In part one of this guest post, Lam Jones set the scene in terms of how the 1993 and 1996 Jets had approached building their teams. In part two, he breaks down each team’s draft and recaps how things played out.
(I will review the picks made and not the picks that hindsight tells us should have been mad; JetsFix can get someone else to do that article. I am just going to address the players from the perspective at the time as potential talent acquired.)
In another change for 1993 the NFL’s 12 round draft had been reduced to 8 rounds and would be further reduced to 7 rounds (plus compensatory draft picks) the following year and thereafter. After trading their third round pick for Esiason and recouping a 5th for O’Brien the Jets entered the draft with 8 picks.
Dick Steinberg had made a deal with Arizona to flip the Jets #3 overall selection of the 1993 draft for the Cards #4 and RB Johnny Johnson before the draft began. This was a veteran GM who knew the teams involved and calculated that he could still get the player he wanted at 4.
Sure enough, the Jets got the middle of the defense thumper they wanted for Pete Carroll’s 4-3 defense in Seminole Marvin “Shadetree” Jones. Kyle Clifton had been a solid MLB but at 31 had begun to lose a step or two, and Jones was a 20 year old Butkus and Lombardi award winning defender who ran a 4.51 second 40 and was drawing comparisons to young Mike Singletary. “He’s going to have to be accounted for on every snap” said Dick Steinberg days before making him the Jets first round pick. The perfect hit, Jones explained, “is when I achieve total blackness. Oh, it’s lovely.”
Steinberg again moved back in the second round, dealing #33 to Detroit in exchange for #36 and Detroit’s 5th round pick (120). Steinberg selected DE Coleman Rudolph with 36.
The Jets had 3 selections in round 5, adding TE Fred Baxter and RB Adrian Murrell. The Packers pick that Steinberg got for Ken O’Brien (120) was used to select WR Kenny Shedd.
In the 6th round the Jets selected fullback Richie Anderson, as in the good old days most teams would draft a FB every few years.
Notre Dame’s Craig Hentrich was drafted to compete with returning P Louie Aguiar in camp. The veteran Aguiar’s ability to “pooch” kickoffs the way Special Teams coordinator Al Roberts advocated made Hentrich unlikely to stick.
For the first time in their history the Jets had the 1st overall pick in the draft. After trading their 4th rounder to Tampa Bay, the Jets still had 6 picks, all at the top of the rounds. All the world knew the Jets were desperate for offensive help, but the lack of a highly rated QB (and the Brinks truck sent to O’Donnell’s house) boiled the choice down to USC WR Keyshawn Johnson, OT Jonathan Ogden and Nebraska RB Lawrence Phillips. LB Kevin Hardy and his Illinois teammate DE Simeon Rice were thought to be the defensive players most appropriate for #1 overall.
Keyshawn captured the imaginations of Jet fans leading up to the draft, and the WR with a large personality and an even bigger catch radius had turned that year’s Rose Bowl into his own personal highlight reel with 12 catches for 216 yards and a TD in winning the game’s MVP award. The Jets needed a playmaker and they needed a star, and the two expensive tackles they had just signed made it an easy call over Ogden, the consensus on whom was that he was the “safest” pick in the draft.
Phillips was a tremendous athlete and football player but had assaulted his girlfriend at Nebraska in an ugly and highly publicized incident, and we can assume he was never really considered despite his talent. There was virtually no suspense at Radio City Music Hall that night as Keyshawn Johnson became a Jet and instantly the team’s most dangerous offensive player.
Alex Van Dyke was the pick at the top of round 2 (31), a tremendously productive college player at Nevada but not especially fast or big and was tacked on to a suddenly crowded WR depth chart.
Ray Mickens of Texas A&M was a diminutive but effective defensive back taken in the 3rd, and in the 5th round Marcus Coleman out of Texas Tech was a large framed Safety who had been named a 1st team All American at Tech’s “Raider” position, a combination OLB/SS role.
DE Bobby Hamilton from Southern Mississippi beat the odds and made the team out of camp.
