After tying the bow on a surprising 8-8 season, the New York Jets head toward the offseason on an uncharacteristic high note.
Jets owner Woody Johnson has already announced that head coach Rex Ryan will return for his sixth season at the helm, allowing general manager John Idzik to transition into phase two of his rebuilding plan.
The Jets have several key needs this offseason, most notably at wide receiver and safety. New York also needs to add an exterior pass-rusher and tight end. Idzik figures to address a majority of the Jets' pressing needs in the draft, although New York will likely be active in free agency because of sizable space.
The Jets' front office brass will make a handful of personnel decisions based on its salary cap situation this offseason. The most obvious early-cut candidate is former starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is expected to be released before earning his workout bonus in March.
Cutting Sanchez would save the Jets an estimated $8.3 million, enabling the team to be a tad more aggressive in free-agent negotiations. According to NYJetsCap.com, the Jets are roughly $25 million below the projected 2014 salary cap heading into the offseason.
A favorable cap situation will influence which players the Jets opt to cut ties with this offseason. For some players, the writing is already on the wall.
The following slideshow examines five players other than Sanchez who the Jets shouldn't bring back this offseason.
Embattled wide receiver Santonio Holmes is the first member on the chopping block, despite the Jets' blatant lack of talent at offense. Holmes has been plagued since suffering a Grade 4 Lisfranc injury in Week 4 of the 2012 season.
The former Super Bowl MVP simply isn't worth the obtrusive headache he induces on Jets coaches, let alone the paycheck. Holmes was an essential non-factor for a majority of the 2013 season, recording 20 receptions for 415 yards and a touchdown.
He was embarrassingly slotted as the Jets' No. 1 receiver on the official depth chart at the conclusion of training camp, but seldom saw the field.
According to Seth Walder of NY Daily News, Holmes is open to reworking his contract to help the Jets' payroll situation, but it's highly unlikely for Idzik and Co. to be swayed by Holmes' desperate generosity.
Holmes will turn 30 before minicamps as an unemployed and formerly overpaid player. The Jets' most pressing need this offseason is receiver, but Holmes is not part of the solution.
Outside linebacker Calvin Pace earned a reprieve after initially being released last offseason. He didn't disappoint upon being granted an opportunity to revive his career, registering 52 combined tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2013.
Pace demonstrated veteran leadership throughout the season while achieving a career high in sacks. But at 33 years old, it's time for the Jets to permanently cut ties with the seasoned veteran.
Youth is an integrated segment of Idzik's long-term plan for success in New York. Pace is simply obsolete.
The Jets' middle-aged linebacking core needs to get younger. David Harris anchors the inside with DeMario Davis, who played up to expectations this season despite being unspectacular.
For the Jets to effectively shore up their pass-rushing ability on the exterior, they need to draft an outside linebacker. Pace isn't part of Gang Green's future.
Kellen Winslow was a solid stop-gap in the 2013 season, recording 30 receptions for 354 yards and two touchdowns.
The banged-up veteran stood the test of sustaining his health all season, displaying some degree of durability.
Winslow was perplexed by a lack of significant playing time throughout the season though. He was also suspended midseason for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, forcing him to miss four games.
Winslow was fierce on the playing field and overly active on social media, openly making AFC Championship Game predictions.
Tight end is a high priority position of need for the Jets this offseason. Winslow doesn't figure to be part of the team's future, igniting the likelihood that the 30-year-old veteran won't be re-signed.
Former Super Bowl champion Ed Reed was marginally effective after being claimed off waivers by the Jets earlier this season. Reed registered nine tackles, three passes defended and two interceptions in six games for New York.
Reed served a leadership role in his brief tenure in Green & White.
His much-needed presence in the locker room and on the field took some pressure off first-year starter Antonio Allen, who received a bulk of the playing time at free safety after winning a training camp battle with Josh Bush.
At this point, holding onto Reed would stall Allen's potential development. The Jets should also be able to find better options in free agency and via the draft.
Reed is a future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, but he is no longer a big-time contributor.
Drop-prone receiver Stephen Hill is officially a draft bust. Hill recorded below-average numbers in 12 games this season, averaging 14.3 yards per catch on 59 targets with one touchdown.
Hill was slotted as the Jets' No. 2 receiver on the depth chart, but he failed to eclipse expectations.
Hill was dubbed the Jets' most improved player during training camp, showcasing sharp route-running ability while seemingly decreasing his tendency to drop the football.
Hill seldom displayed big-play ability, pulling in less than 50 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. He noticeably lacks chemistry with rookie signal-caller Geno Smith, making him expendable this offseason.
Hills boasts electric athletic ability, but he hasn't developed into the type of player the Jets expected him to become when they used a second-round pick to draft him.
Gang Green is better off starting anew at wideout than continuing to desperately try to develop players like Hill, even though he isn't a salary-cap issue.