John Idzik, New York Jets Struggling to Master Free Agency in 2014

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIMarch 20, 2014

Dec 8, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets general manager John Idzik before the game against the Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Working in a job that could not have been "given away," John Idzik thrived in his role as general manager of the New York Jets in his debut season.

The team may have been chained down by a series of bad contracts handed out to under-performing veterans, but Idizk was able to scavenge the basement floor of free agency and find hidden gems on a budget. Combined with a few strong moves in the draft, the Jets pulled off one of the most unlikely 8-8 seasons in recent history. 

The Jets survived the growing pains of a regime change. Freed of (most of) the contracts that suffocated their cap space, the Jets were poised to make their push in free agency with a slew of upgrades to an average roster that had some potential. 

A combination of a few swift strokes in free agency and a strong draft put the Jets in great position before the start of free agency.
A combination of a few swift strokes in free agency and a strong draft put the Jets in great position before the start of free agency.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

However, now that Idzik's role has inverted from playing scavenger hunt to playing with the high rollers, Idzik's inability to adapt to his new situation has left his team in almost the exact same place they were when the offseason started.

Rather than convert his team's newfound salary cap treasures into on-field gold, Idizk has cornered his own market because of his inability to adapt to this new high-spending environment.

The Jets were connected to as many free agents as any team in the league but were only able to land one significant upgrade over what they previously had at the position—Eric Decker. The only other foreign talent that was brought in was right tackle Breno Giacomini, who is nothing more than a stop-gap replacement for the departed Austin Howard.

The remainder of the Jets' moves did nothing more than help the team tread water and avoid disaster next season—hardly the original goal of a team that had so much promise at the conclusion last season. 

Jets Free 2014 Agency
Player LostPositionReplacement
Willie ColonRGWillie Colon
Austin HowardRTBreno Giacomini
Jeff CumberlandTEJeff Cumberland
Kellen WinslowTE?
Santonio HolmesWREric Decker
Antonio CromartieCB?
Nick FolkKNick Folk
David GarrardQB?

Most of the moves the Jets made were efforts to retain the same players that produced an 8-8 record last season. The Jets are treading water when they should be jumping out of the pool.

This is not to say they did not make an effort or upgrade their roster. They did—they just went about their business in a somewhat naive fashion, sticking to their ideals of getting excellent value on every free agent. As a result, the market passed them by while they waited for it to come to them. 

Vontae Davis was just one of many missed opportunities for the Jets in free agency.
Vontae Davis was just one of many missed opportunities for the Jets in free agency.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Right off the bat, the Jets were associated with some of the top free agents on the market, particularly at their biggest needs: cornerback and offensive skill positions. There was a "belief in league circles" that the Jets would walk away with one of the top cornerback prospects, whether it was Alterraun Verner or Vontae Davis. 

They had a slew of offensive targets in their sights as well, hoping to walk away with Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders

Hours passed. Days passed. All of their "targets" began to get snatched off the market by teams that did not have nearly enough funds or purpose to sign these players. The Jets' calculated, responsible approach to this offseason was turning out to be much harder than the "be careful in free agency" idioms claimed it would be.

New York's reluctance to stray from its plan came to a head in the team's "hunt" for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Despite showing massive interest in the player—who was the top player remaining at the position by a long shot—Idzik failed, once again, to adapt to the realities of the NFL marketplace. 

The Jets let Rodgers-Cromartie slip right through their fingertips to the neighboring New York Giants, and they could no longer pass off their ineptitude as diligence.

The Jets' failures in free agency could be summed up in how they fumbled their attempt to sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Jets' failures in free agency could be summed up in how they fumbled their attempt to sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets' initial offer to Rodgers-Cromartie was almost laughable—just over half of what the Giants, with much less cap space and lesser need for a cornerback, paid for him. 

This, however, was not a simple case of the Jets not "liking" a player all that much. The fact that they made an 11th-hour offer reveals that Idzik completely misread the market and compounded his mistake by not even being in Florham Park for Rodgers-Cromartie's arrival, per Kimberley Martin.

After all, if the Jets truly thought that Rodgers-Cromartie's contract with the Giants was far out of their price range, they never would have bothered to call back late at night like a desperate boyfriend. 

The Jets had every opportunity to get this and several other deals done, but they failed on almost every occasion. Now, the Jets are far behind schedule, as everyone surrounding Idzik knows. His actions, not his philosophy, cost the Jets dearly.

In truth, the Jets never should have been in this position in the first place. Waiting until the last minute to acquire a much-needed starter causes a team to reek of desperation, giving the player leverage and driving up the price. The Jets should have targeted a top cornerback right from the start and aggressively pursued them until they had a deal in place.

Losing out on one cornerback will not define Idzik's tenure as general manager. After a strong draft that featured the selection of four current starters (including the Defensive Rookie of the Year), Idzik has shown promise as a personnel man.

However, Idzik must learn from the mistakes he has made over the past two weeks if he is ever going to get the Jets out of the endless realm of mediocrity. He may have grand ideals to stick to his plan of not overpaying free agents, but at the end of the day, teams must pay top players to win championships—even if it means risking the misallocation of a few dollars.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

There is a long list of big-time free-agent acquisitions gone wrong, and Idzik is not wrong for not wanting to spend every penny of cap space on an all-out push for a championship. After all, one of the benefits of missing out on a player means that money is still available to sign someone else, either this year or in future years.

Still, Idzik, who has been around NFL personnel since his days as a personnel assistant in 1991 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, must realize that he does not operate in a vacuum. He may not be willing to pay a premium price for premium players, but other teams are, and he is going to have to compete with these teams if he is going to gets the Jets to their first championship since 1969.

Idzik's head is in the right place—overpaying for free agents is generally considered to be bad business. There are many more examples of free-agent deals ruining teams than ones that produce Lombardi trophies. However, Idzik's slow-and-steady approach will tire quickly if it results in a short-term setback next season.

Now, Idzik must be careful to avoid a reputation of being such a tough negotiator that other teams will put the Jets on the bottom of their visit list. The last thing the Jets need is a reputation for not being willing to pay players what they are worth, hurting their chances of landing visits early in free agency in future years. 

There is still a chance for Idzik to rebound this season—he is loaded with draft picks and the free-agency pool has not completely evaporated just yet. But to say his margin for error has minimized would be an understatement—he has a full count and can't afford to whiff on another fastball.

Clearly, Idzik has the Jets' best long-term interests in mind, but his mishandling of his salary cap treasures may result in a disappointing 2014 campaign for the Jets. As he will soon find out, any forgiveness he is given in the spring won't be in such great supply if the Jets are losing games in the fall. 



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