With plenty of salary-cap space to spend, the New York Jets are instead searching for bargain buys in free agency.
This year's approach to team building through free agency has mirrored last year's approach. Instead of making big splashes, the Jets have taken fliers on several players who have shown flashes of talent but have been unable to string it together for one reason or another.
The latest addition is cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who signed with the Jets on Tuesday:
According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, the deal is for one year at $3 million. That's yet another prove-it deal for general manager John Idzik and the Jets.
Patterson, 30, has battled injuries over the past few years, but he has played well in limited action. He was released by the Dolphins last month in a cap-saving move that gave the Dolphins $5.4 million in relief on the salary cap. He quickly ascended the depth chart and started six of the eight career games he played in Miami after being picked up off waivers from the Cleveland Browns.
In that respect, this is the quintessential Idzik signing. His injuries have held him back, but if he can stay healthy, the signing could really pay off. That being said, signing Patterson will hardly make up for missing out on top-tier free-agent cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Vontae Davis, both of whom visited the Jets and left without contracts.
The Jets' approach has caused some to call them cheap. ESPN's Rich Cimini offered his take:
Right now, the Jets have the lowest cash payroll in the NFL—$86.1 million, according to overthecap.com. We're not talking cap dollars, we're talking actual cash spending for 2014. They're $50 million under the top-spending team, the Baltimore Ravens. The paltry number makes the Jets seem like the New York Mets of the NFL.
...The Jets flirted with several big-name free agents (Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), but missed out, in part, because they failed to show them the money. (Pardon the Jerry Maguire-ism.) What conclusions can be drawn? Either the Jets are cheap or Idzik is budgeting for the future. It's probably more of the latter.
With several "prove it" deals, Idzik is taking a systematic approach to free agency that is keeping the team from having long-term money invested in their signings. Idzik's strategy also gives the Jets the flexibility to make a big splash if the opportunity arises.
Some of his low-risk, high-reward contracts have already worked out. The Jets signed guard Willie Colon to a one-year, $1.2 million deal last offseason and have re-signed him to another one-year deal worth $2 million this offseason. Another example is safety Dawan Landry, who was brought in on a two-year, $3 million deal last offseason and has been a valuable starting safety.
In many ways, Idzik has been the antithesis of former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who just couldn't wait to make long-term commitments to free agents.
It's no coincidence that Idzik has had to dump several of those contracts. Last year, it was Calvin Pace, Bart Scott and Sione Pouha, and this year, the Jets have already cut Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie.
Those bad contracts—and the subsequent cap hell the Jets were left in as a result—were the main reason Tannenbaum was fired following the 2012 season.
Clearly, Idzik will not allow himself to suffer the same fate as Tannenbaum.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases. All salary-cap and contract information provided by Spotrac.