AFC East: John Idzik

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The New York Jets' meandering search to replace cornerback Antonio Cromartie included flirtations with Vontae Davis (a rejection) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had the audacity to take an offer from the New York Giants. Despite some pro-Darrelle Revis sentiment in the organization, the Jets decided not to pursue Revis 2.0. In the end, they made Dimitri Patterson their Big Free-Agent Cornerback.

The response from Jets Nation?

A collective groan.

Patterson
Who?

Patterson understands the sentiment, but he has a message for the skeptics: I'm just as good as the big names.

"Fans like high profiles. I don't have a high profile, but my film is legit," he said during a break at training camp. "When the season comes, I'll show everyone why I've been in the league so long.

"Vontae and all those guys, they were first-round picks," Patterson continued. "That's all cool, but as far as ability and responsibility, are they asked to do more than I've been asked to do over nine years? No. Have they been more productive on the perimeter? No, that's not the case at all. My tape shows that it's just a matter of me coming out and showing fans, 'Hey, let me show you.'"

The Jets have an interesting pair of cornerbacks. Dee Milliner thinks he's the best in the NFL (child, please) and Patterson, with his sixth team in 10 years, believe he was one of the biggest steals in free agency. The Jets signed him for one year, $3 million. If they turn out to be right, they will have their best cornerback tandem since 2011, when it was Revis and Cromartie.

Patterson said he has no intention of tainting the Jets' reputation at corner.

"There's a lot of scrutiny at this position because you had Revis and Cromartie," he said. "They were consistently competitive, year-in, year-out, with those guys at corner, so there's a standard that has been set. That's what the fans are accustomed to, so it's only natural to be concerned. My message to them is, don't be concerned."

Patterson is one confident dude for someone who hasn't played much in recent years due to injuries. In fact, he's missed 32 games the last three seasons (the last two with the Miami Dolphins), but he believes in his ability and he believes he's an ideal fit in the Jets' man-to-man scheme.

"Jets fans aren't familiar with me -- they don't have game tape -- so they have to trust that John Idzik and Rex (Ryan) did their due diligence, researching me," Patterson said. "If my résumé said, 'Cover-2, zone corner,' I wouldn't be here."

To get a complete evaluation of Patterson, the Jets had to study his pre-2012 tape. They see a savvy corner with elite ball skills and versatility, capable of playing outside or in the slot. Opposing scouts say he's much better in the slot, that it might be a stretch to play him on the perimeter.

"The guy understands the game and he understands the big picture, and you don't find a lot of guys like that," secondary coach Tim McDonald said.

Ryan said they didn't sign Patterson because he was the last man standing in the free-agent pool, claiming he was on their radar from the outset. Idzik probably didn't want to spend money on a big name, so he took the cheaper route -- a one-year stop gap and a draft pick (Dexter McDougle in the third round). It's risky, considering all the top quarterbacks they face in the first two months of the season. If the Jets get torched, oh, boy, the decision makers will get criticized.

Don't worry, Patterson said.

"I'll show the fans," he said.
Rex Ryan showed his new boss last season that, even when speaking softly, he still carried a big enough stick to squeeze eight wins out of a team with modest talent. The New York Jets' coach received a well-deserved contract extension.

Now, with the Jets reporting to training camp Wednesday in Cortland, New York, for Year 2 of the Ryan-John Idzik era, we start to learn a lot more about the other half of the leadership tandem, the quiet man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

This is Idzik's time.

[+] EnlargeMilliner
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDee Milliner is one of John Idzik's draft picks that needs to produce for the Jets.
It's impossible to evaluate a general manager after one season, especially in a rebuilding situation, but the landscape changes after two drafts and two rounds of free agency. In the NFL, that’s enough time to get a team from the 6-10 mess that Idzik inherited into the playoffs.

Idzik's predecessors, Terry Bradway in 2001 and Mike Tannenbaum in 2006, reached the postseason in their first seasons as GMs. Go back further, and you will remember that Bill Parcells made it to the AFC Championship Game in his second year as the GM/coach.

Even though Idzik is operating on a long-term plan, evidenced by his emphasis on the draft and his deliberate approach in free agency, an 0-for-2 start wouldn't look good on his résumé. He shouldn't be on the New York Mets' Sandy Alderson timeline, meaning he has to move faster than a glacier. It's just the way of the NFL.

Idzik has been around long enough to put his stamp on the team. He signed, re-signed and drafted most of the projected starters. In fact, only seven starters can be considered true holdovers from the previous administration: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Muhammad Wilkerson, David Harris, Damon Harrison, Quinton Coples and Demario Davis.

It's easy to notice they're the best guys on the team, Tannenbaum guys. Idzik needs to get some of his guys on that list. He already has Sheldon Richardson. By the end of the season, the list of top homegrowns should also include Geno Smith, Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor. If Smith and Milliner are missing, the Jets will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, which won’t bode well for Ryan's job security.

Idzik has the Jets pointed in the right direction, and the strides they made last season can't be dismissed. But let's be honest: They overachieved. They were one of the softest 8-8 teams in history, and you can look it up. Their point differential was minus-97, the largest since the 1970 merger for any team with at least eight wins.

The talent base should be improved this season, especially with the additions of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. Decker was Idzik's one big splurge in free agency, his one Tannenbaum-like move. Johnson and Michael Vick will be one-and-done players, worthwhile Band-Aids who won't ruin the master plan if they fizzle. The offseason proved, once again, that Idzik won't deviate from his script no matter how much salary-cap room he has at his disposal. For the record, there's about $22 million as of today.

