No team in the NFL entered the offseason in a greater salary-cap predicament than the New York Jets. In one fell swoop (well, technically, five fell swoops), the Jets went a long way toward remedying their situation.
Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Jason Smith, Eric Smith and Josh Baker were all released by the Jets on Tuesday, cutting approximately $32 million from the team's cap for the 2013 season. That's enough of a savings to get New York out from the red -- the Jets were an estimated $23 million over the projected salary cap prior to their pink-slip bonanza.
Before we dive deeper into what it all means, a quick check into the players sent packing Tuesday:
• Bart Scott, LB: An outspoken member of the Jets for the past four seasons, Scott recorded just 60 tackles in 2012, his lowest total since he was a backup in Baltimore almost a decade ago.
Scott reportedly was set for a Thursday meeting with the Jets, at which point the two sides were expected to discuss a pay cut -- Scott was due $8 million in 2013. However, New York pulled a preemptive strike.
• Jason Smith, OT: Smith's release adds gives him another boost in the race for biggest draft bust ever. The No. 2 pick in 2009 had no chance at collecting a pending $12 million roster bonus after spending last season behind Austin Howard on the depth chart. Smith saw sparing use as an extra tight end, but that was hardly enough for the Jets to keep him around.
The Jets originally acquired Smith in a trade with the St. Louis Rams prior to the 2012 regular season. New York sent tackle Wayne Hunter to St. Louis, in exchange for the underachieving Smith.
• Eric Smith, S: Smith played 329 snaps last season (64 more than Jason Smith), and on a team with a friendly cap situation might have stuck around in a backup role.
• Calvin Pace, LB: Pace rated out as the Jets' worst defender in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus, so the decision to cut him loose and save upwards of $8.5 million was an easy one.
• Josh Baker, TE: The throw-in cut from Tuesday's bloodletting. Baker tore his ACL during last preseason and did not play a game in 2012.
So, where does all of this leave the Jets?
For starters, they now have a tiny bit of money with which to operate, so they can get to work deciding which of their in-house pending free agents are worth keeping. Tops among those names are left guard Matt Slauson and safety LaRon Landry, though both still may be outside the Jets' price range.
The big mystery moving forward now is if any of the money freed up here will go toward Darrelle Revis. The Jets' standout cornerback has been the subject of trade talks as he seeks a lucrative long-term deal.
Tuesday's cuts hit the linebacking corps most deeply -- Scott and Pace combined to start 29 games last season. With OLB Bryan Thomas also up for free agency, New York could be looking at three new starters at linebacker (and David Harris, the fourth starter, probably will wind up restructuring his contract).
Demario Davis, a 2012 third-round pick, could get the first crack at replacing Scott. He brings precisely the mix of youth, potential and financial feasibility that a cash-strapped rebuilding team like the Jets need.
The Jets' placement at No. 9 in the draft's first round should provide them a chance to find a 3-4 linebacker or, if they so choose, a safety -- Eric Smith, Landry and Yeremiah Bell all could be lost at that position by draft time.