Nissim's Ready for Hot Summer Contract Talks

This is the stretch of the NFL calendar when everybody chills. Players head back home for their last weeks away before the games begin. Coaches get their final decompression time for months. It's the calm before the storm.

Ari Nissim, on the other hand, is heading straight for the heat. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Dealing with agents on an everyday basis," Nissim said, "is one of the favorite parts of my job."

Nissim isn't joking. He has parlayed a love of mathematics, lawyering and football and a singlemindedness for conquering the challenges of the NFL salary cap into his role as the Jets' director of football administration.

Green & White fans rightly credit general manager Mike Tannenbaum with the mastery of the cap and big-money negotiations since he arrived with Bill Parcells in 1997 as director of player contracts. But as Tannenbaum's role in the organization grows — last Tuesday he was announced as one of the team's three new executive vice presidents — so does Nissim's role as the Jets' contract point man.

"I was negotiating the Kerry Rhodes deal for a number of months," he said of the safety's April contract extension. "We were happy to come to a conclusion on that and extend him. He's one of our core players."

And he and Tannenbaum are in the process of hammering out the deals for first-round draft picks Vernon Gholston and Dustin Keller, fourth-rounder Dwight Lowery and fifth-rounder Erik Ainge.

Such a role for Nissim, 31, seems preordained. His father was a locksmith — a somehow fitting occupation to have on his family tree — who emigrated from Israel to New York City. And his mother was a Badger — a Wisconsin Badger — and UW is where Ari, even in second grade, knew he was going for his undergraduate studies.

"When the NFL salary cap began in '93, I was in high school," he recalled. "I really like math, I really like working with numbers, and I really like football. I realized I wasn't exactly an exceptional athlete so I wouldn't be playing football. But how could I work with something that would get me involved?"

After Wisconsin, he pursued his dream by heading to Tulane's law school, for two reasons: the reputation of its sports law program and the fact that Mike T was one of its graduates.

The two met after Tannenbaum spoke at the New Orleans university, and soon after Nissim began some career broken-field running: a two-week internship and a training camp assignment with the Jets, an internship with the NFL Management Council, some odd jobs, a year as director of research with a sports agency.

When Tannenbaum moved up to the general manager's office in February 2006, Nissim was hired as manager of the football administration office. Last year he was promoted to director and Jacqueline Davidson was brought in as manager.

"I knew Jackie from the league office," Nissim said. "She has a legal degree and was clerking in the court system at the time. I thought this was not only a person who was exceptionally smart but also would tell me when she thought I was wrong. She's been extraordinary for the organization."

Davidson works closely with Nissim on the day-to-day cap issues and writes much of the contract language that the Jets present to player agents. Along with Dan Zbojovsky, recently hired as a player personnel assistant, the football administration office is ready for the remaining summer negotiations with this year's rookie class.

And ready for what lies beyond — not an empty observation in light of the NFL last month opting out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFLPA following the 2010 season. You might think this would drive a numbers man nuts. Not so.

"Now that we've opted out of the CBA, it's a little bit easier," Nissim said. "We literally had to gauge three different scenarios every time we made a move. What happens if the deal goes through the way [the cap] is? What happens if we opt out? What happens if we don't opt out this year but we opt out next year? Now, at least, we know the rules that are in place."

And the Jets' spreadsheets, reduced by two-thirds, are in order, regardless of how the CBA issue unfolds. Especially now but always true in this salary cap era, no contract is executed in a vacuum.

"With every situation, we look at how it impacts our cap projections not only for this year but the next four years," Nissim said. "We had been planning for this possibility and we put ourselves in a good position for the future. We're comfortable about where we're at with our cap."

And that's really what Jets fans want to know as their team heads for the rising temperatures and pressures of another all-important training camp.

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