Idzik is doing it the right way, avoiding the temptation of the quick fix. That will pay off in the long run, but there will be problems along the way. For instance: Failing to sign a top cornerback in free agency was a mistake that could be exposed early in the season, when they face several elite quarterbacks. The cornerback issue will be exacerbated if Milliner fails to develop as hoped.

The Jets believe Milliner, drafted ninth overall, will be a special player, basing much of their opinion on his strong finish. The same theory can be applied to the quarterback situation with Smith. They're placing a lot of weight on those last four games, and that can be dangerous when you consider the competition. They beat three also-rans, three teams with mediocre (at best) quarterbacks: the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.

Now, after seven months of positive mojo, the Jets can prove it wasn't a mirage. If Idzik's investments mirror the stock market, they'll be a playoff team. If it goes the other way, he'll hear the criticism, good and loud. The honeymoon is over. This is Idzik's time.

Jets' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
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Joe Namath won Super Bowl III 45 years ago, but he remains the most recognizable name and face in New York Jets history -- a testament to his star power and a commentary on the quarterback position. Nearly a half-century later, they're still looking for the next Namath, a true franchise quarterback who can elevate the franchise to a championship level.

Smith
That is the biggest key to the Jets' success over the next three seasons. The current hope is Geno Smith, who may or may not be the answer. He's 8-8 as a starter and shows intriguing arm talent and mobility, but he has yet to prove that he can be a consistent winner in the league. The Jets expect (hope?) him to take a giant step in 2014, surrounding him with better talent than last year. A lot is riding on Smith, because if he flat lines or regresses, they will be back to square one, looking to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston or another young gun next spring -- along with a handful of other quarterback-needy teams.

Everything is set up for Smith to succeed, right down to the Jets' salary-cap plan. With only $1.9 million in quarterback money committed to 2015, a big reason why they have a ton of cap room in future years, they have the flexibility to give him a mega-contract in 2016. If it's justified, of course. That would complete general manager John Idzik's grand rebuilding plan. He already has a good, young defense with a handful of potential stars, and there are a few skill-position players that make you think the offense can improve. The missing piece is the quarterback.

Call it a curse. The Jets thought they had their franchise quarterback a decade ago, but Chad Pennington's career was ruined by shoulder injuries. After one year of Brett Favre, a move that showed their desperation, they drafted Mark Sanchez. He was anointed as the new golden boy, but his career veered off the rails after two promising seasons. That brought them to Smith, who carries the torch for the quarterback-starved franchise.

W2W4: Jets mandatory minicamp

June, 16, 2014
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The New York Jets open a three-day, mandatory minicamp Tuesday, the final phase of their offseason program. Their next time on the field will be July 24, the first training-camp practice in Cortland, New York.

A few of the top minicamp storylines:

1. Geno's exclamation point: Geno Smith can cap a positive offseason with a strong performance over the next three days. Rex Ryan loves the way the Smith-Michael Vick dynamic is working out, with Smith benefitting from Vick's presence and experience. Of course, it's only June. The landscape changes in training camp, when the scrutiny (and pressure) become more intense.

2. Kiddie corps: Fourth-round pick Shaq Evans returns to the team after missing organized team activities due to school obligations. Obviously, he's behind his fellow rookie receivers, fourth rounder Jalen Saunders and sixth rounder Quincy Enunwa. Evans has the most complete skill set of the three (scouts say he plays faster than his 40 time), so it'll be nice to get an extended look at him. The rookies are being hit with a lot of new material from the playbook, so there will be plenty of hiccups. Wide receiver is the quintissential John Idzik position because of the intense competition; so many roles and jobs are up in the air.

3. Mystery man: Troubled running back Mike Goodson, who skipped the voluntary portion of the offseason, is expected to attend, according to Ryan. According to the CBA, any player that skips the mandatory minicamp is subject to nearly $70,000 in fines. A cryptic Ryan said last week he hadn't heard from Goodson, who still faces a gun-possession charge stemming from his arrest last May. Goodson is eight months removed from major knee surgery, so he probably won't be cleared until training camp -- if he's still on the team.

4. Revamped secondary: There have been rumors about the Jets pursuing former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers, but don't hold your breath, folks. Idzik prefers young, homegrown players that don't eat up a lot of cap space. It's possible that four of the top six defensive backs this season will be first-, second- and third-year players -- Dee Milliner, Antonio Allen, Calvin Pryor and Dexter McDougle. Maybe, if the kids stink it up in minicamp, he'll consider Flowers, but it probably would take an injury to projected starter Dimitri Patterson. Curious to see if Pryor and Allen continue to take first-team reps in minicamp, with Dawan Landry backing up.

Jets notes: McDougle makes debut

June, 11, 2014
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Notes and observations from Wednesday's OTA practice:

1. He-e-e-e-re's Dex: Third-round pick Dexter McDougle, who missed the final nine games of his senior year due to major shoulder surgery, made his practice debut for the New York Jets. After three weeks of wearing a red (non-contact) jersey, the rookie cornerback wore green with the rest of his defensive teammates and impressed Rex Ryan so much that the coach called him out in front of the team afterward. McDougle worked with the second-team nickel package and didn't seem tentative at all. This, of course, is good news for the Jets' revamped cornerback position.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Jets will be counting on receiver Eric Decker to produce in the red zone this season.
2. Rex comes clean: The Jets received mild criticism for taking McDougle in the third round, considering the time he missed at Maryland. Ryan admitted he, too, thought it was a risky pick, but others in the organization -- mainly defensive coordinat0r Dennis Thurman -- "eased my doubts" about McDougle. Ryan said Thurman, after watching McDougle on tape for the first time, came up to him and said, "I've got the guy right here." Ryan said they graded McDougle as one of the top "character" players in the draft. Assuming he has no setbacks, he will be able to participate in next week's minicamp.

