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NY Jets: Follow The Dead Money

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Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Folk, Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, Breno Giacomini, all gone from the Jets roster in 2017.

Why?  Presumably because the Jets are undergoing a concerted effort to get younger, create cap space, and start a rebuilding phase.  The above players had contracts in excess of their value to the team (possibly excepting Marshall, who is reported to have requested his release).  With a rebuild in the works the Jets felt it was time to unload players who were older and could not be expected to play to the level of their compensation.

So far so good.

What then do we make of these players: Eric Decker, Marcus Gilchrist, Buster Skrine and Steve McLendon?  Each of these players in one way or another has not performed up to the level of their compensation, although with Decker it's a case of injury.  Each could provide significant cap room if released.  Yet they remain when their teammates have been released. Why?

One common thread with the players that remain is they are as a group younger than the players that got released. Another is dead money.  The list of players that got released had almost no dead money attached to their contracts, with two exceptions. Ryan Fitzpatrick's contract had built in dead money as it was actually a one year deal structured over two years to fit under the 2016 cap.  By design the contract automatically expired without any decision on the Jets part.

The other exception is Darrelle Revis, who cost the Jets $6 million in 2017 dead money.  The Revis deal was so egregious after his disastrous 2016 season that no serious consideration could have been given to keeping Revis under his 2017 level of compensation.  The Jets' hands were tied here; Revis had to go.

It is perhaps significant that other than the Revis fiasco and the bogus second year of the Fitzpatrick contract, Mike Maccagnan has never cut a player with significant dead money on his contract.  Jets fans wondered for years why guys like Breno Giacomini and Nick Folk never got cut despite having outsized contracts in relation to their performance. Breno and Folk held on, despite being holdovers from a prior regime with no ties to the current regime. They held on, that is, until there was no significant dead money left on their deals. Then they were shown the door.  The same applies to Dee Milliner.

This is circumstantial evidence; there is no way to know what factors are influencing the Jets personnel decisions.  Still, it is fairly striking that players Jets fans wanted gone for years stayed on just long enough to eliminate most of the dead money, then were cut. It is fairly striking that the list of the remaining players many Jets fans want cut now in the midst of a rebuild are almost to a man guys with significant dead money, while nearly all the guys cut had little or no dead money.

Why is this an issue?  Because of the sunk cost fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy involves decisions being made based on costs already incurred, costs which cannot be recouped under any circumstances.  Money already spent should logically have no bearing on future decisions; nothing that is done in the future can affect the costs already incurred, and no costs already incurred can be justified with future performance.  Any rational decision making regarding a sunk cost case should ignore the sunk cost and make the decision solely on the basis of what makes sense going forward, based solely on the future cost to be incurred weighed against the future benefit to be gained.

Dead money is a sunk cost.  It should have no bearing on personnel decisions going forward. The dead money will be on the books whether or not the player is still with the Jets. It's already spent. The only decision to be made is whether said player's future performance is likely to justify his future costs.

I don't know whether or not dead money is influencing Mike Maccagnan's decisions, and neither does anyone else not hooked into the Jets front office. I don't know, but I can make a reasonable guess, based on the circumstantial evidence available, and the evidence hints at a sunk costs problem. If dead money is playing a role in deciding who stays and who goes, it is a mistake. We don't know yet whether that is the case, but follow the dead money.  Over time the dead money will tell the tale.