Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mike Tannenbaum Rebuilds the New York Jets

The New York Jets have entered a new era, one that should provide stability and results. Led by Head Coach Rex Ryan, Franchise Quarterback Mark Sanchez, and Pro Bowl Cornerback Darrelle Revis, this New York Jets team has its eyes set on the Super Bowl.

The foundation of the team begins in the front office. Owner Woody Johnson and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum have worked together since 2006 to create the team we see on the field today. GM Mike Tannenbaum has used multiple acquisition techniques to construct this roster; beginning with crafty draft day moves to address the team's weaknesses. Most notably, Tannenbaum and the Jets traded up to the fifth pick in the 2009 draft to select USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Many people criticized this move because the Jets were giving up Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff, Abram Elam and their first and second round picks, but now it's evident that this move could not have worked out better. This season we see a shift from "winning despite Mark Sanchez" to "winning because of Mark Sanchez". Also in the 2009 draft Shonn Greene, RB out of Iowa, was selected in the beginning of the third round. Other running backs such as Beanie Wells, Donald Brown, and Knowshon Moreno were all first round picks in ‘09, which makes Greene look like the steal of the draft because he has out-performed all three of these running backs. In his rookie season he proved he could be the future running back making Thomas Jones and Leon Washington disposable and freeing up cap space. In 2007 and 2008 the Jets used first round picks on CB Darrelle Revis and TE Dustin Keller respectively, and both players have made huge impacts ever since. Keller has been one of Sanchez's favorite and most reliable targets, while Revis has been deemed the NFL's most feared cornerback, shutting down every receiver that dares to visit "Revis Island". The strong O-Line is held together by 2006 first round picks C Nick Mangold and T D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Tannenbaum also made great selections with DBs Kyle Wilson and Dwight Lowrey who are backups on one of the best secondaries in the NFL. And after this week’s Thanksgiving day game against the Bengals, who could forget the versatile Brad Smith, a fourth round pick back in 2006, with two huge touchdowns for the Jets? Brad Smith can catch, throw, run, and return kicks (if only he could kick FGs) and Brian Schottenheimer has multiple plays designed to get their playmaker the ball.

Another aspect that the Jets have utilized is preying upon other teams inability to handle disgruntled players. Tannenbaum has been able to acquire high caliber talent for mid-level draft picks because other teams cannot seem to control their players off the field. In March of 2010, New York traded a 2011 third round pick to the San Diego Chargers for CB Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie was the 19th pick in the first round of the 2006 draft and 2007 was his breakout season. He was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection after picking off 10 passes. He showed his play making ability that season as well after recording the longest play in NFL history: a 109 yard missed FG return touchdown and being the only player to have 3 interceptions against Peyton Manning in one game. But off-the-field issues and a poor playoff performance enticed the Chargers to trade him away. This season he has gone back to his true form and is playing like a Pro Bowl CB again, well worth the third round pick the Jets gave up for him. A few months earlier, in October 2009, the Jets traded for another player with legal issues who seemed as if he hasn't giving enough effort, WR Braylon Edwards (#3 pick in the first round of the 2005 draft). Like Cromartie, Edwards had his breakout season in 2007 making the Pro Bowl and finishing second behind Randy Moss in touchdowns. But the following season Edwards only found the end zone three times and lead the NFL in dropped passes. The Browns had a dismal season and as ‘09 rolled around they were getting tired of Braylon Edwards. Prior to trading him Edwards was involved in a bar fight and charged with a misdemeanor, the Browns were glad to part ways with him and obtain Chansi Stuckey, Jason Trusnik, and a third and fifth round pick from the Jets for this "diva" wide receiver. Edwards had a monster 80-yard touchdown catch in the AFC Championship game. This season Edwards has 6 touchdowns in the teams first 11 games and, despite a DUI offense, has stayed on the field for every game thus far. Alongside Braylon Edwards is late season hero Santonio Holmes. Holmes was acquired in April of 2010 from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a mere fifth round pick. Santonio Holmes was a first round pick in 2006 and named Super Bowl XLIII MVP after catching the game winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. Holmes was suspended the first four games this season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But Holmes has 4 TDs the last three weeks including game winning touchdowns in weeks 10 and 11. Look at the return the Jets received for only a fifth round pick, and if you look around the league this season Tannenbaum's trade looks like pure genius. The Miami Dolphins gave up a second round pick for Brandon Marshall and the Minnesota Vikings traded a third round pick for Randy Moss, and both of these guys have been enormous busts, so Holmes for a fifth round pick was by the far the best investment of 2010.

NFL teams are known for signing players to outrageous contracts only to see their investment end in heartbreak, but the Jets have gone down the path of shopping with a purpose to fill needs and get the biggest bang for the buck. It all started in January of 2009 when they secured the man who will control the team. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan signed a four year contract to become Head Coach of the New York Jets. Previously under Eric Mangini the Jets failed to make the playoffs two out of his three seasons and it was clear he was not the right fit for the job. Rex Ryan coached the Ravens defense, which was one of the most feared units in all of football, for ten seasons including a super bowl ring in 2000. Ryan was coveted for many head coaching positions by Baltimore, Miami, and Atlanta but landed in New York. Not only did his persona and legacy come over to the Jets but he even brought along some veteran talent in Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard who both signed multi-year contracts in the off season to continuing playing under Ryan. Rex Ryan has a strong reputation for stressing defense, which factored into Jason Taylor's decision to sign with the Jets in 2010 after seeing how the team's defense transformed. Taylor has been selected to Pro Bowls and All Pro teams numerous times as well as being named Defensive Player of the Year and honored as a member of the NFL 2000s All Decade Team. This adds on to Calvin Pace, the former Arizona Cardinal first round pick, who signed a 6 year deal back in 2008. Also in 2008, Tannenbaum signed RT Damian Woodey to a five year contract to bolster the offensive line. Woodey was a Pro Bowler and 3-time super bowl champion with the New England Patriots. Even with players like Kris Jenkins who is on the IR yet again, but when he has been on the field Jenkins has simply dominated opposing teams and was considered the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year pre-injury in the 2008 season. Hopefully in 2011 Kris Jenkins can return to being that dominant force at nose tackle. Rather than go after one year wonders or unproven players Mike Tannenbaum has given veteran guys long term deals to ensure stability where it matters most.

When we think about the Jets auspicious start atop the AFC elite at 9-2, we give credit to guys like: Rex Ryan for controlling the swirling variables and egos, Mark Sanchez for his growth during his sophomore season, and LaDainian Tomlinson for resurrecting his career. But the man who really deserves the credit for the 2010 New York Jets is General Manager Mike Tannenbaum for his pure genius.

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