NEW YORK (AP) — As the New York Jets began their salary-cap purge Tuesday, they still faced their two most difficult offseason decisions: What to do with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
The Jets cleared about $31 million in salary cap space by cutting veteran linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace and three other players. Safety Eric Smith, backup offensive lineman Jason Smith, and tight end Josh Baker also were released Tuesday. The moves were expected because New York entered the offseason more than $20 million over the cap for the 2013 season.
They were the first significant personnel decisions made by new general manager John Idzik, who was hired to replace the fired Mike Tannenbaum last month.
Idzik will be plenty busy this offseason. The Jets are hamstrung by the contract of starting quarterback Sanchez, who is coming off a miserable season but is guaranteed $8.25 million next season. He would cost the Jets a $17.1 million cap hit if they cut him.
So Sanchez will almost certainly be back, unless the Jets can trade him. If Sanchez returns, he will likely have to compete for the starting job, and the Jets will be in the market for a quarterback in free agency or the draft.
Tebow, who barely played after being acquired from Denver in a trade last year, is expected to be released soon. The Jets advertised Tebow as a do-everything addition to their offense, but he rarely was asked to do anything by coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who since has been fired by Ryan.
Ryan praised the players released, particularly Scott, Pace and Eric Smith, who at various times were integral parts of a strong defense that slumped the last two years.
"Every one of these players was a major contributor to our football team," Ryan said. "I was very impressed with Jason this past season, while Bart, Calvin and Eric have been an instrumental part of our defense for the past four years. "
Scott, one of Ryan's favorite players and one of the league's top trash talkers, has been slowed by injuries and had surgery in the offseason to repair torn ligaments in his right big toe. The 32-year-old linebacker had just 60 tackles last year and saw his streak of 119 consecutive games end because of the toe injury.
Scott was due to make $6.9 million next season, and saves the Jets $7.1 million on the cap with his release. There's a chance Scott could come back at a lesser salary, but Demario Davis, the team's third-round draft pick out of Arkansas State last year, is expected to slide into Scott's inside linebacker role opposite David Harris.
Scott spent his first seven NFL seasons in Baltimore along with Ryan, and followed the coach to New York when Ryan was hired in 2009. Scott signed a six-year, $48 million contract, and was a playmaker in his first two seasons with New York, helping the Jets reach consecutive AFC championship games.
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