Rex Ryan masterful in molding Jets roster

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
2:01
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Baltimore Ravens thought they could pull a fast one for a Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens needed to add a safety and signed free-agent Ken Hamlin. To make room, they cut veteran defensive lineman Trevor Pryce with the intention of bringing him back after the game.

Rex Ryan and Santonio Holmes
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesOne of coach Rex Ryan's best moves was getting receiver Santonio Holmes for a fifth-round pick last offseason.
They didn't expect Rex Ryan would swoop in.

Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, immediately identified Pryce as a player who could help the New York Jets and signed him within a day.

"He knows exactly what he wants," Pryce said Wednesday at his locker stall in the Jets' facility.

"He has in his mind what a football team's supposed to be and what kinds of parts and pieces you need for a football team and the personalities and what a guy can do."

Snagging Pryce was the kind of sudden move that illustrates Ryan's analytical conviction and the Jets' willingness to pull the trigger on a deal that can improve their roster.

Since Rex Ryan has taken over as Jets head coach, they have undergone substantial roster turnover and reached the AFC Championship Game both years. They will play the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field for a ticket to the Super Bowl.

When the Jets lost to the Colts in AFC title game last year, it was a great sign for a team on the make. One would expect a reluctance to tinker with a good thing.

But by June, Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum had turned over 25 percent of their roster. Only eight teams, most of them rebuilding organizations, had gotten rid of more players.

"If I thought there was any flaw about somebody else, maybe from a character standpoint as far as what kind of leader they were as a teammate and all that type of stuff, we just moved on," Ryan said. "Not saying they can't play in the NFL; they just couldn't play for us.

"I wanted guys that are great teammates, that care about each other, that are committed to winning and committing to building each other up. And that's what we have. We have a whole team of those right now."

Only 23 players on the Jets' active roster were here when Ryan arrived in 2009.

The Jets intrepidly have pulled several high-profile moves to accumulate players they want. They traded up to draft quarterback Mark Sanchez in 2009 and acquired receiver Braylon Edwards a few games into the season.

Over the past offseason, they made highly favorable trades for receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie. They signed castoff veterans such as running back LaDainian Tomlinson, outside linebacker Jason Taylor and safety Brodney Pool.

"We don't make moves just to stay the same or make moves just to be selling newspapers or something," Ryan said. "The moves that we made went to better our football team.

"Our only purpose of making the moves we made in the offseason was to better our chances of winning a Super Bowl, and I think now you see some of those moves really paying off for us."

Pryce explained Ryan has an affinity for "people that have beat up on him. If you've beaten him before, he wants you. If you can't beat them, put them on your team."

Holmes certainly falls in that category. The Jets got him from the Steelers for a measly fifth-round pick.

"I just wanted him," Ryan said. "I never cared about the compensation. Let Tannenbaum figure that out. I just knew that anybody that beat me that bad, that I'd just as soon have him on our team. Three games in a row when I was in Baltimore, he beat us."

Holmes came cheaply because he'd gotten into trouble so frequently and the Steelers, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger making ghastly headlines at the time, were tired of dealing with character issues. The NFL was on the verge of suspending Holmes the first four games of the season for substance abuse.

Holmes has been an asset for the Jets. He had 52 receptions for 746 yards and six touchdowns and has been on his best behavior.

A reporter asked Pryce why the Jets have been able to make the Holmes acquisition work so well when the Steelers felt compelled to give up on the former Super Bowl MVP.

"We all have issues," Pryce said. "If you figure that we all have issues, then his issues are just another issue. If all of us are covered in mud, he doesn't stick out."

Ryan's ability to quickly and astutely recognize a commodity and then integrate him into the locker room is masterful and a critical reason the Jets have gotten within one step of the Super Bowl two years in a row.

Pryce predicted Ryan won't be satisfied with success when it comes to assembling his roster for 2011 either.

"There's probably 12 or 15 guys you know he'd love to have around the league," Pryce said. "When they get released, which they will, they'll all be here one way or another."

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