Tannenbaum's tradewinds send Jets sailing
April, 28, 2010
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
William Perlman/US PresswireMike Tannenbaum, right, has gained a reputation as a wheeler and dealer and is constantly working to improve New York's roster.Why do I get the feeling that if Mrs. Tannenbaum sent her little Mike off to school with his packed lunch, he rarely ate whatever she made?
By the time the lunch bell rang, he would've traded his bologna for a PB&J, his pretzel sticks for a fruit cup and offered recess services for a pudding to be named later.
"Our needs don't call for tapioca at this time, but we can revisit when chocolate becomes available and keep Jell-O as a contingency," I can imagine him saying during those formative years in Needham, Mass.
Mike Tannenbaum seems born to make his trades. As general manager of the New York Jets, he has gained a reputation as the consummate wheeler-dealer, unafraid to pull the trigger on any move that might improve his roster.
"I applaud him," former Green Bay Packers vice president Ron Wolf said, "because he's at least willing to put his nuts on the line."
Wolf knows Tannenbaum through mutual friend Bill Parcells. Tannenbaum considers both mentors and has invited Wolf to visit with the Jets' scouting department at the team facility in Florham Park, N.J.
"Everybody there's got to be proud of what he's doing," Wolf said. "They're a viable team."
A substantial reason for the Jets' outlook is Tannenbaum's maverick approach to building the team.
Any time is a fine time to make a trade in Tannenbaum's world.
He'll do it at the draft, trading up to snag cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris, tight end Dustin Keller quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene.
He'll do it after training camp starts, bringing Brett Favre aboard in August. He'll do it during the season, adding Braylon Edwards in October. He'll do it as a component of free agency, taking gambles on cornerback Antonio Cromartie and receiver Santonio Holmes in the spring.
Makes no difference to Tannenbaum.
"Opportunities come, and you just don't know when they're going to come along," Tannenbaum said. "We just take our sheet and say, 'Here are our needs. Here's the trade possibilities here, the restricted free agents here, the guys that got cut, and here are the UFAs that we can't touch. What's best for the Jets?
"That's our charge. That's our obligation. I love it. I draw everything from it and, hopefully, we take those opportunities."
Tannenbaum carries on like he's running a fantasy football team, and by the looks of the Jets' roster, that might not be too far removed from reality. He also has added highly decorated running back LaDainian Tomlinson and pass-rusher Jason Taylor through free agency in a bid to win the Super Bowl this season.
"Anything worth fighting for is going to require some risk," said Jets senior personnel executive Terry Bradway, who preceded Tannenbaum as GM. "Expectations are high.
"We feel like we've done a good job putting this team together. But it won't stop. Nobody's going to be fooled by getting to the AFC Championship game and think that we're OK."
The Jets were supposed to be handcuffed by the "final eight" plan, a mechanism put in place for the uncapped season to prevent teams that went deep into the playoffs from loading up rosters. Teams that reached the second round of the playoffs essentially had to lose an unrestricted free agent before they could sign one.
Taylor was the only acquisition that fell under that category. He joined the Jets after they lost kicker Jay Feely. The Jets collected the other players by working the phones and hammering out deals the old-fashioned way.
As the Jets did with Edwards last year, they found more risk-reward players who were available for less than market value. As a result, Cromartie and Holmes were added to the roster for a fifth-round pick this year and a third-round pick in 2011.
"You can play it right down the middle and swing nice and easy, or you can take a shot and swing hard," Bradway said. "But all the risks are calculated. In some cases, there's a risk-reward that we're aware of before we make a decision.
"People might look at it as fantasy football, but what really happens is a tremendous amount of research that goes into all these decisions. Mike is really good at gathering all that information, getting all the people pulled in the right direction and making the decision."
Tannenbaum surprised many last week by not making a splashy maneuver through the first three rounds of the draft.
But he made headlines Saturday, when the Jets cut perennial Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and dealt running back Leon Washington, a Pro Bowl kick returner two seasons ago, to the Seattle Seahawks.
"There's a lot of ways to improve your football team," Bradway said, "and I think what he has done, with his vision, is to work at every day and see if something makes sense. There's a lot of scenarios we talk about that never come about, but it's very stimulating conversation."
One prominent opposing team official contacted for this story declined to be interviewed, but before hanging up the phone stressed Tannenbaum shouldn't be lauded as some sort of mastermind visionary behind the Jets' success.
The official, while expressing deep respect for Tannenbaum as an organizational manager, claimed more credit should be given to head coaches Eric Mangini (now with the Cleveland Browns) and Rex Ryan and chief college scout Joey Clinkscales. The official lauded them for pushing Tannenbaum to pursue the players that make up the team's core.
"Mike is willing to be aggressive, and he deserves credit for that," the official said, "but somebody has to point him. He's not a talent evaluator."
Even so, Tannenbaum's intrepidness and faith in the support staff with which he has surrounded himself allows the Jets to make moves other teams seem to shy away from.
It's not like the Jets had exclusive negotiating rights on Favre, Edwards, Holmes or Cromartie. Other front offices had the opportunity to make similar -- or even better -- deals, but chose not to.
"If you like the player, go get the player," Wolf said. "It seems pretty simple between the two of us talking about it, but a lot of people don't do that.
"Why not take a shot? If you think the guy is good, why not take a shot? What's the risk here? The only risk is the guy's not good. If you go out and get four guys and only two of them play, shoot, that's two more than another team has. Even one out of four isn't bad."