The New York Jets sit in a good financial position as the off-season commences. Free agency is on the horizon in March and the Green & White won't have their hands tied.
"We're comfortably under the cap, so if and when opportunities present themselves, we'll look into those opportunities," said GM Mike Tannenbaum. "That also includes trying to keep our own good players. That is something that Eric [Mangini], Woody [Johnson] and I believe in. That is a big part of what we like to do: keep as many of our own young, ascending players as we can."
The Jets have a handful of players who are unrestricted free agents — S Erik Coleman, OLB Victor Hobson, CB Hank Poteat, TE Sean Ryan, OL Wade Smith and QB Marques Tuiasosopo — and only Hobson made double-digit starts (14) this season.
"The lines of communication will be open with him and his representatives," Tannenbaum said of the fifth-year vet. "I've talked to them recently, and we'll see what happens with Vic."
On baggie day, a trio of players — TE Chris Baker, WR Laveranues Coles and S Kerry Rhodes — publicly expressed their desire to get new contracts. The 30-year-old Coles battled injuries in the second half of the season but his six TDs led the club. He was an offensive cocaptain, is one of the most respected players in the locker room, and wants to finish his career in New York.
"I've seen Laveranues evolve into an incredible person from a standpoint of almost a Curtis Martin-type of persona within the building in dealing with his teammates, his coaches and the support staff," Tannenbaum said. "He's a good football player and he's really a great person. I hope Laveranues is here for a long time. I've learned a lot personally from Laveranues."
You can throw Rhodes into the young-ascending-player category. The rangy playmaker, entering his fourth pro season, has totaled nine interceptions the past two seasons.
"We'll see what they do. If they want me around, they'll talk about it a little bit," Rhodes said. "We'll see as the off-season plays out and see what they want to do with it."
As per organizational policy, the Jets don't discuss any contract negotiations publicly. Tannenbaum was asked this week about how his feelings on giving players new deals who have multiple years left on existing contracts.
"We just deal with that on a case-by-case basis and every situation is unique," he said. "We're just going to take it person-by-person."
Even though the Jets missed out on the postseason, Tannenbaum is keeping tabs on the playoffs. The best teams succeed not only with front-line excellence but with depth as well.
"Good players come from all different areas — Division II players, quarterbacks that are undrafted or seventh-round picks," he said. "To be a good, successful team in this league you have to be open to acquiring those types of players, and you need to balance your cap that way so you can withstand injuries at those positions and still do well."
One position group the Jets are sure to address this spring, in either free agency or the draft, is the offensive line. Jet quarterbacks were sacked 53 times last season and sometimes the holes were hard to come by for the runners. Thomas Jones, in his first campaign with New York's AFC representative, averaged 3.6 yards a carry.
"The line play wasn't as consistent as it needed to be. Sometimes they played at a winning level, and sometimes it didn't," Tannenbaum said. "That starts with me. We'll do a better job of trying to make the offensive line play more consistently in 2008."
If the Jets can repeat their draft success of a year ago, it should translate to more wins on the field. Linebacker David Harris, a second-round find from Michigan, started nine games and produced 127 total tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles.
And Darrelle Revis, a Pittsburgh product, started every game at CB. The first-rounder, the No. 14 overall selection, was a physical presence and performed well against some of the game's top wideouts. He has the look of a very good No. 1 corner for years to come.
Tannenbaum credited Mangini and the coaching staff for not only helping the top draft picks prosper but also guiding free agent pickups such as S Abram Elam and OL Will Montgomery.
"Eric did a really good job this year in developing the younger players on our team. I thought they got better," he said. "I think practices are really competitive. There's a lot of energy and teaching and development. That foundation will allow us to have success in the future."
And that future starts now. The Jets are analyzing their own roster in addition to potential free agents and college players. Tannenbaum and his tireless staff, including the likes of player personnel director Terry Bradway, assistant player personnel director JoJo Wooden and director of college scouting Joey Clinkscales, are in attack mode.
"It's about your musts and your needs," Tannenbaum said. "From where we sit, it's about attacking that seven days a week, 24 hours a day."
Bill Parcells hired Tannenbaum as the Jets' director of player contract negotiations on Feb. 19, 1997. Now the mentor and his former student are set to go head-to-head as the Dolphins recently hired Parcells to run their football operation. "Our conversations are a little bit different now. Personally [the relationship] hasn't changed, but professionally it certainly has," Tannenbaum said. "It does change our dynamic."
With the departures of DB coach Mike MacIntyre, who was named defensive coordinator at Duke, and special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff (health), the Jets have to fill a couple of holes on the coaching staff. "Something Eric's doing right now is evaluating his whole staff," said the second-year GM. "That is a work in progress."