3. Changing of the guards: 'Tis the time of year to experiment. With Willie Colon (arthroscopic knee surgery) sidelined for the remainder of the offseason, the Jets have been rotating players at right guard. On Wednesday, it was Brian Winters' turn. He traded places with Oday Aboushi, who moved to Winters' spot at left guard. No, this doesn't mean Colon is in danger of losing his starting job. Ryan acknowledged that Colon, who is expected to return for training camp, is a likely starter, but not necessarily at right guard. Interesting. Moving the players around in June creates competition and flexibility that could help in training camp.

4. Geno and Vick: There was a concentration on the two-minute offense and the red zone in practice. Both Geno Smith and Michael Vick looked sharp in the red zone, each quarterback completing four of five passes in team drills. Smith got most of the work with the starters. His best moment came when he stepped up in the pocket and found wide receiver Eric Decker in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Decker dominated in the red zone, one of the reasons why the Jets are paying him $7 million a year. Vick displayed his old form, scrambling for a touchdown. He also made a nice scoring pass to rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders.

5. Two-minute hiccups: Smith wasn't nearly as crisp in the hurry-up situation. He started off with a deep ball to Decker, but the drive stalled as he misfired on three of his last four passes. First-round pick Calvin Pryor came on a safety blitz to disrupt Smith on one play.

6. Rex on the QB competition/non-competition: Not surprisingly, Ryan spoke glowingly on the Smith-Vick battle -- even though it's not really a battle, if you ask Vick. "Both guys are sharp," Ryan said. "They're pushing themselves and pushing each other. That's exactly what we wanted to have happen. ... I've been really impressed with it."

7. Attendance report: Players that didn't participate in the voluntary practice included wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (personal), running back Mike Goodson (undisclosed), running back Chris Johnson (knee), running back Daryl Richardson (toe), wide receiver Jacoby Ford (undisclosed), Colon (knee), rookie wide receiver Shaq Evans (school obligation) and linebacker Antwan Barnes (knee). Ryan said he expects Goodson to show up for next week's mandatory minicamp. As expected, Johnson -- six months removed from knee surgery -- isn't expected to do much, if anything, in the minicamp. Ford will be full speed by next week.

8. Dee's cranky hammy: Cornerback Dee Milliner, who sat out last week's open practice, participated on a limited basis. Officially, the team is calling it hamstring "tightness," not a pulled hamstring. Got that? Ryan said they kept him out for precautionary reasons.

9. Odds and ends: Pryor continued to work with the starters. It was Pryor and Antonio Allen at safety, with Dawan Landry practicing with the second team. Landry already knows the defense; the plan is to let Pryor and Allen get as many reps as possible. ... The Jets are continuing their penalty/push-up tradition. When a penalty is committed, the entire team drops for 10 push ups. General manager John Idzik was among the non-players that did pushups. ... Matt Simms, battling rookie Tajh Boyd for the No. 3 quarterback job, threw an interception. ... Rookie tight end Jace Amaro, coming off a three-drop day last week, had another drop but looked much better catching the ball.
Running back Chris Johnson sent New York Jets fans into a Twitter frenzy Tuesday night, tweeting that the Jets should trade for disgruntled Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.



A Johnson & Johnson attack for the Jets? Catchy. For obvious reasons, owner Woody Johnson probably likes the sound of it, but this is strictly fantasy football chatter at this point.

It's highly unlikely the Texans would trade Johnson, their best offensive weapon and arguably the most accomplished player in franchise history. As promised, he skipped a voluntary practice Tuesday, intensifying the speculation about his future in Houston. Johnson, reportedly unhappy with the direction of the team, recently wondered if he's still a fit.

The Jets spent big money to sign Eric Decker, but they could still use another quality wideout -- and they don't come much better than Johnson. Despite a terrible quarterback situation, he caught 109 passes for 1,407 yards last season. Johnson is a pro's pro and would help the Jets on many levels.

But keep dreaming, Jets fans.

The cold reality is that Johnson turns 33 in July and he's still owed $33.5 million over the next three seasons -- a huge number even for the Jets, who have about $23 million in cap room. For cap purposes, it makes no sense for the Texans to trade Johnson. Also remember that new coach Bill O'Brien is a Bill Belichick disciple, which means he probably won't be eager to accommodate the selfish desire of one player if it hurts the team. And a trade would hurt the Texans because there's no way they'd get fair-market value in return for the effective, but aging, receiver. If they did decide to move him, it would make sense to send him out of the AFC.

Wednesday's Jets practice is open to the media, which means Johnson can expect a lot of questions about his tweet. It also wouldn't be a surprise if he receives a message from John Idzik, who may tell Johnson to leave the GMing to him. After all, Johnson's job is to accumulate yards, not players.
A few thoughts on Michael Vick's comments from Thursday, his first face-to-face meeting with the New York media since signing with the New York Jets:

Vick
Vick
1. I don't think Vick was complaining about the non-open quarterback competition, as he described it. If he was complaining, he changed his tune. When he signed in March, he said, "I wouldn't say I'd necessarily be OK with sitting on the bench, but I know what I signed up for." Unless the Jets altered the ground rules between March and now (I don't think they did), Vick's comments Thursday were consistent with his stance from the outset. This time, he was just a little more ... um, candid.

