New York Jets coach Rex Ryan's brash attitude goes against the grain of the typically bland style of NFL management. / File/AP
There probably aren’t two NFL teams that conduct business more differently than the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets.
Ted Thompson, the Packers’ general manager, is the most free agent-and-trade-averse man running an NFL club today. If he wouldn’t trade a third-round draft pick for Marshawn Lynch earlier this month, he’s never going to do a meaningful in-season deal. It is and always will be all draft and develop, all the time, as long as Thompson is calling the shots in Green Bay.
Jets coach Rex Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum, on the other hand, have swung big in the last year, trading for and signing seven accomplished players who were character, contract or age risks in pursuit of the Super Bowl — this year.
Thompson is highly sensitive to locker room and organizational harmony, puts forward possibly the most bland public face of any GM in the NFL and is a stoic of the highest order. “No drama Obama” has nothing on this man.
Ryan, on the other hand, is brash in a league in which boring and uninformative are art forms among the men who front for their organizations. He appears to embrace confrontation and chaos.
The differences in management philosophies are manifest in ways big and small. Consider their takes on the HBO series “Hard Knocks.”
Ryan welcomed the added pressure and scrutiny of the series in training camp this past summer. And Thompson? There is no way in this universe’s configuration he’d even consider allowing HBO into the Packers’ camp.
So which approach is better?
Well, the NFL skews heavily toward Thompson’s even if he’s farther along the scale than most.
But can the Ryan approach work in today’s corporate NFL? Is the second-year coach’s swaggering team more likely to crack under the strain of the long regular and playoff seasons, even if life is great with a 5-1 record heading into the Jets’ game Sunday against the Packers? Or does Ryan have the brass to cultivate a winning environment from what could be a destructive mix for most teams, somewhat akin to Al Davis’ anti-establishment Oakland Raiders of the ’70s and ’80s, or Charlie Finley’s “Swingin’ A’s” in Major League Baseball in the early 1970s?
“If you have stabilizing leadership in the locker room and stabilizing leadership at the top, maybe it can work,” one NFL scout said of the Jets’ approach to building since Ryan became coach last year. “I don’t think it can work in all environments, but in some it may. And when you’re winning it breeds success and where everybody’s on board. But if you have an environment like that and you face some adverse situations, and you’re losing, that might not be the case. All’s good in Jet-land right now.”
Starting in October of last year, the Jets began aggressively filling weak areas via trades and free agency, a mindset encouraged by Super Bowl visions after their unexpected 9-7 playoff season in ’09, Ryan’s first year as coach. In that time, they’ve acquired seven veterans of note: Four unrestricted free agents (linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard and two aging former stars, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and outside linebacker Jason Taylor) and three players via trades that carried substantial risk because of character and contract issues (receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie).
Over the same time, Thompson’s only trade was swapping some picks on draft day. He signed no unrestricted free agents.
The Jets’ trades for Edwards and Holmes turned a position of liability into strength, at least in talent, and came at a discounted price, but for good reason.
Edwards, acquired in October 2009, cost the Jets a third- and fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, along with two bottom-of-the-roster players. The former No. 3 pick overall in the 2006 draft had become a malcontent in Cleveland and was involved in a fight outside a nightclub the week before the Jets acquired him. He’d also been plagued by excessive drops and declining production — he went from 80 receptions in 2007 to 55 in ’08 to 10 in three games before last year’s trade.
Just as importantly, he’s in the last year of his contract.
The Jets acquired Holmes in the offseason for the fire-sale price of a fifth-round pick the same day the NFL handed him a four-game suspension for violating its substance abuse policy. The former first-round pick also is in the last year of his contract.
And the Jets traded a conditional third-round draft pick for Cromartie, who was a first-round selection by San Diego in 2006. Cromartie is under financial duress because he has nine children with eight women. He also is in the last year of his contract.
The Jets didn’t give up the kind of high draft picks that would have completely mortgaged their future. But after recent big contracts to cornerback Darrelle Revis, center Nick Mangold, left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Scott, they will have to make hard financial decisions on which of the three to retain.
“It’s a team not necessarily built for the short term, but there’s some things are going to come to pay when the season is over in terms of the roster,” the scout said. “That can eat away at the quality of your depth, because that’s how you restock your roster, with third-round picks, fourth-round picks, fifth-round picks. Those guys become backups and hopefully starters. They’ve forfeited some of those.”