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Recent history should show Jets big spending doesn’t equal winning

Every offseason, NFL teams spend ridiculous amounts of money in free agency in the hopes of strengthening their rosters. Sometimes, those expenditures work out. But often times, especially in the NFL, massive spending doesn’t mean improvement.

The Jets have the fortune of wealth this offseason, with around $102 million in cap space. New York also has plenty of holes to fill throughout the team, so Mike Maccagnan and company need to be smart with their money. Something to consider: only two of the 10 biggest spenders from the 2018 offseason increased their win totals by more than two last season. That would be the Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns.

The Bears were the biggest winners and biggest buyers this past year, spending a league-high $233.5 million on 23 free agents and improving their record by seven wins. Chicago didn’t break the bank on any one free agent, instead spreading to fill positions of need across the roster with team-friendly contracts.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson ($42 million), tight end Trey Burton ($32 million) and cornerback Prince Amukamara ($27 million) all signed relatively cheap deals that effectively amounted to two-year contracts. Only cornerback Kyle Fuller got a riskier deal after the Bears matched the Packers’ four-year, $56 million offer.

Ironically, the Jets were the second-highest spenders last offseason, and we already know how that turned out. New York spent around $202 million on 31 free agents, but actually decreased its wins by one. Trumaine Johnson’s five-year, $72.5 million with $45 million guaranteed already looks like a waste. None of the Jets signings this past season really helped the team, except for linebacker Avery Williamson, who finished the season as the team’s leading tackler.

Other teams who spent big, like the Jaguars, Titans and Bills, had neutral to mostly negative results following a lavish summer. The Jaguars only signed nine players for $147.9 million in free agency in 2018, but their win-loss record dropped by five. The Titans, meanwhile, spent $146 million on 14 free agents and finished with the same record.

The Bills didn’t spend the most money, but their $122 million on 23 free agents amounted to three fewer wins, most of which was tied up in defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s $50 million contract that resulted in zero sacks in 2018. The Bills, unlike the Bears, went for the big swing and missed badly in free agency.

The Browns were cheaper than expected in free agency and still improved their record by five wins. A lot of that has to do with a superstar rookie quarterback, but it also proved frugality can work if played smartly. Now, the Browns have even more money ($78.6 million) and a solid core to build around in 2019.

If the Jets want to avoid the mistakes they made in 2018, they shouldn’t take one big swing at a superstar free agent, but pick their spots and find a solid core of players to bring into the fold, much like the Bears and Browns did in 2018.

Because there are so many positions that need an upgrade, the Jets shouldn’t overspend on a luxury player if they don’t think it will change the trajectory of the team much. Le’Veon Bell, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jadeveon Clowney are generational talents, but if they command 50 percent of the Jets’ cap spending, it could hinder the long-term future of a team rife with holes.

If the Jets can find bargains at other positions that strengthen the team, maybe overspending on someone like Bell, Lawrence or Clowney will work. But if it doesn’t, the team may be looking at another tough contract to swallow for multiple seasons. Adam Gase says he thinks free agency will help the team, “improve quickly,” but that will only happen if the Jets don’t blow all their money on one or two big-name players.

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