2. Don't think for a second that Vick has surrendered any chance of becoming the Jets' starter. It may not happen by Week 1, but he still sees himself as an elite player. He has "unbelievable talent and uncanny skill" (his words) for a 33-year-old quarterback, and he told the New York Daily News he's capable of taking the Jets to the Super Bowl. I don't know the man, but if he's any kind of competitor, he's probably telling himself he's better than Geno Smith and will get his shot in due time. In the meantime, Vick is being politically correct.

3. I can't imagine that Vick's comments ("It's not an open competition") went over well with general manager John Idzik, whose entire philosophical platform is built on competition.

4. Leave it to the Jets to muddy a quarterback situation by sending mixed messages. Is it a competition or not? The only people in the building giving straight answers are the players; they recognize Smith as the current starter. Why won't the organization acknowledge it? Two reasons: It would violate an Idzik commandment ("Thou shalt not anoint starters in the offseason") and it leaves the Jets some wiggle room in case Smith bombs in the preseason.

Jets offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Jets' offseason moves:

Best move: The Jets doled out $7 million a year for Eric Decker, but he's an upgrade over the previous No. 1 receiver, Santonio Holmes, a diminished diva whose sour attitude won't be missed. Decker is a 6-foot-3 target whose catching radius will help Geno Smith, who struggled last season with his accuracy. No doubt Decker benefited from having the Broncos' Peyton Manning as his quarterback the past two seasons, but he's still a quality player who can help in a variety of ways. For instance: Decker had seven red zone touchdown catches last season, only one fewer than the Jets produced as a team.

[+] EnlargeDimitri Patterson
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeThe Jets hope Dimitri Patterson can fill the void created when Antonio Cromartie departed.
Riskiest move: They're counting on journeyman Dimitri Patterson, signed from the Dolphins, to replace Antonio Cromartie at cornerback -- a big gamble. Patterson, 31, has missed 33 of his past 48 games, so the Jets are taking quite a leap by thinking he will stay healthy. What's more, he's best suited for the slot, not one of the outside positions. General manager John Idzik mismanaged the cornerback market. Knowing the importance of corners in Rex Ryan's man-to-man system, Idzik should've made a stronger commitment to the position. He flirted with some big names but wound up with Patterson, who will be playing for his sixth team in 10 years. To exacerbate the issue, Idzik waited until the third round before drafting a corner.

Most surprising move: The Jets bill themselves as a young, ascending team, yet they allowed one of their ascending players to walk out the door -- right tackle Austin Howard, who signed with the Raiders. The Jets found him on the scrap heap, invested three years of development and watched him become an above-average player with upside. And then he was gone. Howard's replacement, Breno Giacomini, formerly of the Seahawks, is a comparable player -- and cheaper. Statistically, he's a better run-blocker than Howard but is not quite as adept in pass protection. Here's the big difference, though: Howard, 27, is two years younger than Giacomini, meaning he would've been a better fit in the long-term plan.

John the Deliberate: Overall, Idzik had a solid offseason, adding several new pieces on offense (let's not forget about running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick) -- but the second-year GM didn't spend as much money as he could've. After dumping Holmes' and Mark Sanchez's contracts, the Jets were among the league leaders in cap space, but Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, relying on a 12-player draft haul to upgrade the roster. Unlike some GMs, who overpay for second-rate talent, he refuses to deviate from his long-term plan. It's the right approach for a franchise previously obsessed with quick-fix moves, but it's not foolproof. The cornerback situation will come back to bite him.

Jets' brass evaluates draft picks

May, 13, 2014
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Leftover "sound" bites from draft weekend, with general manager John Idzik, Rex Ryan and senior director of college scouting Terry Bradway discussing some of the New York Jets' second- and third-day draft picks:

Amaro
Idzik on whether second-round tight end Jace Amaro can block well enough to be used in-line or flexed out as a receiver: "I think we can do both, really. He hadn’t been in-line as much. He did do a little bit of that at (Texas) Tech. He certainly has the size and he has the will, too. You see him get after it as a blocker. I think he has the size and now it’s just a matter of getting a (few) more reps at doing it. We’re not concerned that way.

Ryan on third-round cornerback Dex McDougle: "When we watched him, we saw a guy that we think has versatility, can play outside, can play inside as a nickel possibly. Obviously, we like his cover skills. But we think he’s a complete corner. We think he can tackle. We know he can tackle. He’s aggressive. He’ll challenge you at the line of scrimmage. He’s got good ball skills. And, obviously, we feel good he can run. But (he’s) a very aggressive player as well. And the thing that I thought was impressive."

Bradway on fourth-round wide receiver Jalen Saunders, listed at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds: "I think he’s played both inside and outside. You’re right, he is smaller in stature, but he’s as tough as they come. You go watch him play ... no fear. He’s blocking bigger guys. He’s breaking some tackles. He’s a dynamic playmaker with a ball in his hands, too. He brings that return element. It was really an attractive pick for us."

Ryan on sixth-round cornerback Brandon Dixon: "He’s coming from a small school (Northwest Missouri State). So I get that, that there’ll be some developing there. But at his school, wow, it was zero coverage or cover-1. So, he’s got the guts, I’ll tell you that. He’s played it. The measurables, he’s got size, he’s got speed, and the thing that I was impressed with when you saw all the scouts’ grades and the coaches’, it was competitiveness. This young man is a competitor, and I think that’s what he’s going to bring. How quick he learns the system and all that, we’ll have to determine that at a different time. But I love the competitiveness and obviously his God-given size-speed combination is rare."

