FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Jets' offseason purge has unexpectedly claimed another victim -- and Todd Bowles doesn't seem happy about that at all.
David Harris, a 33-year-old linebacker and perhaps the last remaining veteran leader on the Jets' increasingly young defense, was released on Tuesday, shortly after participating in what turned out to be his final practice with the team. He was cut after what Bowles described as a "breakdown" in talks about a pay cut from the $6.5 million salary he was due this season.
It happened "abruptly," the Jets coach said. And it did not appear to be a move that Bowles thought should be made.
"It was an organizational decision," a stone-faced Bowles said about an hour after the news broke. "We didn't come to an agreement and eventually it led to this. It wasn't an easy time. David has been a Jet all his life. He was born and bled green. Obviously he's a guy that was very well liked in the building by management, coaches and players alike.
"(But) it's part of the business. It happened at a bad time. There's never a good time to have this happen."
Harris' agents, Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler, weren't happy with the decision either -- especially the fact that it happened this late in the offseason, and after Harris participated in the Jets' voluntary organized team activity (OTA) on Tuesday. In a statement released to ESPN, the agents said they were "very disappointed in the timing of this event and the decision."
"The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months," the agents said, "especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years."
It was hardly a classy way to treat a veteran player who will likely end up in the Jets Ring of Honor some day. Not only did the 33-year-old Harris participate in the voluntary practice on Tuesday, but he even did an interview in the locker room afterward, apparently unaware of his fate.
Asked why the Jets didn't make the move before practice, Bowles said "I think they were still negotiating and trying to work something out. Evidently it didn't work out."
And asked why the Jets felt $6.5 million was too much for Harris, Bowles seemed to be wondering that himself.
"That's a good question," Bowles said. "We, as an organization, decided (that). We sit down in a room at the round table and voice your (opinion), but you come out of the meeting on the same page."
"That'll probably be a question for somebody else at a later date."
That "somebody" clearly was GM Mike Maccagnan, who apparently was the one who made this decision (or at least convinced Jets owner Woody Johnson to let him make the move). Maccagnan wasn't made available to address the decision on Tuesday, but he's been the architect behind the Jets' entire offseason locker room purge.
Harris, with a cap number of $6.5 million that is now completely off the Jets' books, was once thought to be a target in that purge. But when he survived the initial round of cuts, it seemed like the Jets would keep him around as the "quarterback" of their defense and a mentor to young players who needed someone to guide them in their early years in the league.
Now the Jets will have to go with second-year pro Darron Lee and the newly reacquired Demario Davis (in a trade from Cleveland for veteran safety Calvin Pryor) at the inside linebacker spots. That will definitely make the Jets' defense younger and less expensive. But are they a better team?
"I think we're a different team," Bowles said. "(But) that remains to be seen."
Clearly, Bowles was not in favor of this seismic move. He made that clear by the number of times he explained it as "an organizational decision." Harris was a personal favorite of his, and he knows his young team will desperately need leaders. It's hard to see Bowles signing off on this decision just to save a relatively small amount of salary cap space.
"I'm in favor of what we decided as an organization," Bowles said. "I'm part of that organization, so I'm in favor of that, whether I agree or disagree. As coach, management, owner, when we leave the room we're all on the same page. So yes."
It's likely Bowles' players won't be as agreeable when the news reaches them, since Harris was as popular with them as he was with the coaches. Not only will the shabby treatment of Harris not go well amongst the players, but it should send shockwaves to several high-priced veterans.
There aren't many of them remaining, but players receiver Eric Decker (with a cap number of $8.75 million) and cornerback Buster Skrine ($8.5 million) can't feel too comfortable. The same goes for defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson ($8.069 million), whom the Jets have been trying to trade since last year.
Harris certainly has plenty of company on the list of Jets players cast aside this offseason. The team has released receiver Brandon Marshall, cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold, kicker Nick Folk, and tackle Breno Giacomini, while declining to pick up options on tackle Ryan Clady and linebacker Erin Henderson.
But Harris -- who remarkably never made the Pro Bowl -- matches Revis and Mangold as the most accomplished Jets on that list. A second-round pick out of Michigan back in 2007, Harris has missed just six games in his 10-year career and he had 1,087 tackles, 35 sacks and six interceptions.
And in perhaps Bowles' most telling statement, when he was asked if he thought Harris still had some quality football left in him, the coach said "Yeah, I think he does."
"I don't think he declined," Bowles said. "I think he was still sharp mentally. I think he was still a tough player. Obviously speed, if you're in the league 10-plus years, you're going to lose that no matter who you are. But I think David is still a quality player."
That just wasn't enough to keep him on Bowles' team.
It's always a sad day to see the longest-tenured Jets players get let go and we've had a number of them in the last 18 months. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and now David Harris - the last real ties we had to the "good old days" of the playoff contending Jets. Harris has been nothing short of a fantastic contributor to this team over the last decade-plus. I will always remember the way he exploded onto the scene in the 2007 season as a replacement for Jonathan Vilma; once he took such clear control of the inside linebacking position, there's been no looking back. In that time, Harris never made waves; there was never news for anything but his contributions on the field ever since his rookie year.
The Jets have given lip service to competing in 2017, but I have to think the players that the Jets came away with in the 2017 NFL Draft have disabused them of that notion. After the Jets overhauled their safety position and then traded away Calvin Pryor (a worse version of their 2017 top pick) for Demario Davis the handwriting was on the wall with Harris.
At this point there's no way for the team to frame themselves as contenders. For the Jets to let Harris go this far into the offseason is - at the very least - troubling and sends a mixed message not only to their players but also to the fans.
This move is far too similar to the way things went down last year with D'Brick. This was an issue that could have been hammered out before the start of free agency when players like Brick or Harris would have the best chance at catching on with another team, possibly even a team close to the Super Bowl. While Maccagnan and Bowles haven't been here a decade, Harris has been nothing but a positive influence on the team and for that they cut him loose in the beginning of June? Lame.
I also can't tell what Maccagnan is doing with this team. There seems to be no consistency, no rhyme or rhythm to his movements. Spend like drunken sailors to compete. Playing contract brinksmanship with Mo Wilkerson and Ryan Fitzpatrick before caving on the eve of training camp; reaching on Hackenberg; begging for trade partners for Sheldon Richardson before taking him off the block; pushing Eric Decker out the door in June when they could have already designated him as a post-June 1 cut. There's no larger purpose I can perceive. The Jets leadership just seems to be careening from one overcorrection to the next under their current GM. This is how fans blink and five years fly by.