As the New York Jets began their salary-cap purge Tuesday, they still faced their two most difficult offseason decisions: What to do with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
The Jets cleared about $31 million in salary cap space by cutting veteran linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace and three other players. Safety Eric Smith, backup offensive lineman Jason Smith, and tight end Josh Baker also were released Tuesday. The moves were expected because New York entered the offseason 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 offseason. The Jets are hamstrung by the contract of starting quarterback 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.
Tebow, who barely played after being acquired from Denver in a trade last year, is expected to be released soon.
Rex Ryan praised the players released, particularly Scott, Pace, and Eric Smith, who at various times were integral parts of a strong defense that slumped the last two years.
‘‘Every one of these players was a major contributor to our football team,’’ Ryan said.
Foxworth sounds off
Union leader Domonique Foxworth says NFL players don’t trust commissioner Roger Goodell because of the Saints bounty case, in particular. The NFLPA president added he wouldn’t be able to persuade players to have faith in the league even if he wanted to. Speaking on a conference call Tuesday, days before union representatives meet with NFL officials at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Foxworth returned to a theme he stressed at the NFLPA’s pre-Super Bowl news conference: ‘‘It’s pretty obvious that there’s a gap in what would be a reasonable amount of trust.’’ . . . The Saints cut veteran tight end David Thomas and third-year cornerback Johnny Patrick. GM Mickey Loomis said releasing Thomas, a former Patriot, was an ‘‘extremely difficult decision,’’ given seven-year veteran’s leadership and versatility, which allowed him to fill in at several spots, including fullback.