Ryan on fifth-round linebacker Jeremiah George, only 5-11, 234 pounds: "I like having the flexibility of playing a 'Mike' linebacker or a 'Will' linebacker. ... So here, he fits a role. We’ll try to teach him both. We’ll flip both those guys. That’s what you want to have, that kind of flexibility. We love the fact that he’s a run-hit guy, loves to play. He’s got great passion for the game. You mentioned the production. We saw all that. We really like him. ... Sometimes (size) can be overrated. Zach Thomas was one of the best linebackers in the league and he was much smaller in a 3-4."

Idzik on whether linebacker Trevor Reilly's age (26) dropped him to the seventh round: "That may be a factor. The bottom line is, what do you think of him as a player and a person? Again, he fit that way for us."

W2W4: Moment of truth for Jets

May, 8, 2014
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If the extra two weeks of waiting made you anxious, imagine how the New York Jets feel. They've been waiting 16 months.

John Idzik's rebuilding plan, set in motion when he was hired in January 2013, is built largely around the draft -- this draft. He accumulated four compensatory picks and acquired a future pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, giving him a total of 12 selections -- tied with the St. Louis Rams for the most. Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, using only about half the salary-cap space -- a tactic that raises the stakes even higher.

The fun starts Thursday night. The Jets own the 18th pick -- for now. What to watch for:

1. Biggest needs: The Jets need a lot of things, but cornerback should at the top of the list. Their pass defense was dreadful, allowing nearly 4,000 yards, and the only thing they did in free agency was replace a descending Antonio Cromartie with an injury-prone journeyman, Dimitri Patterson. Rex Ryan's defense is predicated on cornerback play, and his current secondary will get shredded against a "Missiles of October" schedule -- Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a 12-day span. Idzik doled out $30 million in guarantees to sign outside free agents, with only $1 million going to the defense. As one longtime personnel executive said, "Feed the defense. The only way the Jets win is if they dominate on defense." Obviously, the other glaring need is wide receiver. If you need an explanation, you must have slept through last season.

2. Moving up: Yes, the Jets are interested in trading up, according to a league source. Presumably, their target is Odell Beckham Jr., a smooth, explosive and versatile wide receiver. If this is the plan, they'd better get ahead of the New York Giants (12), who also covet the former LSU star. Based on the draft value chart, they'd have to surrender a third-round pick and two fourth-rounders to switch places with the Tennessee Titans (11). You'd have to question the wisdom of such a move. It's a deep draft, and they could land a comparable player at 18. The Jets have eight tradable picks (compensatory selections can't be dealt), affording Idzik flexibility if he wants to step out of character and ... you know, be aggressive.

3. Names to watch: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is a popular mock-draft choice for the Jets. Good prospect, solid character, but some scouts wonder if he can be more than a slot receiver because of his size (a shade under 5-foot-10). Wide receiver Marqise Lee also is in the conversation, but this would require a leap of faith, essentially betting he'd be the 2012 version and not the 2013 Lee. The top corners are Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert, although it's quite possible one or both could be gone. Dennard is the better scheme fit, but Gilbert has more upside because of his elite ball skills.

4. Outsider's view: This is how a rival personnel director sees the Jets' situation at 18: "They have two specific team needs -- wide receiver and cornerback. It's a tough decision, but it would be a more difficult decision if there was no value at those position at that point in the first round. But that won't be the case. There will be value at those spots. I also wouldn't dismiss the tight end (Eric Ebron). They're also living with two safeties (Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen) that are borderline starting caliber, so I wouldn't be surprised if they go Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor."

5. Perspective, please: As you're watching it unfold, remember this: The Jets aren't a couple of players away, or even one draft away, from being a legitimate championship contender. They finished a soft 8-8, and before you take issue with that description, consider this: They were outscored by 97 points, the largest negative point differential for a .500 or better team since the merger in 1970. This draft is just another step in the process, albeit a big step.
To me, one of the fascinating subplots to the draft is general manager John Idzik and how he handles 12 picks. For the history buffs out there, the Jets haven't had a 12-player draft since 1998. Idzik has eight tradeable picks and four compensatory choices, giving him plenty of ammunition to wheel and deal.

Idzik didn't trade up or down last year in his first draft with the New York Jets, but one year isn't a big enough sample size to define a trend or a tendency. Nevertheless, you'd like to see him be aggressive, perhaps coming away with four players instead of three over the first three rounds. Some GMs are brilliant when it comes to this sort of maneuvering; some just sit on their hands and take the top guy on their board.

A lot of fans are wondering if the Jets would make a bold move by jumping into the top 10. The logical follow-up question is, which player would prompt them to make such a move? There are seven elite players in the draft, according to the general consensus -- Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Taylor Lewan. The most appealing players to the Jets are Clowney, Mack, Watkins and Evans, but there's a good chance they will be gone in the first eight or nine picks.

For argument's sake, let's say Evans dropped to the Buffalo Bills at nine. What would it cost to trade up? According to the draft value chart, the Jets would have to trade their first-round pick (18), their second-rounder (49) and a fifth rounder (154). That's a fairly steep price, but not outrageous. Nevertheless, I'd be surprised if Idzik pulled the trigger because he knows he can get a good player with the 49th pick. He's hoping to use this draft to restock his depth, which had eroded over the years.

One team that bears watching is the Pittsburgh Steelers at 15. Their primary needs are similar to those of the Jets -- cornerback and wide receiver -- so it's possible Idzik could try to leap-frog the Steelers to make sure he gets the one he wants. To swap with the Chicago Bears at 14, the Jets would have to give up their first-round pick and their third-rounder (80), according to the value chart. That's something I could see them doing to take wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. or one of the top corners, Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert. From what I'm hearing, though, Beckham may not even make it to the Steelers.

