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Jets and Bills begin season with eye on the same doggone prize

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Happy new year, everyone. A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. The race is on: The 58th opener in franchise history has a weird feel to it because the Buffalo Bills aren’t just a Week 1 opponent, they’re also an April 26 opponent.

Both teams are rebuilding, looking toward next year’s draft for a potential franchise quarterback.

“Two starving dogs looking at the same bone,” a longtime personnel executive said last week.

The Bills have stockpiled draft capital through various trades, giving them six picks in the first three rounds (including two in the first) — plenty of ammunition to wheel and deal. The Jets have only four in the top three rounds after picking up an extra second-rounder in the Sheldon Richardson trade, but they don’t have to worry about another team jumping over them for a quarterback if they land the No. 1 overall pick.

Both teams have spent the past few months dumping premium draft picks from the previous regime. The Jets traded Richardson, Calvin Pryor and Dexter McDougle; the Bills traded Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby and Reggie Ragland.

“Buffalo has a plan,” the executive said. “This [Sean] McDermott, he’s sharp.”

Let the race to No. 1 begin.

2. Dynamic duo: The Jets decided long ago to make Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye their opening-day safeties, a tremendous show of confidence in the two rookies. This is a rare situation. In fact, there have been only two instances in the past 14 years where a team started two rookie defensive backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In 2008, the Kansas City Chiefs started Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers, both cornerbacks. In 2003, the Seattle Seahawks opened with safety Ken Hamlin and cornerback Marcus Trufant.

The most famous example happened in 1981, when the San Francisco 49ers eventually had four rookie starters in the secondary, including future Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.

And they won the Super Bowl.

3. Pay for play: Quarterback Josh McCown is earning a guaranteed $6 million from the Jets, but he can make more money along the way. He gets an additional $125,000 for each game in which he plays at least 50 percent of the offensive snaps. That could mean an extra $2 million if he plays all 16 games, which seems unlikely. He also can earn another $5 million in team-based incentives — playoff wins, etc. That, too, seems unlikely.

4. Rex rips receivers: Former Jets and Bills coach Rex Ryan hasn’t applied for membership to the Jermaine Kearse and Jordan Matthews fan clubs, that’s for sure. Both arrived in recent trades and could emerge as the leading receivers on the Jets and Bills, respectively. But Ryan isn’t impressed.

Speaking to ESPN.com, Ryan said of Kearse, “He’s just a guy. He’s like Jordan Matthews. Jordan Matthews is just a guy for Buffalo. These are guys you want to play against. I don’t think that’s the answer.”

Ryan told me last week he has no plans to watch the game. I bet he sneaks in more than a few peeks.

5. Losing cap space: The top-51 rule expired last week, meaning every contract counts against the salary cap, including those of players on injured reserve. The Jets have 10 players on IR, so, yes, it took a bite out of their cap room.

They now stand at $19.9 million in space, which ranks sixth in the NFL, according to overthecap.com. By rule, they’re allowed to carry unused cap room into the next year. That would give the Jets an estimated $84 million for next year. They can do a lot of stuff with that.

6. Draft picks by GM: It’s always a fun exercise on opening day to analyze the roster composition, especially since the Jets have had three general managers over the past six drafts. Let’s look at the draft-pick breakdown on the 53:

Mike Tannenbaum: 4 (Demario Davis, Jeremy Kerley, Bilal Powell and Muhammad Wilkerson).

John Idzik: 2 (Dakota Dozier, Brian Winters).

Mike Maccagnan: 17 (We won’t name them all).

It’s mind-boggling to think that Idzik’s two drafts produced only two players — three if you count Quincy Enunwa (injured reserve). One of the castoffs, Pryor, got cut by the Cleveland Browns last week after fighting with a teammate. The Jets were smart to get rid of Pryor, who made no plays and was a bad fit in the locker room. In return, they reacquired Davis, who already has emerged as a team leader on defense.

On Friday, the Jacksonville Jaguars claimed Pryor on waivers. Their assistant GM? Idzik.

7. Heeeere’s Johnny: New offensive coordinator John Morton walked into his news conference the other day, unshaven, looking like he had just pulled an all-nighter. He acknowledged he hadn’t been getting much sleep, adding, “That’s OK. That’s what I love about this job.”

No surprise. His first boss, Jon Gruden, told me months ago that Morton is an all-night grinder. Recalling their days with the Oakland Raiders, Gruden said, “He slept in the office. He got there, he stayed there and he didn’t go home. He loved it.”

I like Morton’s no-nonsense approach with the players and his emphasis on fundamentals. He’s an NFL lifer getting his first coordinator shot at age 47, which makes him an outlier in a profession that is getting younger. Who knows? Maybe Todd Bowles uncovered a gem. We’ll find out soon enough.

8. Greening of the Jets: The Jets had 12 players in their 30s take snaps for them last season. Only two are left: running back Matt Forte and nose tackle Steve McLendon.

9. Hard to believe: It’s opening day, and two of the best players in franchise history — Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis — are sitting at home, unemployed. Maybe they’ll find teams in Week 2, when teams can sign veterans without having to guarantee their salary for the year.

Frankly, I’d be shocked if Revis catches on. He doesn’t have any financial motivation because he’s getting $6 million from the Jets, which breaks down to $353,000 per week for the season. He’s making more money than all but four players on the active roster: Wilkerson, Adams, Winters and Kelvin Beachum.

The ghost of Revis still is one of the highest-paid on the team. Amazing.

10. The new boss: New CEO Christopher Johnson has yet to meet the media (that could be soon), but I’ve heard positive things about him from former associates. It seems that Woody Johnson’s younger brother, 58, has an affinity for outdoor adventures, including heli-skiing. That fearlessness should help him in his new role, which could be a wild ride.



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