Will Jets fans be cheering on Draft Day?
The best defense is a good offense. While the truth in that timeworn adage may be debatable on the field, inside Weeb Ewbank Hall the concept was in high gear as General Manager Terry Bradway, Head Coach Herm Edwards and new Director of College Scouting Jesse Kaye addressed the media at the team's 2003 pre-draft press conference. For the Gang Green brass, this was a day to set the record straight about the Jets' seemingly tumultuous offseason, and the message was clear: Things are going according to plan.
In assertive if not defiant tones, Terry Bradway responded to the second-guessing that has been swirling throughout the media and fan message boards in recent months. The GM insisted that - with the exception of Chad Morton - the departed free agents were not exactly pried from the Jets' fingers. "We lost one special teams player we would have liked to have kept. Every other decision we made was a decision we felt we could go another direction, and still improve our football team overall."
After watching Washington's ever-ludicrous Daniel Snyder dig surprisingly deep to relieve the Jets of four first-stringers, and after seeing Richie Anderson and rising star James Darling head for pastures of more greenbacks, reassuring words were just what some skittish Jets fans needed to hear. Indeed, the Jets did react quickly to fill the voids left by departed players, most notably replacing new Redskins John Hall, Randy Thomas and Laveranues Coles with veteran free agents Doug Brien, Tom Nutten and Curtis Conway. While those moves clearly gave the Jets precious wiggle room against the cap, did they make the Jets a better football team? "On paper, there have been some suggestions that we haven't gotten better, but I would take exception to that," countered Bradway. "No championships are ever won on paper, especially this time of year."
True. But this time of year is when winning programs put the championship pieces into place. And according to Coach Edwards, after two full seasons of working together and winning, the Jets braintrust is now clearly of one mind when it comes to determining the type of talent that can help bring the team to the promised land. On draft day, it's about drafting for attitude and character as much as for ability. It's about finding guys that will most readily and eagerly plug into The Program. "The first year, I don't think they (the scouts) really knew the method we were trying to do as a staff," Edwards explained. "Jesse (Kaye) and those guys now, going into our third season, they understand the process. Certain players don't fit here. They might fit somewhere else, they might be good players, but they don't fit here."
With a total of 9 picks in the upcoming draft, the Jets have cut no corners to ensure that when they're on the clock, they'll know who fits and who doesn't. Jesse Kaye's staff made over 1,000 visits to over 250 schools, scouted 150 games and wrote over 4,000 reports on more than 1,100 players. And as the first day glare of marquee names fades into day two of the draft, that homework will become the basis upon which much of the Jets' fortunes lie over the coming years. "The true essence of a good draft is the second day," Edwards said. "Its the players you pick up the second day that make your football team. Those are the jewels. The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh round players...those are the guys you have to understand how to evaluate, so they can help your team win."
With depth needs on both sides of the ball and a stated belief that their 2003 starters are already on the roster, it seems unlikely that the Jets will package their two first round picks to move up and grab a top-five talent. "I don't feel like there's a player on the board right now that is probably worthy of that based on our evaluations," said Bradway. "There really isn't a pressing need to bring a starter in, even in this draft. If you look at our football team, we've got solid starters at every position. There isn't a position where we feel a young guy is going to come in and take that job." While the young guys may not come right in and take starting jobs, Edwards drove the point home that every one of them would do job one from day one: Fit into The Program. "If we draft 'em, they're going to fit. Period."