Rebuilding a Franchise:
3. Trader Mike Stands Firm
After the 2005 collapse the Jets needed to do something to change the face of the franchise. The team had two first round picks, the fourth pick and the 29th pick, but there were only a handful of players that would meet the criteria of being the kind of player that can excite the entire fanbase. The four names on draft day were Heisman Trophy winner RB Reggie Bush of USC, former Heisman Trophy winner QB Matt Leinart also of USC fame, BCS Champion QB Vince Young of Texas, and, to a much lesser extent than the others, Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler. The Jets had little interest in Young, so it was really three players for the team to look at.
All offseason the speculation was that the Houston Texans would take Bush with the top pick in the draft. Bush was a dynamic player in college, a once in a lifetime type of talent. The cost of moving to number 1 is far too high to consider for any player, but the news broke the day before the draft that the Texans were going to take DE Mario Williams with the number 1 pick. Bush was now available. The New Orleans Saints sat at number 2 and were in a similar position to the Jets in terms of rebuilding, but everyone knew the Saints would listen to offers. It was a virtual guarantee that the Tennessee Titans, at number 3, would take QB Vince Young so the Jets were the Saints logical trade partner.
Speculation was rampant that the Jets and their new GM, Mike Tannenbaum, were feverishly working on a deal with Mickey Loomis, GM of the Saints. The Jets wanted Bush and were going to try their hardest to get him. As it turned out it was nothing more than baseless speculation. The Jets did make the call, but, whether it was just inexperience or just trying to feel out the trade waters, Tannenbaum reportedly lowballed the Saints and the talks ended as soon as they had begun. In addition to the fourth pick in the draft the Saints wanted a 2nd round pick in 2006 and a 1st rounder in 2007 to complete the trade. The Jets offered their 2006 4th round selection.
After passing on Bush and seeing Young drafted by the Titans the Jets again had a decision to make. They could grab the sexy QB pick or go with a building block along the offensive line. Realizing a stud QB was going to have major problems working behind the Jets patchwork offensive line the Jets went with the offensive lineman, but they had the idea in their head that they would still be able to trade up and get one of the two QB's left on the board. This time the deals were much closer. The Jets targeted Leinart of USC, who was falling like a brick in the draft. The Jets felt as if they had a good trade partner in the Lions and this time talks were a bit more serious. The Jets offered their second first round pick as well as a 3rd rounder to move up for Leinart. The Lions wanted more and talks broke down. Leinart went to Arizona. There was talk that they would consider moving up for Cutler, but Denver quickly made the move once Leinart was off the board to move up a few spots and nail Cutler as their future. Even after that there was still discussion that the Jets were interested in moving up, this time for RB Laurence Maroney. Nothing materialized.
At the time nobody knew how hard it must have been for Tannenbaum to turn down all these offers. He was a total unknown to the fan base. When he stood pat and took the very unsexy picks of a left tackle and center in the first round and keeping all his draft choices, everyone assumed that he was simply from the school of quantity over quality and that Tannenbaum valued those draft picks so much that he could not chance giving them up regardless of the potential of the star athlete. By the 2008 season he had earned the nickname Trader Mike, wheeling and dealing draft picks and veteran players. He made first round trades in the 2007, 2008, and 2009 draft to move up and get players. He makes trades at the back end of the draft. He traded draft picks for numerous veterans. How 2006 ended up with no upward moves with so many bargaining chips in the first round is one of those questions that can probably never be answered.
The results of the Trader not making a trade? Those two first round linemen were LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold, the building blocks of the powerful offensive line that would be the driving force of the Jets 2009 and 2010 offenses. Ferguson is a steady pro who is on his way to his second Pro Bowl while Mangold is generally regarded as the best center in the NFL. That 2007 first round draft pick that the Saints wanted for Reggie Bush eventually was used to obtain CB Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cornerback to play in the NFL in over 10 years.
All those players the Jets turned down? RB Reggie Bush ended up being one of the most overrated and overhyped players in the NFL. He has had little to do with the Saints success and often hears the name Reggie Bust thrown around at him. Leinart is a complete failure and teetering on dropping out of the NFL, where he is currently a 3rd string QB for the Houston Texans. Jay Cutler, who is talented, was traded from Denver to Chicago and would have melted in the NY spotlight and clashed with the head coach, likely punching his ticket out of NY as quick as he did out of Denver. Maroney was a flop for New England before being traded to Denver and was recently arrested on weapons and drug charges. He has likely played his last NFL game. Sometimes its good to stand firm in the draft and luckily for the Jets they did in 2006.