Starting lineups heading into training camp
QB Boomer Esiason 32
RB Johnny Johnson 25
FB Brad Baxter 26 (Backup FB: Richie Anderson 22)
WR Rob Moore 25
WR Terrence Mathis 26
TE Johnny Mitchell 22
LT Jeff Criswell 29
LG Dwayne White 26
C Jim Sweeney 31
RG Dave Cadigan 28
RT Siupeli Malamala 24
CB James Hasty 28
CB Eric Thomas 29
S Brian Washington 28
S Ronnie Lott 34
OLB Mo Lewis 24
OLB Bobby Houston 26
MLB Kyle Clifton 31
DE Jeff Lageman 26
DL Leonard Marshall 32
DT Scott Mersereau 28
DE Marvin Washington 28
LS Roger Duffy 26
P Louie Aguiar 27
PK Cary Blanchard 25
ST Chris Burkett 31
Notable role players and sometime starters
Offense: Blair Thomas 26, Chris Burkett 31, James Thornton 28 and James Brown 23
Defense: Paul Frase 28, Bill Pickel 34, Glenn Cadrez 23, Marvin Jones 21 and Lonnie Young 30
QB Neil O’Donnell 30
RB Adrian Murrell 26
FB Richie Anderson 25 (Backup Fullback: Lou D’Agostino 23)
WR Keyshawn Johnson 24
WR Wayne Chrebet 23
TE Kyle Brady 24
LT Jumbo Elliott 31
LG Harry Galbreath 31
C Roger Duffy 29
RG Matt O’Dwyer 24
RT David Williams 30
CB Aaron Glenn 24
CB Ray Mickens 23
S Victor Green 27
S Gary Jones 29
OLB Mo Lewis 27
OLB Bobby Houston 29
MLB Marvin Jones 24
DE Hugh Douglas 25
DT Matt Brock 30
DL Bobby Hamilton 25
DE Marvin Washington 31
LS John Hudson 28
P Brian Hansen 36
PK Nick Lowery 40
ST Chad Cascadden 24
Notable role players and sometime starters
Offense: Frank Reich 35, Glenn Foley 26, Reggie Cobb 28, Ronald Moore 26, Jeff Graham 27, Fred Baxter 25, Webster Slaughter 32, David Alexander 32, Harry Boatswain 27 and Siupeli Malamala 27
Defense: Mike Chalenski 26, Erik Howard 32, Marc Spindler 27, Rick Hamilton 25, Marcus Coleman 22, Carl Greenwood 24, Eric Zomalt 24, Lonnie Young 33 and Otis Smith 31
After 10 games the Jets looked like they had something; despite winning only two of six to begin the season, the resurgent team had beaten the Giants on Halloween and were at 6-4 and scoring over 23 points per game while giving up only 17.
A 6-0 victory at NE against Bill Parcell’s Pats however demonstrated that despite overall excellent health for their starters that Esiason’s arm was perhaps not healthy. The Offense ground to a halt scoring an anemic 36 points over the final 6 games and yet at 8-5, needing a single victory in their last three for a playoff berth they lost out to finish 8-8.
In a Sunday night season finale memorable solely for Buddy Ryan’s assault of Kevin Gilbride in the waning minutes, the Jets finished another season with a goose egg, the 3rd time in the previous 5 seasons they had been held scoreless in game 16. Steinberg had shot his wad and imported as much talent as he could, and while Coslet might have survived in certain scenarios, another offensive slump from a fairly arrogant “offensive whiz” was the last straw.
Steinberg fired Coslet a week later after Bruce refused to relinquish play calling duties, and DC Pete Carroll was promoted to Head Coach. It was perhaps a blessing that Dick Steinberg, who passed from cancer in September of 1995 did not live to see Brett Favre, Mike Holmgren and Reggie White win a super bowl together as Packers in February 1996.
Steinberg was by all accounts an intelligent and kind man who desperately wanted the Jets to succeed. I like to imagine that there are alternate universes where Dick actually brought these guys to the Jets, and maybe, in one or two of them, Florham Park has more than the one Lombardi Trophy in the lobby.
Simply a catastrophe. There was inconsistent (usually poor) effort, tons of injuries, terrible luck, unconscionably bad officiating and no accountability within the locker room or any other part of the building.
After the first 6 games of O’Donnell’s expensive tenure as QB the Jets were winless (and utterly non-competitive) and he was benched in favor of Reich. If it weren’t for their sole win in week 9 against the equally incompetent and confused Arizona Cardinals it would have been this team that was the first to record an 0-16 mark.
