At 12:01 a.m. Friday, just one minute after the free-agency period began, Rex Ryan began delivering his sales pitch to former Raven Bart Scott. The high-intensity linebacker sat inside his home in Owings Mills, Md. when his security dogs began to bark. Scott shrugged off the dogs' excitement and figured that they were just "chasing deer." However, moments later his phone rang, with Jets secondary coach Dennis Thurman on the other line.
"Come on out here and get these dogs," Thurman asked.
Scott saw Ryan, Thurman and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine sitting in a car outside his home and the hunt was immediately on. Yesterday in a conference call with reporters, Scott praised the same virtues that Ryan shouted in his introductory press conference.
"We won't back down from anybody. We won't take a step back from anybody. You guys can expect to see a very, physical, violent (defense). I do not know if this division has ever seen a violent defense. It is one thing to be physical and make a tackle. It is another thing to be violent," Scott said yesterday.
Scott's intense nature gave him the nickname the "Mad Backer" from Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, as Scott described how he always found himself involved in scuffles on the football field.
A Case of Deja Vu for Gang Green
For a split second Tuesday, general manager Mike Tannenbaum must have been playing over Scott's lengthy negotiation process in his head. Early Friday the Jets believed they had Scott signed to a five-year, $40 million contract, but Scott decided to give the Ravens one final opportunity to match the Jets' offer. The Ravens reportedly jumped at the linebacker's hand and responded with a five-year, $42 million offer. For a moment it appeared that the "Mad Backer" would return to lead the Ravens' ferocious defense, but Scott ultimately decided to join the Jets. He agreed to a six-year, $48 million agreement with Gang Green.
Former Ravens safety Jim Leonhard reportedly settled on a verbal agreement with the Jets early Wednesday, but the Broncos made a late push to sign him. Foxsports.com reported that Leonhard began to "reconsider" his agreement, but he ultimately agreed to a three-year, $6 million deal with the Jets.
Leonhard played in all 16 games with the Ravens last season, where he recorded 69 tackles and one interception. Leonhard is expected to be a starter at safety alongside Kerry Rhodes. He also made his mark as a return man and Leonhard will also handle the punt return duties next season. Ryan hopes to give more carries to Leon Washington, who at times seemed under-utilized in 2008 (76 carries, 448 yards).
Leonhard's road to the NFL is an interesting one, considering he was a walk-on at the University of Wisconsin. Leonhard played three seasons with the Bills (38 games) before enjoying a career year with the Ravens in 2008. However, in standing just 5-8 and 186 pounds, the fifth-year safety has always played an underdog role. Yesterday he explained that he plays with a chip on his shoulder as a result.
"Everyone has a chip on their shoulder from something or someone, whether it be something somebody said about them no matter who you are," Leonhard said. "I have dealt with that my whole life and I do like to prove those people wrong."
The signing of Leonhard was the Jets' first move this offseason to improve their secondary. Last week, safety Abram Elam was given the lowest-possible tender ($1.01 million) for a restricted free agent. Elam played in all 16 games for the Jets last year and recorded 69 tackles and one interception.
While Ryan will surely craft a plan to mold the secondary, he knows the unit's success will depend on the entire defense.
"It's about how they play collectively, all 11 guys. I think when you look stastically, (Baltimore) led the league in interceptions two out of the last three years. I'm excited about this group; I think this group here has some special talent," Ryan said.
Feely Re-Signed after Nugent Joins Bucs
The Jets re-signed Jay Feely yesterday to a one-year contract. Feely filled in nicely for the injured Mike Nugent last season, as he nailed 24 of 28 field goal attempts. Terms of the contract have not been disclosed.
Inking Feely for another season became an important step for the Jets after Nugent signed a one-year deal with the Buccaneers. The deal is somewhat puzzling for Tampa Bay, considering Matt Bryant still remains under contract. Bryant enjoyed a career year in 2008, as he connected on 32 of his 38 field goal attempts.
Jets No Longer Wrapped in Ivy?
Soon after Scott wrapped up his negotiations with the Jets after his visit to the team facility in Florham Park, N.J., inking cornerback Corey Ivy appeared to be next in line. At the time, Ivy and the Jets appeared to be a natural fit. Tannenbaum was keen on re-tooling the secondary and Ryan helped Ivy develop into a solid contributor while in Baltimore (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks in 2008). However, Ivy left the facility without a contract and he remains unsigned today. The Daily News is now reporting that the Jets have "cooled" on Ivy.
If the Jets want to travel down the Baltimore route to find secondary help, they could keep an eye on cornerback Samari Rolle. Rolle has played in just 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury and is now reportedly asking the Ravens to release him.
In an interview with Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun, Rolle said, "I don't want to play in Baltimore anymore because I feel I'm not wanted."
He did say that the "only man in the building" to support him was Ryan.
Coles Signs on with Cincy
One day after the Bengals lost Pro Bowl wide receiver TJ Houshmanzadeh (signed with Seahawks), they added another sure-handed veteran by signing Laveranues Coles. The deal is for four years and $28 million and Coles will reportedly receive more than $6 million in guarantees.
Quarterback Hunt Remains Quiet
While the Jets have moved quickly to shore up their defense by adding Scott and Leonhard, questions at the quarterback position remain unsolved. Kellen Clemens remains the only signal-caller on the depth chart with in-game experience (14 games), but his inconsistent performance in 2007 (five TD, ten INT) did not encourage the coaching staff. The Jets could still grab a low-priced veteran, but their options remain slim. Kerry Collins re-signed with Tennessee (two years, $15 million) and Kurt Warner agreed to a two-year, $23 million deal with the Cardinals. Former first-round picks Byron Leftwich and Kyle Boller have received relatively little attention from around the league. If the Jets do choose to bring aboard a quarterback, their best bet would be to select one in the NFL Draft. Southern California's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman could both be available when the Jets select 17th overall.
Quarterback Jay Cutler reportedly remains in disagreement with the Broncos' new regime after being named in trade rumors last weekend and the Jets could keep an eye on his situation. The Daily News reported that Gang Green has "no interest" in Cutler, but stranger moves have happened. Could anyone have ever envisioned the team trading for Brett Favre?
The Rex Appeal
As Ryan helped mold Baltimore's defense into one of the most feared units in the NFL, he gained the nickname the "Mad Scientist" from his former players. What Ryan also gained was respect and that came from his ability to connect with his players. When asked yesterday what separates Ryan from the "average coach," Scott responded, "It's his candid ability to come down to the level of the people that he is dealing with. He's not going to be on some big pedestal, high above the sky and be some mythical legend that we just see, but never be able to touch and be able to spend time with. He's able to come down and really be able to connect with his players because he cares about them."
Jets Searching to Fill Blocking Void
Once tight end Chris Baker inked a contract with the Patriots, the Jets offseason wish list grew a bit longer. While Dustin Keller made great strides in the receiving game during his rooke season, his blocking remained a work in progress. Baker served as one of the team's best run blockers and the Jets have moved fast in attempts to fill that void. The Jets met yesterday with former 49ers tight end Billy Bajema and it would not be surprising to see the two work out a contract shortly. Bajema is a pure blocking tight end, as he's recorded only seven catches in 61 career games.