When the Jets' first pick comes up in next week's NFL Draft, if the team indeed stays at its No. 30 spot, general manager Mike Tannenbaum shared a familiar refrain for the team's strategy.
"We'll take the 30th best player, whomever that is," he said today in Florham Park at the team's annual pre-draft press conference.
But in the current NFL lockout, the draft is expected to be held before the start of free agency -- the opposite of the usual offseason pattern -- which means teams may have tough decisions, particularly at positions where several players on last year's roster are due to become free agents.
Like at receiver, where Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith are all due to be free agents.
Tannenbaum said their roster of impending free agents can become a tiebreaker on draft day.
"There's no magical answer, there’s just the judgment of the best player on the board versus what's going to happen in free agency," Tannenbaum said. "Even if you don’t get your first or second choice in free agency or the draft, there’s going to be other opportunities. Again, those are great tiebreakers for us. If we feel like down the road we’re going to have trouble getting a player back, that may break a tie in the draft room. Those are really hard judgment calls to make that you do when you're on the clock or formulating a strategy to go up a couple spots or move back."
Since Rex Ryan has taken over as head coach, the Jets' drafts have been offense-heavy. Specifically, six of the seven picks the past two drafts have been offensive players, with cornerback Kyle Wilson the only exception.
"If we could add some depth and competition on the defensive side, that’s something that we’d like to accomplish during the offseason, if the right opportunity comes along," Tannenbaum said. "That’s something we’re looking at. In a perfect world, you'd balance it out. It never really works that way, but in a perfect world you'd try to get that to be as balanced as possible."
Tannenbaum said the Jets have eight to 10 players on their radar for the No. 30 slot. One particular need is at nose tackle or pass rusher. In 2008, the Jets used their top pick on Vernon Gholston, hoping he would thrive in the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. But he never panned out, and was released this offseason.
Director of college scouting Joey Clinkscales acknowledged that projections can be tough, but outlined a specific set of criteria they look for when moving a guy who plays down to linebacker -- for instance, Arizona's Brooks Reed.
"The first thing we’re looking for is can he rush the passer, because in the defense we want to play, Rex wants a guy that can rush the passer," Clinkscales said. "For a rush backer, dropping in coverages is probably only 15 percent of what he does. So he needs to be smart, he needs to have good hand use, he needs to have quick feet, and again have a demeanor to be hungry to get to the quarterback."
"He probably does have some feet issues," Clinkscales said. "You're talking about a guy that was once 380 pounds that’s 335 ponds now. Phil's a good player; he's a 2-gap nose player. He's strong, he's physical. ... He's a good football player. I don’t think in the long term if you're looking throughout a contract that the feet will be a big issue. But again, you're looking for a guy that can help you now, and he and many others have the chance to do that."
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Part of the Jets' lockout plan included 25 percent pay cuts for their football operations staff, with the plan being for employees to recoup their missed earnings, if no games are missed, at the end of the 2011 season.
"It was a decision (owner) Mr. (Woody) Johnson made, and Woody's been a great owner," Tannenbaum said. "That decision was made, but from where I sit in the world, everyone's happy here. We’re in a great situation: we went to the AFC Championship game two years in a row, we've got a great head coach that’s great to work with every day, we have an owner that provides unbelievable resources for us. So we think we’re in a great situation, and we’re going to move forward from there. My door's open and the pulse I have on the organization, I think it’s pretty good right now."
Added Clinkscales: "We love what we do. A lot of us, especially who are football junkies and have most of our life been a part of football, we would almost do this for free. So we feel blessed to not only be in this business, but to be doing what we do and getting paid for it. It’s 25 percent; if those are the rules we’re playing under, then that’s what we do."
Mike Tannenbaum didn’t give away any secrets about the Jets strategy at today’s pre-draft press conference, but he did touch on a few topics regarding overall philosophy. Here are some of the highlights:
GM Mike Tannenbaum:
EMPHASIS ON THE DEFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL IN THIS DRAFT? “If we could add some depth and competition on the defensive side, that’s something we’d like to accomplish during the offseason. If the right opportunity comes along… That’s something we’re looking at. In a perfect world, you balance it out. It never really works that way, but you try to get it to be as balanced as possible.”
WILL THE FIRST PICK BE A DEFENSIVE PLAYER? We’ll take the 30th best player. Whoever that is.”
WILL IT BE HARD NOT TO TRADE?: We have run different scenarios. We looked at a lot of different ways to look at opportunities. We’ll continue to do that. Maybe we’ll move up. Maybe we’ll move back. And we’ll be ready to go. … If there’s opportunities – and we think that it’s smart – we’ll go.
IS IT HARDER OR EASIER TO MAKE TRADES WITHOUT PLAYERS INVOLVED? There’s other ways to get creative. Swapping picks. Future years. If you’re trying to solve a problem, there’s’ other clubs in the bag to use. You just figure out ways to solve problems. I’m always the optimist. I feel like there’s deals to be made…. Over the last few years, I don’t think there’s been a lot of players traded on draft day. Obviously, the notable exception was with Mark (Sanchez).
ON TRADING: “We’ll listen to any opportunity to go up or back. We’re not going to rule anything out…. If those do scenarios do play out, we’ll see what happens when the phone rings on Thursday night.”
ON PAY CUTS FOR SCOUTS: That was a decision that Mr. Johnson made. Woody’s been a great owner. We sincerely like being here…. We have great people in the building. That decision was made, but… everyone’s happy here. We’re in a great situation. We went to the AFC Championship Game two years in a row. We got a great head coach. We have an owner that provides unbelievable resources for us. So we think we’re in a great situation, so we’re going to move forward from there.
HOW MANY PLAYERS WILL YOU LOOK AT NO. 30? “Give or take.. 8-10 or so. I’m sure there’s going to be a few trades ahead of us. We just try to be as prepared as possibly. See if we can move up a few spots. Or back a few. You have to have a pretty good number to start with just because you’re at 30.”
VP OF SCOUTING Joey Clinkscales:
“Whatever happens in the draft, we’ll be prepared on every level. It’s nice to have six picks this year for a change. We’ll see how long we have six picks.”
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO PROJECT A COLLEGE DOWN LINEMAN TO AN NFL LINEBACKER (Like Arizona’s Brooks Reid): “The first thing we’re looking for is can he rush the passer? With the defense we want to play, Rex wants a guy that can rush the passer. For a rush ‘backer, dropping in coverage is probably only 15 percent of what he does. So he needs to be smart, he needs to have good hand use, he needs to have quick feet. Again, have a demeanor to be hungry to get to the quarterback.”
DOES THE GHOLSTON MISCUE (RE: POSITION CONVERSION) MAKE YOU GUNSHY PROJECTING HIM TO ANOTHER POSITION? “Projections are always tough. But it’s good when you can see a guy line up at a certain position and it’s not a huge projection. A guy like Brooks or any other guy – who may be a little bit undersized – hopefully you’ve seen them play linebacker a little bit. And you see the opportunity to do a lot of different things with him. The versatility that the player may have.
ON PHIL TAYLOR’S FEET ISSUES: “He probably does have some feet issues.
He’s one of those guys that was 380 pounds that’s 335 pounds now. Phil’s a good player. He’s a two-gap nose guard. He’s strong. He’s physical…. I don’t think in the long-term… that his feet would be a big issue. Again, you’re looking for a guy that can help you now. He and many others have a chance to do that.