When I became a columnist last fall, I swore I would avoid blabbering about my hometown teams back in New York at all costs, knowing no one out here really cares about them. But with what the New York Jets have been doing this spring, ignoring them is becoming impossible. With the moves the Jets have made since losing to Indianapolis in the AFC title game last January paired with what they did before the season, it becomes apparent that this team could be changing the landscape of the NFL offseason.
Anyone who has watched anything on ESPN in the last two months knows the sports world makes an enormous deal of the NFL Draft. But it's not just the analysts hyping up the draft. Teams around the NFL value draft picks like no other asset. Even a franchise quarterback such as Donovan McNabb can't garner a first-round draft selection in a trade. Teams around the league hold on to their draft picks, especially first-rounders, like they're gold mines.
This is because, for whatever reason, the draft has become the end-all-be-all solution to building a franchise. Signing free agents was a method to patch up holes and weak spots on a club, but the draft has been used to build teams from the floor up. In the offseason, teams have been using the draft as the primary method to address team needs, with free agency acting more as a back-up plan.
Keeping this in mind, some teams around the league began to stockpile draft picks, accumulating as many as possible to improve hops of finding a draftee that will pan out (a la the New England Patriots). With some good scouting and a little luck, this can be a viable strategy, as we've seen the Patriots reach and win the Super Bowl while counting on players drafted in the second round or later, such as Asante Samuel, Deion Branch and Ellis Hobbs, who took key roles contributing to the team's success.
But since 2006, the Pats haven't received any solid production from a second-round or later pick (unless you count kicker Steven Gostkowski). NFL analysts everywhere call the draft a huge crapshoot, so if you think about it, it makes sense that New England's luck has caught up to them a little bit.
If the draft is indeed a crapshoot, why should teams use their resources to stockpile draft picks and count on third-, fourth- and fifth-round selections to come through? It's still an approach often used by NFL clubs, that is, until the Jets changed their offseason strategy beginning last spring.
Instead of keeping all their draft selections for the 2009 NFL Draft, the Jets put all their chips on two players, quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene. We see so many teams looking to trade down these days, but the Jets traded up for who they believe will be their franchise quarterback. Then they saw Greene was still on the board moving into the third round, so the Jets once again cashed in more draft picks to move up and grab the running back from Iowa. In a seven-round draft, the Jets only made three selections, but one would be hard-pressed to argue that any team got more production from its draft class than New York last season.
This spring, the Jets hit the offseason hard. First, during the season they shipped a third-round selection for wide receiver Braylon Edwards, then another third-rounder for cornerback Antonio Cromartie and recently traded a fifth-rounder for another wide receiver, Santonio Holmes. With teams around the league foaming at the mouth for picks, the Jets were more than happy to part with two third-rounders and a fifth-rounder for two No. 1 receivers and a starting cornerback. No team has had a draft class equal the production of these three players, especially with late-round picks.
On paper, the moves New York made look fantastic. Teams around the NFL will continue to use the draft to address team needs, but filling holes with proven players rather than mid-round draft picks just makes much more sense.
No games have been played yet this season, so no one is exactly sure how New York will fare. But analysts have already begun to project big things for the Jets. And if New York does come through with a big year, after constructing a team from limited draft picks and proven veterans, it could change the NFL offseason forever.
Will the Jets' offseason strategy pay off this year? E-mail Scott at email@example.com.