Three years ago, Mike Maccagnan crushed his first offseason as the New York Jets' general manager, using free agency and trades to raise the team's talent base. The Jets won 10 games after a four-win season under the previous regime, and he was named NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.
In retrospect, that first offseason was like a sparkler on the Fourth of July: It dazzled, but faded quickly.
From 2015-17, the Jets doled out $133 million in guarantees for free agents -- the sixth-highest amount in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information research -- and they don't have anything substantial to show for it.
A 20-28 record, no playoff appearances and no impact players remaining on the roster.
If past is prologue, the Jets could be in trouble, because they figure to be among the most active teams this offseason. They have plenty of holes to fill and a lot of money to burn. By the time they get done trimming the fat from the roster, they should have about $90 million in cap space at the start of free agency.
Maccagnan, who started to build a young base last season, needs to augment that with a killer free-agent class.
He believes there are intriguing options among players hitting free agency for the first time, so "they have a chance to kind of grow and develop," Maccagnan said at the end of the season. "Those players tend to be a bit more pricey sometimes, but I think from our standpoint, we’re going to try to build this not just necessarily to be successful next year, but to be successful next year and the year after."
A review of the past three offseasons shows that Maccagnan has a knack for finding value with second-tier free agents, but his big deals have busted. Perhaps he learned some lessons that could apply to next month's free-agent frenzy. (Note: The following list includes only key signings.)
QB Josh McCown
Contract: One year, $6 million (fully guaranteed)
Outcome: Money well spent. The 38-year-old started 13 games, galvanized the offense and was named team MVP. It's too bad he isn't a few years younger.
Contract: Three years, $24 million (guarantee: $12 million)
Outcome: The Jets didn't want to splurge for one of the big-money tackles last offseason, so they settled for the reasonably priced Beachum, who missed only one offensive snap and delivered a solid season as a pass protector.
Contract: One year, $5 million (guarantee: $2 million)
Outcome: They got Claiborne on the cheap because of his long history of injuries. It was worth the risk, as Claiborne wound up playing 82 percent of the defensive snaps. He proved to be a good No. 2 corner when healthy.
Re-signing their own: The Jets made a bold move before free agency, locking up guard Brian Winters for three years, $29 million ($15 million guaranteed). It was the right move. He didn't play up to his usual standard, probably because of a torn abdominal muscle, but he's still in the prime of his career.
RB Matt Forte
Contract: Three years, $12 million (guarantee: $9 million)
Outcome: Desperate to replace Chris Ivory, the Jets overpaid for Forte, who was 30 at the time of signing. They had reservations because of a chronic knee injury, which ultimately hampered his ability to produce at his usual level. He probably will be cut in the coming weeks.
Contract: Three years, $10.5 million (guarantee: $4 million)
Outcome: They got him on the rebound after losing Damon Harrison. McLendon isn't Snacks, but he's a sound investment who actually improved once he got comfortable in the scheme.
Re-signing their own: It was a rough offseason for Maccagnan. He lost his best defensive lineman (Harrison), paid $12 million to re-sign a journeyman quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) and gave Muhammad Wilkerson a five-year, $86 million contract ($37 million guaranteed) -- one of the worst moves of his tenure. His best move was re-signing running back Bilal Powell for three years, $11.3 million ($6 million guaranteed).
CB Darrelle Revis
Contract: Five years, $70 million (guarantee: $39 million)
Outcome: In a word, awful. Revis made the Pro Bowl in 2015 (strictly off reputation), then fell off the proverbial cliff. The Jets cut him after two years, eating the final $6 million in guarantees.
CB Antonio Cromartie
Contract: Four years, $32 million (guarantee: $7 million)
Outcome: It made for a neat story, reuniting Cromartie and Revis, but the results never matched the hype. Cromartie was washed up, lasting only a year. The best thing about his deal was that it was structured in a way that didn't hurt the cap in subsequent years.
Contract: Four years, $25 million (guarantee: $13 million)
Outcome: The fans are on his case because he commits too many penalties, but at least he's still around. Skrine has played 80 percent of the defensive snaps over the past three seasons.
Contract: Four years, $22 million (guarantee: $8.5 million)
Outcome: He was the football equivalent of an "innings eater." He was out there a lot (90 percent of the snaps in two seasons), but he you didn't know it. He's gone, but not forgotten, as he's still counting $1.4 million on the 2018 cap.
Contract: Four years, $19.1 million (guarantee: $7.5 million)
Outcome: A terrific signing. He played close to a Pro Bowl level for two years before slipping a bit last season.
Keeping their own: The key signing was linebacker David Harris, who re-upped for three years, $21.5 million ($15 million guaranteed). He ran out of gas after two years, but it still was a solid move because of the intangibles he brought to the locker room.