It's been widely assumed that the Jets wouldn't be able to keep both Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison this offseason but the reality is it's entirely possible that they could and yesterday both Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan made sure to remind everyone of that.
"We're optimistic and we're working through it," Bowles said about the possibility of keep both star defensive linemen. "We know it's a business at the same time. We have certain plans in place and our plan is to [keep] them."
The prevailing thought has been the Jets can't keep both players because that would be too much money tied up in the defensive line but what no one is talking about is the fact that Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams are both on their rookie contracts and the Jets can structure the contracts in a way that they can fit them all in when the time comes or they can start to worry about moving one of the players further down the line.
"It's like putting a puzzle together, so you're trying to make decisions that are going to be the best for the team long-term. But first and foremost, we're going to do everything in our ability to try and keep as many good players on the team as we can," Maccagnan said. "I know a lot of people have speculated: can we keep all of them? It's not outside the realm of possibilities, but you know, it would be a very big investment in that area.
"Everybody here, the other teams, we're all trying to guess what everybody else's game plan is. And you try, obviously, not to disclose what you're going to do. I would say simply this: we like both Mo and Damon. And we're going to try to figure out a way to keep them both."
Obviously the Jets have the option to use the franchise tag on Wilkerson or Harrison but in all likelihood it will be Wilkerson who would get the tag over Harrison unless the Jets and Wilkerson's agents find enough common ground to agree on an extension before having to use the franchise tag. And while fans have reason to be pessimistic about a deal being struck their will be talks between the team and the agents this weekend.
"First and foremost, a lot of the agents of all players or free agents are actually here at the combine and we've scheduled meetings, more or less, with all of them," Maccagnan said. "I think as Todd alluded to, we have an idea internally of what we'll potentially do, but at this point in time, we don't want to show our cards, show our hands. And to be perfectly honest, before we were to do something along those lines - we obviously know we have the ability to put the franchise tag on him - but I think, first and foremost, we'd like to communicate that with the player or agent, if that is something we decide to do."
The focus of much of the attention by the fans on the combine is, of course, about the players entering the draft but for general managers they have to split their duties between talking to and evaluating prospects and talking to agents and working towards deals with current players. So, Maccagnan will certainly be having conversations with the agents of Wilkerson and Harrison but at the same time he will be looking to find the next Damon Harrison to help improve the team even more.
"I think Damon's a great example of the college draft process. Damon, to me, is an exceptionally good player vs. the run and I think also surprisingly effective at times as a pass rusher," Maccagnan said. "I was in Houston at the time (Harrison was drafted). What we normally do is self-scout and we kind of made it a year, two or three down the road, and not just with draft picks. With Damon, maybe, it was a situation where he was off the radar a little bit, at a small-level school.
"And I remember his pro day. He's a very big guy, I don't think his numbers were exceptional at the pro day, in terms of his testing and timing numbers. But at the end of the day, the college draft process is not a perfect science. And I think he's a much better player than the rest of the league knew at that point in time. I think the Jets staff at that time, too, did and excellent job of identifying a college free agent that could come in and play well."
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)