calvin Pace, safety Eric Smith and tackle Jason Smith.
Jets announce 3 veterans have been released--LB Calvin Pace, S Eric Smith, T Jason Smith--and TE Josh Baker has been waived.— New York Jets (@nyjets) February 19, 2013
UPDATE—2:29PM ET Tuesday, February 19
Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun has also reported that the Jets will release linebacker Bart Scott.
Jets have decided to go ahead and cut Bart Scott right now, per a league source.— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) February 19, 2013
The moves don't come as much of a surprise; all four players were identified as potential salary cap casualties on the AFC East blog a few weeks back.
Before the moves, the Jets were estimated to be around $20 million over the cap. With these four moves combined, the Jets unloaded $30.71 million off the salary cap, while only incurring a little over $4.5 million in dead money (according to Spotrac).
The exact numbers aren't known, but it's safe to say the Jets are now incredibly close to being in the green with regards to the cap, if they're not already.
All this to get rid of a swing tackle who played a total of 265 snaps in 2012 (24.1 percent), a 32-year-old inside linebacker whose replacement was drafted last year, a 32-year-old outside linebacker whose replacement is expected to be drafted this year, and a backup safety who has struggled to find a true role in the defense.
Unloading the money is great, but who fills those gaps in the lineup?
Linebacker Demario Davis was drafted in the third round, and the belief at the time was that he would eventually replace Scott. Davis played 315 snaps last year, while Scott played 582. The Jets sorely lacked speed at inside linebacker in 2012, so the move would be a welcome change.
If the Jets can't reach terms with free-agent safeties Laron Landry and/or Yeremiah Bell, Antonio Allen and Josh Bush would be their respective replacements. If the Jets want or need to find a third option, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called the upcoming draft one of the best safety classes he has seen in years.
There are other safeties set to hit the open market, but given the Jets' current cap situation, most of those players (and perhaps even Landry and Bell) could be out of their price range.
The Jets could also look to the draft to find a replacement for Pace. There have already been connections drawn between the Jets and Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan.
From this perspective, that would be a slam dunk. Jordan is a solid pass-rusher, but also has experience dropping into coverage, an area where Pace struggled.
Even if the Jets do not nab Jordan, they could find an answer in a later round. If they avoid the position completely, they will turn to Garrett McIntyre. He was not much better than Pace in his limited role (412 snaps compared to Pace's 1,026), but entering his third year, the Jets could decide it's time to see what he can offer on a full-time basis.
As far as the replacement to Jason Smith, new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the West Coast offense will probably not call for a sixth offensive linemen on too many occasions; tight ends would be more likely to fill the role of an extra blocker.
The reward for releasing the three veterans far outweighs the setback.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.