Nick Mangold, the center of the Jets' offensive line for more than a decade and "a cornerstone" of the franchise, in the words of owner Woody Johnson, is the latest casualty of the Jets' most recent attempt to rebuild.
The 33-year-old Mangold was officially released on Saturday in an expected, but still difficult move. He called it a "sad day" in his farewell post on Twitter, after being released by the only team he's played for since the Jets drafted him in the first round back in 2006.
"While this is a sad day to leave so many great coaches, teammates and executives, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for me," Mangold wrote. "My family and I will always be grateful to Mr. Johnson and the entire organization for making me a Jet.
"I truly want to thank the fans for their amazing support over the past 11 years," he added. "It meant a lot to see all the #74 jerseys in the crowd every Sunday. Thank you all for a fantastic 11 years."
Mangold said near the end of the season that he wanted to play again in 2017, but he surely wasn't surprised by the Jets' decision. After being one of the most durable Jets for a decade, the seven-time Pro Bowler missed half a season last year with an ankle injury.
It didn't help that the Jets need to continue to clear salary cap space so they can attempt to fill the many holes on their roster this March. Mangold, who was due to make $6.075 million in the final year of the seven-year, $54 million contract he signed back in 2011, and cutting him clears $9.07 million in salary cap space off the Jets books.
But as much as the Jets need that cap space as they attempt to rebuild after a disappointing 5-11, season, they know how much they've lost by letting Mangold go.
"For the past 11 years, Nick Mangold has been a cornerstone of our team both on and off the field," Johnson said in a statement released by the team. "As our Pro Bowl center, Nick consistently demonstrated superior skill and unmatched toughness. Equally important, off the field Nick exhibited respect, sensitivity and compassion for the causes he supported."
"A great person, a great player," Jets coach Todd Bowles added. "You could always count on Nick's smarts, consistency and poise."
Cutting Mangold leaves the Jets with somewhere around $16-20 million in salary cap space, though the exact number won't be known until the NFL sets the actual cap. And more could be coming soon with players such as receiver Brandon Marshall (with a salary cap number of $7.5 million), receiver Eric Decker ($8.75 million), and cornerback Darrelle Revis ($15.3 million) potentially on the chopping block.
Whatever cap space the Jets clear, though, some of it will now have to go to finding Mangold's replacement. The most logical candidate is Wes Johnson, the 26-year-old who filled in so well for Mangold last season. The 6-foot-5, 297-pounder, a former fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a restricted free agent. Those tender numbers haven't been set by the NFL yet either, though the least expensive RFA tender in 2016 was $1.671 million.
Johnson is expected to be tendered by the Jets.
The Jets, meanwhile, have now said goodbye to 3/5 of what was their projected starting line at the beginning of last season. On Thursday they cut right tackle Breno Giacomini, and last week a team source said the Jets did not pick up their 2017 option on left tackle Ryan Clady.
As for Mangold, the 29th overall pick of the 2006 draft, he will surely end up in the Jets' Ring of Honor some day. After taking over for Kevin Mawae, who was the Jets center from 1998-2005 and is a possible future hall of famer, Mangold made the Pro Bowl seven times in an eight-season stretch from 2008-2015 (missing only in 2012) and was a first team All-Pro twice (2009, 2010) and a second team All-Pro once (2011). Prior to last season, the 6-foot-4, 307-pounder had missed just four of 160 regular-season games in his first 10 NFL years.
"Decisions of this magnitude are always difficult, but even more so with someone like Nick who has meant so much to this organization," GM Mike Maccagnan said. "We appreciate not just his on-field contributions, but the imprint that his mentality and approach to the game leaves on this team."