Jets pay lost wages to employees

July 25, 2011

Woody Johnson made good on his promise to his New York Jets employees.

With the NFL lockout over and football back to business, the Jets owner has paid all lost wages to business-side employees who took unpaid furloughs during the lockout and coaches who took pay cuts. Johnson made the announcement at an organization-wide gathering at the team's headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., on Monday morning.

According to a person familiar with the meeting, Johnson told employees: ''When you walk out of this room, the money should already be in your accounts.''

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting.

About 96 business-side employees each had to take one week's unpaid furlough every month since the lockout began in March, while coaches' salaries were slashed by 25 percent. At the time, Johnson pledged that they would receive the lost wages if no games were missed because of the lockout.

''At the beginning, we realized that asking people to take 25 percent pay cuts at this time would be a tremendous hardship. It was a shared sacrifice in a period where we had unknown financial conditions,'' Johnson said, according to the team's website. ''I don't think anybody was happy about it. I wasn't happy that I had to ask people to do this. But now that the agreement is in place, we're living up to our end of the bargain, and we're all moving forward.''

Coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum also spoke to the employees, who included business and football support staffs, assistant coaches and front office personnel, about the organization's goals for this season.

The team also sent an email from Johnson and a 35-second video from Ryan to all Jets season ticket holders, suite holders, fans and corporate partners announcing that the owners and players had come to terms on an agreement.

''It all starts now,'' Johnson said in the email. ''The players are returning, Mike and Rex have never been more ready, and Jets football is officially back. I hope you're ready for what I'm confident will be a memorable 2011 season.''

A 40-second recorded voice message from Ryan was left for all Jets season ticket holders, with the brash coach telling fans: ''I need you in those seats, and let's have at it. Let's make this a super season. Let's get it on!''

Ryan said he plans to have quarterback Mark Sanchez let the football ''fly a little more than we have in the past,'' and told fans in the voice mail to ''get ready to have an unbelievable season.''

The Jets, who have made it to the AFC championship game the last two years, are scheduled to open the preseason at Houston on Aug. 15. They begin their regular-season schedule in front of a national television audience on Sept. 11 against Dallas.

But first, they have plenty of work to do with their roster. New York has 16 unrestricted free agents to address, including wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, defensive backs Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, and defensive end Shaun Ellis. They also have one restricted free agent: offensive lineman Robert Turner. The Jets designated linebacker David Harris as their franchise player and he signed his tender before the lockout, but could now be looking for a long-term extension.

Tannenbaum will get started Tuesday, when the Jets will be able to negotiate with and sign their six draft picks, including first-rounder Muhammad Wilkerson and third-rounder Kenrick Ellis.

Sanchez has developed a good rapport with both Holmes and Edwards, but it's uncertain if the Jets will be able to retain both. Holmes, who had 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns after being acquired from Pittsburgh, was the go-to guy he established himself to be while with the Steelers. He'll be the Jets' top priority in free agency, but will likely get plenty of interest from other teams, including Washington.

If New York can't re-sign Edwards, the Jets could opt to give Plaxico Burress an opportunity to show he's still the playmaker who caught the winning touchdown pass for the Giants in 2008. Burress has talked about how playing for Ryan and the Jets is an attractive thought, but has also mentioned several other teams.

Ryan has also praised Randy Moss, who could be a fallback option for New York if Edwards and Burress aren't available.

Cromartie had a solid season with the Jets and filled in admirably when Darrelle Revis was injured for a few weeks. He's still young at 27 and his incredible athleticism makes him a top cornerback. But, he could be a sought-after player in this free agent class.

Meanwhile, think Ryan isn't daydreaming about teaming top free agent Nnamdi Asomugha with Revis in his Jets secondary? Asomugha is one of the league's true shutdown cornerbacks, and he has been paid as such with Oakland the past few years - so it remains to be seen if the Jets will be able to afford a run at him.

Regardless, Ryan - no surprise here - has his sights set high.

''We think it's going to be our year,'' Ryan said in his video message to fans, ''and we'll find out soon enough.''