AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) – David Harris was just the latest veteran player shown the door in what has been an offseason purge by the New York Jets.
Eric Decker will be the next to leave. And, there could be more to come.
On a dreary Tuesday that will be remembered by Jets fans for fond farewells to two of their favorites, Harris was released and Decker was told he will be traded or cut . The two moves will save the Jets $13.75 million in salary cap space.
“These are tough decisions to make on all of our players,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said. “Going forward, we have a situation where we have some flexibility now. We’ll see how that unfolds going forward.”
Harris and Decker join what has become a lengthy list of veterans who have been sent packing during the past few months. That includes cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, kicker Nick Folk, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini and safety Marcus Gilchrist, who were cut; Calvin Pryor, who was traded last week to Cleveland; and quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith, who were allowed to become free agents.
Both Harris and Decker participated in practice during organized team activities on Tuesday. A few hours later, coach Todd Bowles confirmed that Harris had been cut.
The playmaking linebacker’s release was a stunning move in which the team parted ways with one of its most-productive and well-respected players. The team and the second-round draft pick out of Michigan in 2007, second on the franchise’s career list in tackles, had been discussing a salary reduction.
“They didn’t come to an agreement and we didn’t come to an agreement, and it led to this,” Bowles said. “It wasn’t an easy time. David has been a Jet all his life. He … bled green.”
The move was particularly surprising because of Harris’ status as the Jets’ longest-tenured player – and it being so late in the offseason.
In a statement released to The Associated Press, Harris’ agents Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler called the timing of the decision “very disappointing.”
“The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months,” the statement said, “especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years.”
Maccagnan declined to disclose details of the negotiations between the sides.
“You go through this process and there’s always different times to do things,” Maccagnan said. “I don’t know if there’s a good or a bad time to do this, but this is obviously something we discussed as an organization.”
Nicknamed “The Hitman” for his knack for making big tackles, the 33-year-old Harris had at least 113 in every season but his second, when he had 87 after missing six games with an injury. He ranks second to only Kyle Clifton (1,471) on the team’s career list with 1,260 tackles, according to stats compiled by the team.
Harris has never been a flashy guy off the field, preferring to keep out of the New York spotlight despite his status as one of the Jets’ best players in recent years. His humble approach made him a favorite of teammates and fans alike.
“For a decade, David Harris represented the Jets with character and professionalism,” owner Woody Johnson said in a statement.
“He held himself to the highest of standards and always carried himself with a quiet dignity and humility. While these decisions are always difficult and the timing is not ideal, David will always be a Jet, and I appreciate his leadership and passion.”
Decker’s departure will save the Jets $7.25 million on the cap, but leaves Quincy Enunwa as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
Decker, 30, had 163 catches for 2,183 yards and 19 touchdowns in three seasons with the Jets, although he was limited to just nine receptions for 194 yards and two TDs in three games last year because of a shoulder injury. He had his torn rotator cuff repaired last November – just over a month after having surgery on his hip, which had also been ailing him.
Decker appeared to be recovering nicely this offseason while participating in organized team activities the past few weeks, although he sported a red no-contact jersey during team drills.
“We think very highly of Eric,” Maccagnan said. “Our focus right now is seeing our young players and how they do. We wish Eric, going forward, a lot of success.”
Other than Enunwa, the Jets have several unproven receivers on the roster, including Robby Anderson, Jalin Marshall, Charone Peake and the recently drafted ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen.
Despite the overall lack of top talent on the roster, Maccagnan insisted that tanking this season for a top draft pick – which is becoming a growing sentiment among fans – is “not our focus.”
“It’s going to be a competitive roster,” Maccagnan said. “There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for a lot of players on this roster and that will play itself out over time. We’re doing things that we feel are going to help this organization both short and long term.”
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