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John Idzik used to sit behind general manager John Schneider in the Seattle Seahawks' draft room. He was Schneider's sounding board, always ready with a well-reasoned opinion.
On Thursday, Idzik moves into the big chair for the first time in his 20-year NFL career. Known previously as a salary-cap expert and contract negotiator, the New York Jets' new general manager finally gets to pick the players.
Idzik is somewhat of a wild card because he has no track record, but people familiar with his thinking believe he will go into his first draft with a long-term approach, refusing to deviate for the sake of a splashy move.
"I think he'll try to acquire more picks and build through the draft for a couple of years," Schneider said in a phone interview. "He's very methodical. He's not interested in making moves that grab attention. He believes wins grab attention."
Like it or not, Idzik will be one of the headline-makers on Day 1. With the ninth and 13th overall picks, the latter acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade, he's one of the first-round power brokers. The controversial trade, coupled with these picks, could define his GM tenure in New York.
|Jets GM John Idzik will have many educated opinions in his ear at the NFL draft. But who will he listen to?|
Idzik, on the job for three months, stepped into an unusual dynamic. He's the only new guy in the front office, and he's surrounded by a possible lame-duck coach and scouting staff that has been together for several years. There could be conflicting agendas, especially with Rex Ryan, who isn't concerned about the long term. He needs to win now.
Idzik's toughest job will be deciding who to trust. Opinions will be coming from every direction.
Between scouts, cross-checkers, position coaches and coordinators, there could be seven scouting reports on a single player. He made it sound easy, claiming, "It's not going to be John's philosophy, it's going to be our philosophy" -- but we all know that's an over-simplification.
"Listening is easy. Who do I listen to? That's the biggest challenge -- and I don't think there's a close second," a longtime GM, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
This is particularly important for Idzik, who is hardly a grizzled talent evaluator.
Fans might not want to hear this, but Idzik said he's leaning on Mike Tannenbaum's former lieutenants, senior personnel executive Terry Bradway and longtime scout Jeff Bauer, who was promoted to director of college scouting.
By the time Idzik was hired in late January, the scouting department was well into its draft preparation. It sounds like he didn't change too much.
"I think the thing that has been impressive with John is that he has respected our process of the evaluation in the fall, the all-star games, the cross checks, the February meeting, the combine and so forth," Bradway said. "It's hard in midstream to change all of that."
The Tannenbaum-led drafts didn't hit too many home runs, as only 19 of 41 picks remain on the roster. So, obviously, Idzik will have to evaluate the entire operation once the draft is over.
For now, Idzik is sticking to the "everybody-has-a-voice" approach. Ryan used to have the loudest one, but his influence is diminished. If he still had as much power as he did under Tannenbaum, the Jets never would've traded Revis.
"In the end, you want your head coach feeling good about what you're doing and the decisions you make," Idzik said.
It will be a delicate balance.
"It's tough. You have to be a facilitator, not an order taker," the anonymous GM said. "That's what Mike became -- an order taker. It's easy to become in our league."
So how will Idzik draft? If he applies what he learned in Seattle, it'll be a meat-and-potatoes philosophy.
In six drafts while he was with the Seahawks, the team used four of six first-round selections on offensive and defensive linemen. The others were a safety and a linebacker. They never picked a running back before the fourth round, and they found their quarterback, Russell Wilson, in the third.
"I don't know if he'll be a big risk taker in his first draft. That's just my personal opinion," Schneider said.
The Seahawks have been ultra-aggressive this offseason, but they have a playoff roster with a young, ascending quarterback. The Jets aren't there yet, not even close. They're building the foundation; the Seahawks are hanging the chandeliers.
Multiple league sources believe Idzik will use his two first-round picks on a guard (talk about conservative) and a pass-rusher. Possible targets are North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, Alabama guard Chance Warmack and LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo. A cornerback could be in play, especially if Alabama's Dee Milliner slips, which could happen.
The typical Jets move would be something bold, a knee-jerk response to satisfy a fan base grumbling over the Revis trade. Idzik could change the mood by picking West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith -- or any quarterback, for that matter -- but that's unlikely to happen despite the need.
Idzik isn't looking for a quick fix. In fact, he has sent out word that he's looking to trade down, acquiring extra picks. This will be a long, slow process to rebuild the Jets.
"He's very deliberate and unflappable, with strong opinions," Schneider said.
Idzik said Thursday will feel like game day. He'd better hope it's not a game from last season.