It's a familiar question as every team heads into the off-season: What's your draft philosophy — select the highest-rated prospect available or target a position that needs improvement?
"I would say up until a few years ago it was always a little bit more take the best player available. Over time in the salary cap era, people do draft a little bit more for need," said Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum. "That's a little bit of an oversimplification, but by the time we get to April, we'll have a better idea of where we are. Our track record shows we've gone up and down [with trades], so I wouldn't rule anything out."
The Jets don't know what their predraft needs are yet because free agency is set for March. Tannenbaum said the Jets are "comfortably" under the cap and that's exactly where you want to be in January. The Green & White are putting together an off-season plan but the direction won't be revealed for a couple of months.
Earlier this week, Tannenbaum was asked what his team's biggest needs are.
"Some are apparent, and some have to deal with depth and when contracts can be expiring," he said. "That's always part of my job, to be a little bit more forward-thinking and see who is going to expire after the 2008 season and try to allocate resources accordingly."
It's difficult to handicap the draft at this point. But the key message from Tannenbaum is "I wouldn't rule anything out." We suggest you take him at his word.
The Jets have had two distinctly different drafts in the Tannenbaum/Eric Mangini era, but each was highlighted by a flurry of trades.
In 2006, the Green & White selected 10 players and eight still remain on the roster. Starting C Nick Mangold — the second of two first-round selections — was selected No. 29 overall after the Jets acquired the pick from Atlanta (via Denver) in exchange for DE John Abraham.
Then a round later, Tannenbaum moved down 14 places (35 to 49) in a trade with the Redskins and was still able to draft QB Kellen Clemens while stockpiling picks.
Leon Washington, recently voted team MVP by his teammates, was selected in the fourth round after the Jets acquired the No. 117 overall pick from Kansas City as compensation for former head coach Herman Edwards. Reserve safety Eric Smith was added in the third round after the Jets were awarded a compensatory pick from the NFL.
Entering the '06 draft, the Jets had major holes on the O-line. They addressed them early, sitting tight at No. 4 overall and taking Virginia LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and then Mangold. Both players have started every game in their pro careers and Mangold, who replaced Kevin Mawae in the Jets' lineup, is a third alternate for this year's Pro Bowl.
Clemens was considered a first-round talent by many scouts and learned behind Chad Pennington his rookie season. But he supplanted Pennington as the Jets' starter at the 2007 midway point and will have every opportunity to win the job this summer.
Then last spring, Tannenbaum made his first "draft pick" in early March, moving down only 27 picks in the second round (37 to 63) in an exchange with the Bears to acquire RB Thomas Jones. Jones didn't disappoint in his first season in green & white, rushing for 1,119 yards.
Mr. T also got the wheeling and dealing underway at Radio City Music Hall last April, participating in the first trade of the draft. The Jets found a partner in Carolina in a multipick swap, elevating 11 spots and select Pittsburgh's Darrelle Revis at No. 14 overall.
A round after climbing for Revis, the Jets made a deal with Green Bay to go up again. Then with that No. 47 selection, they struck gold with Michigan LB David Harris.
You've heard the superlatives throughout the season about Revis and Harris. Revis fit the need of a No. 1 corner and Harris can do everything at ILB. They figure to be defensive mainstays and leaders on the defense for years to come.
OL Jacob Bender was a project in the sixth round and don't forget Chansi Stuckey, the seventh-round pick of Clemson who spent his rookie season on IR. He flashed last summer before injuring his foot and has the potential to be the Jets' slot receiver in '08.
We're a long way off from April, so it's too early to know the Jets' draft needs. They won't rule anything out and Tannenbaum's phone will be busy for the foreseeable future.