Stay the course: Tannenbaum, Jets remain loyal to draft plans

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The NFL lockout and a lack of free agency have handcuffed Mike Tannenbaum so far this offseason.

No trades. No signings. No big splashes.

The New York Jets' general manager nonetheless is heading into next week's draft, in which his team has the No. 30 pick, with the same approach he always has.

"We'll take the 30th-best player," Tannenbaum said Thursday, "whoever that is."

That's the usual boring draft-speak most general managers use at this time of year, but it might actually be true this time. Part of the reason is the fact the Jets -- like every other NFL team -- have little clue what holes their roster will have once the lockout ends, if it ends.

"They're telling us we're going to draft now, so we're prepared for that," Tannenbaum said. "When there's veteran free agency, we'll be prepared. When we can trade players, we'll be prepared. This is the next step of what I would say is an opportunity to improve the team.

"Whatever the next step is after that, we'll go for that."

With the Jets picking late in the first round next Thursday night, they could be targeting a defensive lineman or a pass rusher to help Rex Ryan's already-solid defense. But New York has plenty of question marks to address.

Wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith could be free agents, and the Jets don't know if any will be back. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie and defensive end Shaun Ellis also are scheduled to be free agents. Before the lockout began, the Jets released nose tackle Kris Jenkins and right tackle Damien Woody, leaving big holes at key spots.

"We're not sure what the rules are moving forward," Tannenbaum said. "How many of our guys eventually we'll be able to keep, it's hard to say."

Six of the Jets' seven draft picks during Ryan's tenure have been offensive players, but there's a good chance New York will address defense early this year. Despite finishing third in overall defense, Ryan's unit wasn't always dominant -- as shown in the first half of the Jets' 24-19 AFC Championship Game loss at Pittsburgh in January.

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Putting consistent pressure on the quarterback was one culprit, so New York might look at players such as Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor, Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, Ohio State defensive end/tackle Cam Heyward and Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

"Yeah, I think if we could add some depth, competition on the defensive side, that's something we'd like to accomplish during the offseason," Tannenbaum said, quickly adding: "If the right opportunity comes along."

Tannenbaum has been active during the past several offseasons leading to the draft, pulling off major trades (running back Thomas Jones, Holmes, Cromartie) and making big-name signings (Woody, LaDainian Tomlinson, Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace). This has been a different kind of winter for Tannenbaum, who has also made noise during drafts with big moves: trading up to select players such as Darrelle Revis and Mark Sanchez.

Whatever the rules are, Tannenbaum has one goal for the team: to make it better -- starting with the draft.

"It's up to us as an organization to improve the team to give us the best chance possible to be successful in 2011," Tannenbaum said. "Try to look back the last couple of years, try to look at what we did well and look at areas where we can improve."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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