Thursday, March 23, 2006

Farewell, John Abraham

It’s always a sad day when you lose your best player. And somber it was in New York on Tuesday, as John Abraham and the Jets parted ways. Their compensation was the 29th pick in the 2006 draft, courtesy of Denver. The Broncs acquired the Falcon’s pick, 15th overall, and the Falcons netted Denver’s 2006 third rounder, 2007 fourth rounder, and of course Abraham.

I held off from commentary on this issue for a few days because I’m not sure what to make of the situation. This was a long time coming, so it wasn’t a shock to see the headline on Hell, most of us knew this day was coming from the second the Jets slapped the Franchise Tag on Abraham one year ago. There was a visible ill-will between the two parties, and after they failed to hammer out a long term deal prior to the opening of the season, Abraham’s departure became a certainty.


If this were baseball, Abraham would have been gone a season ago, leaving the Jets no compensation. Well, they would have gotten that compensatory first rounder, but a 2005 first rounder in baseball is equivalent to a 2008 fourth or fifth rounder in the NFL. So let’s be happy that the team received an asset in return for a player who was already halfway out the door.

So in addition to picking fourth in every round except the sixth (thank you very much, Patrick Ramsey), the Jets now pick 29th in the first round, leaving them a flurry of options. For starters, they could package the 4th and 29th picks and send them to Houston for Reggie Bush. As tempting as that scenario seems, I’m not in that camp. The Jets aren’t going to compete in 2006, and most of the off-season moves have reflected that notion. Why else would they cut Kevin Mawae when it only saves them $1.1 million in 2006 cap space? (Because he now costs them nothing in 2007.)

Of course, having Reggie Bush would help the team beyond 2006. It’s not like the first pick in the draft is going to sign a one-year tender. He’d be running the ball and catching passes for five or six years wearing green and white, which is a tempting proposition. But as attractive as that could be, my buddy Scott provides the other view: “I want more draft picks, not less.”

In fact, draft picks have been the meat of our recent discussions (we talk about the Jets at least thrice weekly). Last week, he had proposed a series of moves that would net the team additional second and third round picks by trading out of the fourth spot (I’m awaiting a write-up from him on this, so I don’t want to spoil it). The theme running throughout his proposal is that more draft picks in more strategic spots (second and third rounders rather than high first rounders) will enable Mangini and Tannenbaum to rebuild the offense at an accelerated pace.

A mock draft is for another day, however. We’re more than a month away from the NFL Draft, and we all know things can change with one touch of ink to parchment. Remember a few weeks ago, how everyone assumed New Orleans was taking Matt Leinart with the second pick? Yeah, well, that’s not so much of a certainty anymore. Also, NFL execs are lying through their teeth at this point regarding their draft day intentions. No one wants to give away his strategy, but everyone wants to throw the competition off course.

ANYWAY. The departure of Abraham ostensibly means the Jets will bump first round bust Bryan Thomas into the starting gig (why they drafted Thomas with Ellis and Abraham already on board is beyond me). As the “first round bust” phrase would indicate, he hasn’t done much to beef up the defense to this point. However, Thomas may be more comfortable in the Jets new 3-4 than their old 4-3. This isn’t me purporting to have knowledge of Bryan Thomas and the 3-4 defensive scheme; rather, this is me speculating that a change could help. I actually bet Thomas will continue to fail, but I like to maintain a modicum of optimism.

In trying to make the best of the situation, I’ve come to one conclusion: it’s Vilma Time. Entering his third year in the League, Vilma is now the best defensive player on the team (with much respect going to Shaun Ellis). And not only are his skills unmatched, but he is a leader out on the field, a quality Abraham lacks (this bodes well for Atlanta as well, since they have leaders established in Patrick Kerney and Keith Brooking). Vilma is now top dog, and I expect he’ll transition into that role without a hitch.

He may not inspire fear like Ray Lewis, but he plugs the holes like Jeremiah Trotter. He may not hit as hard as Zach Thomas, but he can cut to the outside like Brian Urlacher. And he can drop into coverage to boot. Yes, even as I’m saddened by the departure of Abe, I’m getting excited about the era of Vilma.

This is a fond farewell to Abraham, whom I have admired throughout his tenure as a Jet. Unfortunately, his long-term plans did not coincide with those of the team, and a parting of ways became necessary. I do wish him the best in the ATL. But more than that, I wish Jonathan Vilma the best as the leader of the New York Jets.