Brian Winters would've been one of the better guards on the free agent market and he could've cashed in even bigger than the four-year, $29 million deal he got from the Jets.
But instead of looking for more money and maybe a better situation, the 25-year-old Winters decided to stay put because he believes that, despite the misery of the Jets' 5-11 season, there are much better days for the franchise ahead.
"I really like what the Jets have going here and I want to be a part of that," Winters said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. "I know how the locker room is. I know what kind of talent we have in the locker room. Especially in the o-line room we have a great group of guys.
"I feel like I was a part of something and I want to continue that. I've been here my whole career and I don't really feel I needed to go anywhere else. I just wanted to build on what we have."
There is no doubt that the Jets considered Winters to be one of their building blocks as they begin the process of rebuilding themselves into a contender. It's why they gave him a deal that a source confirmed is worth $7.25 million per season with $15 million guaranteed. That's about what many of the top free agent guards made last offseason, and probably slightly below what some of the top ones will make when free agency opens again in March.
Of course, Winters was also coming off shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, which he had on Dec. 23. He said the recovery time for that is 5-5 ½ months, which means he likely won't be ready for football activities until at least late May or early June. He surely knew that fact might hurt his value to other teams.
"There's always thoughts of that," he said. "But the injury I had wasn't a career-ending injury. It was a five-month recovery, so I wouldn't have missed much time. It didn't play into anything, but you always are thinking about that."
It helped, though, that the Jets didn't hesitate. Faced with an offensive line in flux, they quickly identified Winters as their top free-agent priority. They are almost certainly going to replace both their tackles, with Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini not expected to return and Ben Ijalana possibly gone via free agency. And long-time center Nick Mangold could be a cap casualty too.
But with Winters back, the Jets have some stability in the middle along with returning left guard James Carpenter. The Jets are also expected to tender restricted free agent center Wes Johnson who started eight games for Mangold last season.
As for Mangold, Winters called the 33-year-old center "a mentor" and expressed hope that the Jets bring him back - a possibility that seems like a longshot given Mangold's recent injuries, his age, and his $9.075 million cap number for 2017. Winters insisted that except for the ankle injury that hampered him last season, Mangold hadn't lost a step.
"He's like a fine wine. He just keeps getting better with age," Winters said. "Those ankle injuries aren't fun to play on. I obviously understand that part slowed him down. But before that, not at all.