What about trading for a veteran player? Two players who might be available are Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oakland Raiders wide receiver Denarius Moore. If the Raiders get Watkins with the fifth pick, it wouldn't be a surprise if they try to deal Moore, who is heading into a contract year. The Jets' receivers coach, Sanjay Lal, coached Moore as a rookie. Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012, is the Cowboys' No. 3 corner and a bad scheme fit in their zone defense. The only problem is, Dallas would take a huge cap hit by dealing him and may decide to hold on to him for another year.

Payback time for free-agent losses

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
6:30
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Remember last year in free agency, when the New York Jets lost LaRon Landry, Dustin Keller, Mike DeVito and Shonn Greene?

General manager John Idzik, who took a lot of criticism for the exodus, admitted Wednesday that the decision to let those players walk was based, in part, on knowing they'd receive compensatory draft picks for the losses.

The Jets ended up receiving the maximum number of compensatory picks (four), giving them a total of 12 picks in next week's draft.

"The compensatory draft-pick system is always in your mind," Idzik said at the team's pre-draft news conference. "It's a factor. It's not the determinant, but it's a factor."

A number of well-respected teams, namely the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, have maximized their compensatory picks. Now the Jets get a chance to cash in. The third day of the draft (rounds four to seven) will be hectic, as the Jets have nine picks over the final four rounds.

Not everyone is a fan of collecting compensatory picks.

"We never went into free agency saying, 'Let's let Bobby and Billy go so we can get a compensatory pick to replace them,'" said ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, a former coach. "We never said, 'Let's not sign a free agent because it will hurt our ability to get a compensatory pick.’"

The Jets' compensatory picks: Fourth round (No. 137 overall), sixth round (No. 209), sixth round (No. 210) and sixth round (No. 213).

Numbers game: A lot of work goes into a draft. It takes almost a full year for the entire scouting process. Former GM Terry Bradway, the senior director of college scouting, provided his annual numbers breakdown, illustrating the point:

Number of schools visited: 263.

Number of school visits: 575.

Number of players written up in scouting reports: 1,372.

Number of player evaluations: 3,500.

Player interviews: 635.

Pro days attended: 115.

College games attended: 120.

The numbers remain fairly steady from year to year, and you can bet every other team is doing the same amount of homework.
Checking up on the New York Jets:

1. Woe-ffense: For too long, the Jets have been playing offense with hand-me-downs from other teams -- free-agent pick ups, trade acquisitions and an assortment of castoffs. The list is long: Brett Favre, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, etc. The Jets' best offensive player of this generation, Curtis Martin, came from the New England Patriots. Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick are the latest to join the recycled crowd, although Decker was a premium free agent. There's no law that says you can't build this way, but the lack of homegrown talent is both alarming an mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCould North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron be the homegrown skill player the Jets desperately need?
Try to wrap your brain around this: The last-drafted skill-position player to make the Pro Bowl on offense was wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the first overall pick in 1996. As Keyshawn himself would say, "Come on, man!" They've drafted some "almosts" over the years, players such as Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller, but they never hit it big for various reasons. Santana Moss and Laveranues Coles made the Pro Bowl, but they did it with the Washington Redskins. The point is, the Jets never will escape also-ran status until they draft and develop their own stars. They should keep that in mind when they start drafting in 11 days.

2. Dreaming of a tight end: The Jets really like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. They see him as a wide receiver/tight end hybrid that would be a matchup nightmare in a flexed position. Problem is, it's hard to imagine him falling to 18th. The Buffalo Bills (ninth) and New York Giants (12th) need a tight end and could take Ebron. If he gets past the Bills, what would it take to get ahead of the Giants? According to the draft value chart, the Jets would have to trade their third rounder and their two non-compensatory fourth-round picks to move up to the 11th spot, currently held by the Tennessee Titans. That's a lot to give up for a tight end.

2.a. Scouting term of the week: In a conference call with the NFL Nation reporters, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay used the term "buffet blocker." What is a buffet blocker? "He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested," McShay said. In case you're wondering, he was referring to Ebron.

3. The Fab Four: If I had to select the four most likely picks for the Jets at 18, I'd say: wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. That could change by draft day, of course, but that's what I'm hearing right now.

4. Don't forget the D: For those who believe the Jets absolutely must go heavy on offense in this draft, consider this: The Jets recorded sacks on only 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You know what that tells me? The "Sons of Anarchy" could use some help.

5. Q's time is now: The Jets made the no-brainer decision by exercising the fifth-year option for Muhammad Wilkerson ($6.97 million). Next year, the decision might not be so cut-and-dried with 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has yet to approach his potential. The fixed salary won't be set for another year, but they're looking at about $7 million for Coples. They're expecting big things this year from Coples, whose development was impeded last season with the switch to rush linebacker.

6. Double rejection: Rex Ryan is popular coach, evidenced by his fourth-place finish in a 2013 ESPN.com survey that asked players across the league to name the coach they'd most like to play for. But the notion all players are dying to play for Ryan and the Jets is a bit ridiculous. For instance: They were spurned by two free agents that took less money to play for other teams. Wide receiver Sidney Rice, who recently visited with the Jets, said he decided to return to the Seattle Seahawks (one year, $1.4 million) even though the Jets offered him more. Safety Kurt Coleman, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings (one year, $900,000) after visiting the Jets, said the Jets offered some guaranteed money. The Vikings didn't, but he opted for them anyway. Apparently, some players can resist Ryan's charm and the Jets' money.

