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Jets give Todd Bowles an even bigger mess to handle after dumping veteran players

The Jets unceremoniously parted ways with David Harris and Eric Decker, putting the onus on Bowles to develop a young team.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New York Jets Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

It was less than a month ago when David Harris was waxing about the future of cornerback Darrelle Revis and how the New York Jets’ menacing hatchet of veteran players was an eerie experience.

"I think he’ll keep playing," Harris said of Revis. "I think he has a lot of football left in him. He didn’t have his best year last year and he knew that. But I’m sure somebody will pick him up. He knows too much of the sport and he’s too good of a player to be finished. He’s always been competitive. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve been around."

Revis was drafted in the first round and Harris in the second round by the Jets in 2007.

A bond was evident. Harris shared other ones with former Jets Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eric Decker and Geno Smith. Each one of those veterans has been released this offseason. Harris was the sly vet left.

He said last month that there was a lot going down. He called it “strange.” He called his former peers “mainstays.” He said it was part of the game, that everybody has an end date. He said he was excited about all of the new Jets faces. He said he trusted the Jets’ coaches and front office to make the best decisions for the team.

Oops!

The Jets cut the veteran linebacker on Tuesday.

Imagine what an ugly, boomerang moment it must have been for Harris.

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He was blindsided, his reps say, asked to take a pay cut and then booted when he did not. Sliced three months into free agency when most of the prime spots with other teams are long gone.

It was a cold move by the Jets, an apparent off-the-cuff axing by general manager Mike Maccagnan. It presents the case that Maccagnan is making it up as he goes along, not so much following a blueprint as he is a whimsical sketch. If owner Woody Johnson forced it, it is even colder. Because Harris — a Jet with 10 seasons, 154 games, and a likely Ring of Honor player one day — deserved better. So did the Jets. Trading Harris much earlier in this process would have returned the Jets with something, anything, in value.

The Jets are at least trying to trade Decker, but they’ll release him if they can’t — a move they made clear on the same day they cut Harris.

A general manager in the Jets’ AFC East division told me in a phone interview on Wednesday morning: "They are clearly letting some guys go, some overpaid guys, some older guys and trying to make things right. People thought David Harris’ contract was too much from the get-go. I know Eric Decker’s was way out of whack. They are trimming the fat. It’s a youth movement there."

It’s also a fractured movement.

Maccagnan picks the players and Todd Bowles coaches them. Bowles is irked he loses a seasoned linebacker. When you hear a coach talk about "organizational decisions" as Bowles described this move, there is little all-in in that.

If the Jets are hoping to position themselves into a top-tier draft spot to grab a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft, they are on schedule. That may be Johnson’s and Maccagnan’s goal but it puts Bowles in a vicious spot.

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Unless Johnson has told Bowles he will not be fired under any circumstances following the 2017 season, Bowles has a gigantic job with a tiny roster. The Jets will be very young and very green this season. Their quarterback group is lacking and uninspiring. Their depth all-around his shaky. It is a recipe for a coach’s firing. A coach Maccagnan did not choose but inherited.

The onus is on Bowles and his staff to teach. To grow. To take this young team and create steady improvement. It is not solely about wins and losses in 2017, but more a test for Bowles and his staff on their ability to mold players and build a solid foundation. Make this an incubation season that by the end produces a group with more maturity and guts.

Any football coach prefers talented, grisly players to baby-faced, raw, suspect ones. His peers say that Bowles is a very stubborn man and enough so to ace this task.

There is a "who’s next" atmosphere brewing among the Jets. Not a catastrophic thing for a franchise fast asleep.

But it sure gets messy around the place. It’s "The Jets Way."