The Broncos painted themselves into a tight little corner with the way they managed the quarterback position in 2015. But at least they got a Lombardi in exchange for the long-term headache they are now staring at.
The Jets 2015 load-up resulted in another year without a postseason and possession of an aging bauble named Darrelle Revis who’ll consume $32M in cap space in 2016 and 2017 combined. The escape from New York this offseason – punctuated Friday morning by the surprising retirement of left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson – means the theoretical “gap” between the Jets and Patriots that was narrowing is widening once again.
The relevance locally is that the Patriots top divisional rival and biggest AFC rival are both in a state of flux. And that can’t be a bad thing for the Patriots who’ve lost just one free agent of consequence – Akiem Hicks – while adding a fleet of players with significant pedigrees.
The Ferguson retirement is the latest nick to the Jets roster. Already this offseason, the Jets have lost running back Chris Ivory and defensive lineman Damon Harrison as they entered free agency tight against the cap. They also low-balled quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and still haven’t enticed him to return. Ferguson’s retirement gives the Jets some freedom to up their offer to Fitz, but the irony is that the Jets on Thursday reportedly were asking Ferguson to take a pay cut to accommodate. He did them one better, wiping out his whole salary for the team while also creating a void.
Reportedly, the Jets understood the Ferguson retirement was a possibility and his decision wasn’t a reaction to the pay-cut request. Even if they knew it was coming, the reality means effort, time and money now need to be expended on a critical position at an inopportune time in the player-acquisition cycle. Oh, and meanwhile, the Jets have been shopping franchised defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, arguably their best defender.
A lot of this financial strife, in my admittedly narrow view, traces back to Revis. He turns 31 this offseason, he limped through a portion of 2015 and – while still very good – he’s in decline. But the Jets let themselves get played by Revis to the tune of $39 million guaranteed from 2015 to 2017 for the fleeting satisfaction of weakening New England and currying fan and media favor.
The Broncos are now paying for chasing short-term satisfaction as well. Quarterback-less, they are sliding down the mountain.
But at least Denver got to the summit before Peyton Manning retired and a pissed-off Brock Osweiler signed with Houston. At least they got the payoff before finding themselves in a position where they were checking on the status of Johnny Manziel.
Unlike the Jets, the Broncos seemed to understand the landscape they were creating. There was no “right” decision for John Elway and Gary Kubiak to make in December when Manning was ready to return and Osweiler hit some bumps against the Steelers and Chargers and got the permanent hook.
It’s hard to even say what the “safe” decision was. Choosing Manning meant fewer second-guesses from the Peyton-worshipping media, but it also meant casting everything invested in Osweiler and running the risk of alienating him. Which is what happened.
It’s unfair to say that the Broncos won “in spite of” Manning when he made the plays that he absolutely had to in the AFC Championship against a diminished Patriots team. But I still suspect Osweiler would have gotten at least the same results, especially the way the Denver defense played in its final two games.
The upshot of all this is that both the Jets and Broncos are worse off at critical positions than they were when the season ended.
This doesn’t mean the Patriots are geniuses. It means they have Tom Brady. His willingness take less than what the market would bear for his services means New England hasn’t had to face decisions like Denver and the Jets have faced multiple times since 2000. The Patriots have been insulated from a dynamic that every other team in the league deals with constantly.
Decisions would be harder to come by in Foxboro if it weren’t for Brady. As it’s turned out, they never really have to be made.