7. Cornering the market: If the Jets don't pick a cornerback in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised if they explore the possibility of acquiring a veteran, perhaps in a trade. There has been speculation about the Dallas Cowboys trying to deal the disappointing Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012, but they'd take a major cap hit. Right now, his cap charge is $4.4 million, but it would explode to $9.6 million if they trade him, counting the bonus acceleration. The Cowboys would have to receive an offer they can't refuse to absorb that kind of hit.

8. From the what-if dept.: This never became public, but the Jets showed interest in wide receiver Julian Edelman during free agency. Ryan, in particular, was intrigued by the idea of stealing a weapon from the rival Patriots. Edelman ended up re-signing with the Patriots for $17 million over four years. Landing Edelman would've been quite a coup.

9. Sign of the times: In 2014, the Jets will pay kicker Nick Folk ($3.6 million) almost as much as running back Chris Johnson ($4 million), once regarded as one of the elite players in the league. It's a tale of two markets: Kicker salaries are increasing, running-back prices are plummeting.

10. Not what you think: I've heard coaches over the years say they prefer to face teams with new head coaches early in the season, figuring they still will be getting acclimated to new schemes. This may surprise you, but there's no evidence to suggest those particular teams are more vulnerable early in the season than late. Since 2000, new head coaches have a .453 winning percentage in the first month, followed by .427 in October, .455 in November and .451 in the final month, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets play three teams with new coaches, only one of which comes early -- the Detroit Lions (Sept. 28). They also have the Minnesota Vikings (Dec. 7) and Tennessee Titans (Dec. 14).
Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Penny pinchers: For those not happy with John Idzik's conservative approach to free agency... well, you may not want to read this. It will raise your ire to a new level.

[+] EnlargeIdzik
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets GM John Idzik has a new style this offseason: less spending, more scouting.
Right now, the Jets have the lowest cash payroll in the NFL -- $86.1 million, according to overthecap.com. We're not talking cap dollars, we're talking actual cash spending for 2014. They're $50 million under than the top-spending team, the Baltimore Ravens. The paltry number makes the Jets seem like the New York Mets of the NFL.

In 14 months, Idzik has systematically dumped many of the highest salaries. Their once-top-heavy cap has thinned to the point where only three players have cap charges of at least $7 million -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($11.7 million), Nick Mangold ($7.2 million) and David Harris ($7 million). It's telling that the fourth- and fifth-highest cap numbers belong to players no longer on the roster -- Antonio Cromartie ($5.5 million) and Mark Sanchez ($4.8 million).

The Jets flirted with several big-name free agents (Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), but missed out, in part, because they failed to show them the money. (Pardon the Jerry Maguire-ism.) What conclusions can be drawn? Either the Jets are cheap or Idzik is budgeting for the future. It's probably more of the latter. Know this: Starting this year, teams are required to spend at least 89 percent of the cap in cash over a four-year period. It looks like the Jets will have some catching up to do in future years.

2. DeSean update: Unless they pull a 180, the Jets won't be a factor in the DeSean Jackson sweepstakes -- a smart move. He's not a fit for them. They held internal discussions on Jackson, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg giving his blessing. Mornhinweg, who coached him with the Philadelphia Eagles, told people in the organization that Jackson -- known for his bad-boy reputation -- wouldn't be a problem in the locker room. That apparently wasn't enough to sway Idzik, who reportedly hadn't reached out to Jackson's agent as of Saturday. Jackson is scheduled to visit Monday with the Washington Redskins. The Oakland Raiders might be interested as well.

3. On the road again: Idzik has popped up at a number of the high-profile pro days, most recently the Johnny Manziel extravaganza at Texas A&M. He's taking more scouting trips than he did last offseason, when he was new on the job and felt obligated to work from the office as he familiarized himself with the operation and the staff.

4. For Pete's sake: I caught up with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at the league meetings and asked for a scouting report on right tackle Breno Giacomini, who left the Super Bowl champions to sign with the Jets. Carroll: "Great competitor. Really fierce. A really smart player. Tough. Great finisher. Physical. He's legit. We hated losing Breno. We would've liked to (have kept him), but we couldn't do it. We had no intention of wanting to lose him, but he's one of the guys we had to transition out of the organization. He's worth it (for the Jets). He got paid well and he deserves it."

Translation: We liked him, but not at four years, $18 million.

5. Cro is for the birds: With All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson locking down one side of the field, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expects opponents to attack former Jet Antonio Cromartie -- and he's just fine with that.

"I love the fact that there's going to be a lot of balls thrown at him, because I didn't throw that many when I was playing against him," Arians said at the league meetings, expressing confidence in Cromartie's coverage ability.

He'll rue that statement if Cromartie doesn't cover better than he did last season.

6. Sleeper with speed: It was overshadowed by the Jackson news and the Sanchez signing, but the Jets picked up an interesting player Friday -- cornerback Jeremy Reeves. After a four-year career at Iowa State, where he intercepted five passes (two returned for touchdowns), Reeves was eligible for the 2013 draft. But he tore a pectoral muscle, missed his pro day, wasn't drafted and wasn't signed by anyone. After working out on his own for a year, he participated in Iowa State's pro day last week and burned the 40 in 4.29 seconds, according to school officials.

He's only 5-7, 167 pounds (picture Darren Sproles at corner), but that kind of speed -- even if not totally accurate -- turns heads. The Jets have a good feel for Reeves because Jeff Bauer, the director of college scouting, is an Iowa State alum, plugged into the Iowa scene.

