The NFL is a cold world, with very little loyalty. And for veteran linebacker David Harris, he’s finding out the hard way.
The defense’s linchpin is getting released by the Jets, just days after the team reunited with linebacker Demario Davis, who arrived from Cleveland via the Calvin Pryor trade.
Harris, who was in the final year of his three-year, $21 million contract, was widely regarded and revered for his services — and for the way he was there for the Jets through thick and thin.
The fact that he played one of the game’s most physical positions and played every snap from 2009-2015 was like a badge of honor to him. But that’s no longer the case, as the team received some flexibility in the linebacker unit with the addition of Davis.
This season would’ve been Harris’ 11th in green and white, but the Jets felt it was time for a change — and time to save some change.
The releasing of Harris will garner the Jets approximately $6.5 million in valuable salary cap space. He was slated to earn said $6.5 million this season and the team reportedly tried to work out a pay cut despite none of that salary being guaranteed.
When those talks broke down, Harris got the ax outright, meaning this transaction has the smell of a cost-cutting move.
Head coach Todd Bowles didn’t seem too happy with the Harris release but didn’t rock the boat, either. He noted the release was “an organizational decision,” adding, the team went this direction, once the “salary reduction talks broke down … It’s part of the business. It’s never an easy thing to go through. There’s never a good time for this to happen.”
Bowles went on to add that Harris will be missed off the field as much as on it.
“David was a Jet his whole life and bled green,” Bowles said. “He was a guy who was well-liked in the whole building by management, coaches and players alike.”
This certainly is not the way Gang Green diehards foresaw this offseason unfolding — jettisoning beloved vets for the sake of cap space. But such is the life of today’s collectively bargained NFL. It doesn’t matter how adored a player is, 99 percent of the league is considered expendable, even one like Harris who actually reported to work on Tuesday, ran with the first-team defense, and then found out soon after that he was unemployed.
Harris, 33, started 15 games for the Jets last season and played 250 more defensive snaps than any other Jets linebacker on the roster. His playing time was a direct correlation of his value on the field, as Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics rated him a respectable 35th among all NFL linebackers last season.
Harris tallied 94 tackles, two forced fumbles and a half-sack. And for that effort, it got him a curious pink slip.
Harris reportedly had “no idea” the move was coming, as he was previously wondering aloud in amazement and pride that he was the lone holdover from Eric Mangini era.
“It was unexpected, but it’s the NFL,” reasoned Harris. “Crazy stuff happens all the time.”
The team will now need to find someone to not only fill his on-field production (35 sacks and six interceptions in 154 career games) but duplicate what he offered the franchise as a classy individual off the field and as a trusted and respected leader in the locker room.
Second-year linebacker Darron Lee needs to take the leap and not the viral video leap of which he’s currently under scrutiny. Davis, also considered a great locker room guy, will need to take the torch from Harris in the linebacker room and keep Lee on the straight and narrow and make sure he ascends.
The league offices will investigate under the personal-conduct policy, of course, but the Jets announced that the young linebacker won’t be disciplined by the team.
Bowles noted the altercation, stating that Lee was involved in “an argument with his girlfriend,” adding that after “talking with about 10 people about the incident,” he didn’t see any reasons to punish the player.
Bowles also offered that they expect a lot out of Lee this coming season. He’ll need to expedite that ascension now that Harris is gone.
“He knows — and I told him this — that he has to do a better job [of staying out of trouble],” reasoned Bowles.
Lee and the fellow young Jets can only hope they are revered as much as jettisoned stalwarts like center Nick Mangold and Harris, as guys like him and former understudy Wesley Johnson need to step up and fill some big shoes, on and off the field.
Gang Green notes:
— David Harris’ agents, Brian Mackler and Jim Ivler, were livid at the release, particularly the timing: “Very disappointing in the timing of this event and the decision. The Jets could have done this prior to free agency instead of waiting three months, especially for a player who has exhibited nothing but loyalty and class for 10 years.”
— Now that Harris is out of the equation, the Jets will look to plug in Davis as their starting inside linebacker, or at the very least, use him as a key substitute behind Bruce Carter.
— Harris started 147 games for the Jets tenure, placing him sixth all-time in franchise history.
— Bowles on the decisions made by the front office: “It’s not like they [the front office] are making these moves behind my back.” He added he’s on board with management, whether he agrees with decisions or not.
— With Mangold and Harris on the outs, long snapper Tanner Purdum is now longest-tenured Jet.
— Eric Decker was back practicing with the team after an offseason of shoulder and hip surgeries. Although he was still seen donning a noncontact jersey, it was a good sight for the Jets to see their veteran leader out there.
— Events like the scouting combine and OTAs are essentially “underwear Olympics,” making it difficult to really gauge a player’s merit, but it should be noted that Jets quarterbacks endured a horrible day at the office. Starter Josh McCown was 12-of-22, Bryce Petty was 7-of-12 and Christian Hackenberg was 5-of-11.