Mike Maccagnan has been on the job for about a minute, and we already know this about him: He’s not gun-shy.
And another thing: He wants to win now.
On Friday, the New York Jets’ general manager pulled off a low-risk trade for a talented, yet volatile wide receiver — Brandon Marshall. Sound familiar? Maccagnan’s predecessor, John Idzik, made a similar deal last October for Percy Harvin, but it was a too-little, too-late move born of desperation.
Marshall is a less expensive, more talented version of Harvin, but he’s also four years older. He’ll be 31 in a couple of weeks, and it’s certainly fair to wonder why a rebuilding team — with a big question at quarterback, no less — is willing to pay $7.7 million this year for a receiver on the wrong side of 30.
Why? Because Maccagnan apparently isn’t content to ride out his honeymoon in the far-right lane. He’s in the passing lane, trying to make up ground in the AFC East. It’s why he re-signed linebacker David Harris, hardly a young pup at 31, for a whopping $15 million in guarantees. It’s why he’ll go into free agency Tuesday determined to pursue a certain almost-30 cornerback who has his own Island address.
Yes, they’re hot for Darrelle Revis, and we could see the most dramatic Jets-New England Patriots tug-of-war since the Curtis Martin saga in 1998 — assuming Revis doesn’t re-up with the champs before Tuesday. The smart money says he doesn’t, forcing the Patriots to release him to avoid a prohibitive $20-million option. The border war is about to escalate once again.
The Marshall trade took onions because we all know he can be everything from a diva (being kind) to a major headache, especially for his quarterbacks. On his worst days, he can make Santonio Holmes seem like a boy scout. In Chicago, Marshall clashed with Jay Cutler, criticizing him publicly toward the end of last season. That came after Cutler reportedly didn’t bother to visit Marshall in the hospital after he suffered rib and lung injuries.
Nice chemistry, huh? A player with Marshall’s talent doesn’t get traded three times unless there are some serious issues above the shoulders. He’s an immensely talented “me” guy, but the beauty of the trade is the Jets can cut bait after a year with no salary-cap ramifications. All it cost them was a fifth-round draft pick.
Clearly, Maccagnan is leaning on new coach Todd Bowles, because Bowles is the Marshall expert at One Jets Drive. He and Marshall spent two seasons together with the Miami Dolphins, 2010 and 2011, so we have to assume Bowles knows the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe he can find a way to keep him in line. Marshall also will have his former Dolphins’ position coach, Karl Dorrell, so he’ll be surrounded by familiar faces. That should help. The coach-player dynamic is the key to the entire trade.
“The true test will be when adversity strikes, considering the quarterback [situation],” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“He’s a talented guy who has been traded to three teams and never finished a contract,” the executive said of Marshall. “All that said, he’s better than what the Jets had. But it’s all the other stuff that will come with it and will test a new regime. The fact that the quarterback situation is unsettled, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”
Ah, yes, the quarterback situation. Bad play at quarterback can ruin everything. The most aggressive GM in the league can’t create a franchise quarterback out of thin air, so it looks like Maccagnan will be stuck with Geno Smith or a second-rate veteran from the free-agent market. Maybe he’s banking on an improved supporting cast helping Smith grow as a player. The rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes, but not if one of the boats has a leak.
For now, Marshall gives the Jets a legitimate No. 1 receiver. His numbers declined last season because of injuries, but he was the NFL’s second-leading receiver in catches and yards from 2007 to 2013. Eric Decker, miscast last season as a No. 1, will feel more comfortable as No. 2 and will see less coverage. Harvin probably will be released, saving them $10.5 million on this year’s cap.
The Jets’ passing offense was 32nd last season, and they just added a five-time Pro Bowl receiver. They got older, but they got better. Unlike his predecessor, Maccagnan isn’t conceding today for tomorrow.