7. Flying with the Eagles: Former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (it feels weird typing that) made a good point in his introductory news conference in Philadelphia: He believes he could thrive in Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense because of past success in the hurry-up. Sanchez was at his best in two-minute situations, when he didn't have to read the entire field and was required to make quick decisions. So maybe there's hope for him in Philly. On the other hand, his career record against NFC teams isn't sterling -- 10 touchdown passes, 21 interceptions.

8. Reality star: Eric Decker's reality show -- "Eric and Jessie: Game On" -- kicks off its second season Sunday night. (Jessie is his wife, a country-music singer, in case you didn't know.) I asked Rex Ryan if he's worried the show could become a distraction for his new wide receiver. He laughed, but his answer was no. Ryan said the show never came up in conversation with Decker prior to him signing.

9. More teams, wealthier coaches: Ryan is in favor of expanding the playoff field. "Absolutely," he said. "When you look at the fact that bonuses are probably tied into it, absolutely." He laughed, but he wasn't joking. In his new contract extension, Ryan can trigger incentive bonuses for 2016 with playoff wins.

10. Changing times: The Jets have 12 draft picks. In Ryan's first three seasons (2009 to 2011), with Mike Tannenbaum as the GM, they had a total of 13.
DeSean JacksonKim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Imagine this scenario:

It's Week 3, and Geno Smith is struggling at quarterback. The New York Jets' revamped passing attack isn't clicking, and the inevitable clamor for Michael Vick is getting louder. Moody wide receiver DeSean Jackson isn't happy because he's not getting enough balls, and he goes public with his preference for Vick, a close friend from their years with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Match, meet Kerosene.

KA-BOOM!

As they mull the possibility of pursuing Jackson, whom the Eagles reportedly are willing to trade, the Jets need to take a hard look at the big picture, studying the potential impact on team chemistry. He comes with a "buyer beware" label because he can be a pain in the rear end. The Jets already have a potentially volatile quarterback situation, and the last thing they need is a devisive influence threatening to blow up a locker room that finally is healed after the dysfunction of 2011.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesNew Jets quarterback Michael Vick has a history with DeSean Jackson.
The Jets should stay away from Jackson. Far away.

When the Jets signed Vick last week, the popular theory was that his presence would lead to a reunion with Jackson -- especially if he's released, allowing him to sign with any team. In a different time, in a different place, yeah, you'd want a Vick-Jackson tandem. But the Jets aren't ready to abandon Smith; actually, they'd love for him to be their opening day starter, elevating his game as Vick -- the seasoned mentor -- watches with pride.

It's a delicate dynamic, one that won't succeed unless all parties are all-in. Vick says he's willing to help Smith's development, but let's not be naive: He wants to start. He made that clear Tuesday, telling SportsNet New York: "I feel like I'm a legitimate starting quarterback in this league." It's a complicated arrangement, but complicated can work. It won't work if the No. 1 receiver forms an alliance with Vick -- a potential danger floated by more than one league insider Tuesday at the NFL meetings.

Yes, the Jets have interest in Jackson, as owner Woody Johnson told the world, but the interest might not be as great as everyone thinks. General manager John Idzik is trying to create a positive, winning culture, and Jackson doesn't seem like his kind of player. Idzik wouldn't respond directly to questions about Jackson, but speaking in general terms, he acknowledged there's inherent risk when acquiring a player with character issues.

"It's not easy," he said. "We're in the human business. You lean on people who have had exposure to those guys."

In this case, that would be offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Jackson for four years in Philadelphia. Mornhinweg knows all about Jackson -- how he acts in the classroom, how he accepts criticism, how he responds to teammates. Even if Mornhinweg gives his blessing, it still would be a gamble.

[+] EnlargeMarty Mornhinweg
Al Pereira/New York Jets/Getty ImagesMarty Mornhinweg coached DeSean Jackson for four years in Philadelphia.
The Jets just rid themselves of a diva, Santonio Holmes, who gave Mark Sanchez plenty of agita over the years. Desperate for a receiver in 2010, they surrendered a fifth-round pick for Holmes. It was a short-term steal, but they got suckered, giving Holmes a five-year, $45 million contract in 2011. Idzik wasn't around for that decision, or the locker-room turmoil that ensued, but he's heard the stories.

Do the Jets really want to go there again?

Jackson is a terrific talent, but he has a reputation for being a petulant, me-first player. He argued with a coach on the sideline last season. He was benched for a game in 2011 for missing a meeting. He staged a training-camp holdout in 2011. He complained about his contract after last season, knowing he still had three years and $30 million remaining on his deal. Sounds like Darrelle Revis.

So now the Eagles are looking to move him. Ask yourself this: Why would Chip Kelly want to unload a 27-year-old receiver coming off a 1,300-yard season? Could it be a personality clash with Kelly? Maybe, but Jackson also had problems under Andy Reid.

Desperation causes smart teams to do dumb things. The Jets aren't as desperate after signing Eric Decker, but they're still in the very needy category. Jackson would thrill, but he'd eventually become a headache.

Vick doesn't think so, saying Jackson would benefit from a change of scenery.

"I think sometimes it takes a change in your life to understand really what needs to happen, and the course that needs to be set," he told SNY. "Maybe it's time for a change for DeSean to help him understand the maturation process of his young NFL life and his personal life."

Maybe Vick could mentor Jackson, just like he's hoping to aid Smith. But what happens in a year, when his contract expires and he's gone? The Jets would have Jackson, but not his better half.

The smart play would be to address the wide receiver need through the draft. Scouts are calling this the best receiver draft in history, and the Jets own 12 picks. Idzik wants to build through the draft. Every GM says that, but there aren't many that have the willpower to resist the temptation of a quick fix with an ugly downside.

 

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