Kotite’s bewilderment during the postgame press conferences was the stuff of comedy legend, and to his credit the man never threw anyone under the bus when everyone knew he wasn’t the only one failing at football.
The long-suffering fans knew that this team, deservedly hailed as one of the absolute worst in NFL history, was the product of a fundamentally incompetent organization. Kotite, the “head football expert” of said organization, announced his resignation ahead of the last game against Jimmy Johnson’s Dolphins, which he coached and naturally lost.
A few weeks later, in what was the first shot in the long “border war” between the franchises, Hess schooled Patriots new owner Bob Kraft in contracts (and tampering in all likelihood) as he brought Bill Parcells (the anti-Kotite) and staff over from New England for 1997. As we all know, Kraft learned the lesson well enough to return the favor in January of 2000…
The Jets were one of the teams that learned the hard way that building through free agent acquisitions doesn’t work reliably, or at least in the long term. The 1993 season perhaps demonstrated that adding some high profile veteran older players in itself was not sufficient, but the Steinberg/Coslet rebuild had established a base that had some potential for success when backfilling with suitable reinforcements.
The failures toward the end of 1993 and the subsequent 1994 season and the failing health of Steinberg led to impatient owner Leon Hess hitting the restart button for 1995. It is difficult to project what might have happened if he hadn’t, but what was a little easier to see was that the free agent class of 1993 was always unlikely to be playing well in 1995 or beyond.
Lott and Thomas were gone after 1994 (Marshall after 1993). Boomer Esiason had an inconsistent and fairly unpleasant 3 years as a starter while age and the organization’s talent reboot in 1995 caught up with him. However the trades made in 1993 were notably successful when considered in the context of what Steinberg gave up and the draft he was able to make. Steinberg’s experience undoubtedly was an asset as the Jets netted veteran upgrades at starting QB and tailback and then the GM spun the remaining 8 draft picks into 9 selections, of which 5 went on to enjoy 10 year plus NFL careers.
The 1996 offseason is a more muddled picture. It seems the most charitable interpretation (to Kotite that is) of where the Jets status coming into 1996 would be to think of 1995 as a rebuild year one.
Players drafted in 1995 like DE Hugh Douglas (acquired with Cardinals 1995 1st round pick along with RB Ron Moore in exchange for WR Rob Moore), Kyle Brady, Matt O’Dwyer and UDFA Wayne Chrebet had shown real promise and young veterans like Marvin Jones, Aaron Glenn, Mo Lewis, Adrian Murrell, Fred Baxter, Cal Dixon and Richie Anderson were starters or potential starters. When combined with the pricy free agent haul and top draft pick Keyshawn Johnson, this appeared to be a fairly talented roster, certainly much improved from the season before by any measure.
With the notable exception of Neil O’Donnell, the performance of many of these players in subsequent years and circumstances points the finger at Kotite and his coaching staff squarely.
A former player himself, Kotite and his staff of veteran (read elderly) NFL coaches apparently expected their group of millionaire 20 year olds would behave and prepare like veteran professionals without direction or hard nosed discipline. At the time, I got the distinct impression that the coaching staff was punching the clock, and despite Kotite’s sincere astonishment with the results he himself spent significantly more time on the golf course than the film room.
The absolute “smoking gun” in the case against poor Richard was that by adding a few of his “hold the fort” guys, Bill Parcells had largely the same team knocking on the door of a playoff spot in 1997 (their 9-7 record was the Jets best since 1986). In Kotite’s defense, Parcells, when asked, said “I actually think the guy here before was a pretty good coach,” which is perhaps more a tribute to Kotite’s longtime membership in the NFL coaching fraternity than anything else.
The lessons applied are pretty much conventional wisdom for the NFL these days, and likely the Jets mistakes provide cautionary tales to other franchises:
- Do not expect free agent players to establish a winning culture just by showing up
- Excessive turnover has always hurt, and usually takes precious time in-season for a team to gel
- With some exceptions, young free agents are best for teams on the way up (and aren’t we always)
- Even a sufficiently talented team won’t win without accountability and oversight
- If “difference making talent” is available for just money then it may not be “difference making talent” after all.
- A front office that is confident in their pro scouting can add a lot of value through trades
- DON’T F-UP THE DRAFT: as we dreamed in 1993 of being able to remake a team overnight there is just no way to make up for weak or misfit draft classes.