There is a room on the 2nd floor at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center that is ground zero for free agency. Much like the draft board before the NFL's annual selection meeting, the Jets create a free agency board well before the beginning of the NFL's free agency/trading period on March 9.
"It's set up similar to the college board. Vertically it's by position and horizontally it's by grade," says Jets pro personnel director Matt Bazirgan. "This includes UFAs, RFAs and it also includes players we project to be cap cuts. So the guys at the top will generally be the upper echelon players that are going to be available by grade and then as you work down on the board each position vertically, it goes by a higher level of grade, next level and all the way down towards your backup level caliber player."
After the Jets' 10-win season ended in Buffalo, the free agency preparation got turned up a notch.
"We ramp up after the season, we'll meet multiple times per week. So we have two sets of meetings," Bazirgan said. "Our first meeting we’ll all get together. The primary guy who is responsible for the player will read his evaluation. We'll all watch 20-30 clips, plays on the player together and kind of put a preliminary grade on the player."
The NFL's Free Agency & Trading Periods Begin 3/9/16 at 4:00 P.M
After a preliminary grade is assigned, Bazirgan and pro scouts Tom Gibbons, Greg Nejmeh & Dan Zbojovsky circle back for an even more thorough review. While each scout is assigned a team to monitor during the regular season, they also have positions to cross-check.
"A couple of weeks ago, we got back together for about eight days and kind of went back over everything," Bazirgan said. "All right the cross-check guy comes in with a grade. OK here is the final grade. How do we stack 'em by position? We won't watch film the second time around, so it's a little bit more of a quicker process."
And the board can change with a moment's notice. Jackie Davidson, who as the team's director of football administration manages the Jets salary cap and player budget, plays a critical role while forecasting trends for the NFL salary cap and player costs.
"Jackie has a really sound feel," Bazirgan said. "I think when we meet, we can kind of help each other out a little bit as who we project to be cap cuts. And there are always a couple of surprises and also as we get closer to it now, you're seeing more media reports. Sometimes you can get ahead of it, some are really obvious. And then others you kind of have to weed out a little bit."
Todd Bowles' coaching staff also gets into the scouting mix in the offseason. After going 100 MPH from July until January, the assistants are brought up to speed on the free agency board.
"They're a key component to it. They're a fresh set of eyes, but they also give you a good feel for okay this is how he fits for us," Bazirgan said. "We certainly have a good idea of our system, but those guys have intricate details of what the players will be asked to do. Particularly on defense, that's first, second and third down. Is this guy a base player, is he a sub player or is he a both? Is he a three-down player? Who is he better than on our roster? Does he upgrade us? Does he not? And then of course with Brant (Boyer) coming on too from a special teams standpoint, that gets mixed in too."
There are multiple tiers in free agency. While GM Mike Maccagnan has said he would like to retain as many of the Jets free agents as possible, the roster will change and depth acquisitions will be critical.
"There are a lot of good football players in our league. They just have different levels and certain roles," Bazirgan said. "It's really a keen eye in scouting comes in for all of us, for Greg, Tom, Dan and myself is finding those guys who can fill a certain role. They might not have a big name. The outside perception might be, 'Who's that?' But we've done the work on him and we feel he can fit a role at a certain price. We feel those guys are just as important as your higher-priced guys."
The 2016 Jets' board, which is set up vertically by position and horizontally by grade, is ultimately determined by a familiar credo.
"You do it by the best player. That's kind of how you have your board," Bazirgan said. "There might be certain guys that you target that you say we know where he's going to be at – whether it's the position or the money or something – and hey we're not going to be there, but we'll still give the player his due."