The cap-strapped New York Jets began their salary dump Tuesday, releasing three veterans, including high-priced linebacker Calvin Pace.
In other expected moves, the Jets also cut a pair of backups, safety Eric Smith and tackle Jason Smith. Injured tight end Josh Baker was waived, giving the Jets a total of $24.2 million in salary-cap relief when Baker’s salary is factored. As of last week, they were $23.3 million over the cap.
The Jets announced after their releases that linebacker Bart Scott had met the same fate. To remain on the roster, Scott, due to make $6.9 million, would have had to agree to a massive pay cut.
Tuesday’s releases start what figures to be a tumultuous offseason under new general manager John Idzik, whose top priority is determining the future of Darrelle Revis. The star cornerback has one year left on his contract, but the Jets may trade him instead of meeting his salary demands.
Pace was an every-down linebacker, but his cap charge was prohibitive — he was due to count $11.6 million. By cutting him, the Jets will get hit with $3.0 million in “dead” money, meaning there will be a savings of $8.6 million.
The Jets snagged Pace with a six-year, $42 million contract during free agency in 2008, one of many key additions in a blockbuster offseason. Of all the big-name acquisitions — Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, Damien Woody and, later, Brett Favre — Pace lasted the longest.
Pace didn’t become the pass-rusher the Jets envisioned, never eclipsing eight sacks in a season. In 2012 he played in 94 percent of the defensive snaps, recording only three sacks and 42 solo tackles (sixth on the team).
His signature moment occurred in the 2010 playoffs when he landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, an action shot of him sacking Tom Brady in the Jets’ stunning upset of the New England Patriots.
In five seasons with the Jets, Pace had 28 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. He was a key member of the 2009 defense, which led the league in fewest yards allowed. He could draw interest from the Buffalo Bills, where he’d be reunited with former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
The Jets don’t have an obvious replacement for Pace, but they could draft an outside linebacker with the ninth overall pick in April.
Jason Smith’s ouster was a no-brainer considering his $12 million cap figure — which included an $11.25 million roster bonus. The Jets inherited the contract last August from the St. Louis Rams, who previously had restructured the contract to include the prohibitive bonus, virtually ensuring free agency in 2013.
The entire $12 million charge is wiped off the Jets’ cap, an enormous savings that will allow them to do business on the open market.
Smith was acquired last August in a trade with the Rams as a straight-up swap for Wayne Hunter, another right tackle who fell out of favor. Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, was used exclusively as a backup. He played in 24 percent of the offensive snaps as an extra blocker in the “jumbo” package.
Eric Smith was a valuable backup who contributed heavily on special teams. He was a situational player last season on defense, but he has started 36 games in his career. He was due to make $3 million in the final year of his contract, all of which is cleaned off the cap.
He, too, could be reunited with Pettine in Buffalo.