The New York Jets released veteran linebacker Calvin Pace, safety Eric Smith, backup offensive lineman Jason Smith, and tight end Josh Baker on Tuesday, clearing about $24 million US in salary cap space.
The moves were expected because New York entered the off-season more than $20 million over the cap for the 2013 season. They were the first significant personnel decisions made by new general manager John Idzik, who was hired to replace the fired Mike Tannenbaum last month.
Idzik will be plenty busy this off-season, with another key decision being the future of backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who is expected to be traded or released before free agency begins next month.
The Jets are also hamstrung by the contract of quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is coming off a miserable season but is guaranteed $8.25 million next season. He would cost the Jets a $17.1 million cap hit if they cut him.
So Sanchez will almost certainly be back, unless the Jets can trade him. If Sanchez returns, he will likely have to compete for the starting job, and the Jets will be in the market for a quarterback in free agency or the draft.
Pace, a 2003 first-round pick by Arizona, spent his first five seasons with the Cardinals before signing a six-year deal with the Jets in 2008. He had seven sacks in his first season in New York, and eight the following year, but never became the dominant pass rusher the Jets envisioned.
He struggled with various injuries and his role changed at times, limiting him to 13 sacks — including just three last season — in the last three years. The 32-year-old Pace has 42 career sacks, and played mostly at outside linebacker for the Jets.
Bryan Thomas, the team's other starting outside linebacker, is also a free agent and might not be re-signed, and inside linebacker Bart Scott, one of coach Rex Ryan's favourite players, might be released, too. Cutting Scott would save $7.15 million.
Jason Smith was acquired from St. Louis shortly before the season opener when the Rams and Jets swapped struggling right tackles. New York sent Wayne Hunter to the Rams.
Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, was a backup all season to Austin Howard. He came in as an extra blocker or as a jumbo tight end, and his release — because of a roster bonus of $11.25 million due to him — was expected. He saves the Jets $12 million in salary cap space.
Smith's career was plagued by concussion problems and ineffectiveness with the Rams. He was limited to only 29 games in his three seasons in St. Louis, but played in all 16 games in New York.
Eric Smith has been with the Jets since 2006, when they drafted him in the third round. He was an occasional starter at safety, including 14 games in 2011, and also was a special teams standout.
Releasing the hard-hitting Smith saves $3.5 million.
Baker played for the Jets in 2011, making three receptions. He went on injured reserve after injuring his right knee last August and did not play in 2012.
The Jets have 12 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month, including safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, running back Shonn Greene, tight end Dustin Keller, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, defensive lineman Mike DeVito and offensive linemen Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson.