Coming off a season of disappointment and dysfunction, the New York Jets started the rebuilding process by hiring Seattle Seahawks executive John Idzik as their new general manager.
Idzik, the fourth GM in Woody Johnson’s 13 years as Jets’ owner, inherits a 6-10 team, a possible lame-duck coach, a lean roster with a handful of immovable contracts, and a polarizing quarterback in Tim Tebow.
“I am honored and extremely excited to be joining the New York Jets,” said Idzik, who will be introduced at a news conference Thursday. “I am eager to get started building on the foundation that is already in place.”
The Jets set out to hire a GM with roots in scouting and personnel, but they opted for a longtime executive whose background is salary-cap management and contract negotiations. They surely will be criticized because it’s an extension of the Mike Tannenbaum model, and he was fired at the end of the season.
“After a thorough search in which we met many qualified and outstanding candidates, it was clear to me that John was the right choice,” Johnson said. “During his two decades in the NFL, John helped build a Super Bowl championship team in Tampa Bay, an NFC championship team in Arizona and, most recently, a team in Seattle that narrowly missed reaching the NFC Championship Game.
“John has seen first-hand what’s necessary to construct a winning team and has worked with some of the most innovative and successful coaches in the NFL … John, working with Rex, will get the Jets where all of us want to be.”
Idzik, most recently the Seahawks’ vice president of football administration, was a regular in personnel meetings, but he devoted most of his time to the business side. He has a distant Jets connection; his father, John, was an assistant in the late 1970s under Walt Michaels.
The Jets picked Idzik because they believe he will be a strong leader in all aspects of the organization. The delineation of power will remain the same as it was with Tannenbaum and Ryan, with Idzik having final say on all personnel matters, according to sources.
Idzik, 52, wasn’t among the first group of candidates to interview for the job, but he emerged quickly in the second round, meeting twice with team officials in less than a week. He’s well-regarded in league circles, having worked for three organizations. He was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ front office when they won Super Bowl XXXVII.
Idzik grew up in the game, having played football at Dartmouth and coached briefly as a low-level college assistant. But he gravitated toward contracts and salary caps, pushing in recent years to make the crossover to the football operation.
His arrival likely means big changes to the roster. In Seattle, Idzik was part of an aggressive front office known for trades and spending money.
The Jets interviewed 10 candidates, selecting Idzik after a 19-day search that was coordinated by executive head hunter Jed Hughes of the Korn/Ferry consulting firm. None of the finalists — Idzik, Steelers executive Omar Khan and Jets assistant GM Scott Cohen — interviewed for other GM openings.
They expanded the search after meeting with the four candidates on their “A” list. They targeted former Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel Dave Caldwell, whom they reportedly were prepared to offer a $1 million housing allowance, but he spurned the Jets in favor of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Caldwell, Idzik and Khan were the only candidates called back for second interviews, a source said.
Three candidates, reached by ESPNNewYork.com, described their interviews as unusual because no so-called football people were in the room. It was Hughes, Johnson and team president Neil Glat and Johnson’s attorney, Ira Akselrad.
“It was strange, to say the least,” said one candidate, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of X’s and O’s talk.”
The new GM inherits a team on the decline — 14-18 since back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game. There will be other challenges.
Idzik doesn’t control the immediate fate of Ryan, who has two years remaining on his contract, and Johnson has said Ryan isn’t going anywhere. It’s not the ideal situation, marrying two football strangers, but Johnson told potential candidates his preference was to keep Ryan for at least a year.
Ryan had a limited role in the process, sources said. He met with Idzik and Khan before a decision was made, sharing football philosophies but not making an evaluation of the candidates.
The most pressing issue is rebuilding the offense, which has new leadership. Tony Sparano was fired after one season, replaced Friday by former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, sources said. The Jets dropped to 30th in total offense.
The Jets may have the most unsettled quarterback situation in the league. Mark Sanchez played poorly and got benched this season, but an $8.25 million guarantee for 2013 will make it difficult to trade or release him. Idzik has to decide whether he can salvage him (his cap charge is $12.8 million) or incur an enormous cap hit by moving him.
There’s also the Tebow question. He was a spectacular non-factor in his first season with the Jets and it’s hard to imagine him keeping the fan-favorite backup.
Idzik will have to navigate a tough cap situation while trying to restock a roster that lacked playmakers and depth. The Jets are reportedly $19.4 million over the cap, with several key players headed to free agency — namely LaRon Landry, Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, Mike DeVito and Brandon Moore.
They also face a potentially difficult contract negotiation with star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014. They can’t use the franchise tag on Revis, per a clause in his contract, creating a sense of urgency. Revis may seek close to $20 million per year, but he’s recovering from major knee surgery — a variable that could complicate negotiations.
The Jets’ GM search was long and seemingly meandering at times, with critics claiming it wasn’t an appealing job because of the cap, the quarterback situation and the 2013 commitment to Ryan.
They aimed high, contacting longtime former GM Bill Polian to gauge his interest. But as one league source said: “He’s a Hall of Fame executive. You don’t want to have this on your résume.”
Polian played a small role in the search, sources said. In addition to offering recommendations, he sat in on a few interviews.
The Jets interviewed front-office executives from at least six teams — Caldwell, Idzik, Khan, Brian Gaine (Miami Dolphins), Tom Gamble (San Francisco 49ers) and Marc Ross (New York Giants). They also met with at least three former GMs: Jerry Angelo, Randy Mueller and Ted Sundquist.