Commentary

Jets follow Super model with Harris tag

Homegrown talent got Pack, Steelers to XLV; trade-happy Gang gets with the program

Updated: February 15, 2011, 3:38 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Why David Harris? Why not Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards or Antonio Cromartie?

They're all gifted, all entering their prime years and all free-agents-to-be, but the New York Jets decided to use the franchise tag on Harris for this reason:

He's a homegrown talent with a blemish-free image, and the Jets recognize they need to keep their own players -- the good ones -- instead of always buying and trading.

[+] EnlargeDavid Harris
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireDavid Harris came to Jets as a second-round pick in 2007.

Buying and trading almost got the Jets to the Super Bowl, but history shows that most championship teams cultivated their own talent, building through the draft. Exhibit A: The Green Bay Packers, the Super Bowl XLV champions. Exhibit B: The Pittsburgh Steelers, the runners up.

The Jets can always say they have their "Core Four," but it should be a "Core Six" or a "Core Eight." Harris, Darrelle Revis, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are terrific building blocks -- premier players with no off-the-field issues -- but the Jets need more players in that category.

More homegrown players and fewer rentals.

The offseason has barely begun, but there's every reason to believe the Jets will try to build with the players they have -- and, of course, the players they hope to retain. The Harris move demonstrates that. For a team that was known last season as "Hired Guns R Us," it is a strategy that sends a positive message.

You could make the argument that Holmes is a better wide receiver than Harris is a linebacker, but Harris is the safer investment because of his sterling character. Considering the way last season went, with the seemingly endless soap opera of off-the-field shenanigans, the Jets need as many solid citizens as they can find.

The Jets will definitely try to re-sign Holmes, and probably Edwards and Cromartie (they, too, have off-the-field questions), but the player they can least afford to lose is Harris. General manager Mike Tannenbaum has been telling people for more than a year that he'll never let Harris walk away, not on his watch. He's not the best player on defense -- Revis is -- but he's the "quarterback," the guy who makes the calls on the field.

Continuity is important. Rex Ryan did a nice job of melding all the different egos on his team. But how many times did we hear about the "communication issues" on defense? There would be less of those problems if players had the chance to learn and grow in the system.

Continuity will take on added importance if there's little or no offseason because of the labor strife. If they don't have time to properly train new players, the teams with the best old players with thrive in 2011.

No doubt Tannenbaum has assembled a talented roster, but there's a dearth of young players because the Jets have drafted a league-low seven players over the last two years. The New England Patriots' total is 24, plus nine in the upcoming draft to the Jets' six. Eventually, those low numbers catch up to a team, especially with a salary cap. Teams can't act like the Yankees of the NFL.

Because of the labor uncertainty, Trader Mike could be handcuffed for this year's draft -- and it may turn out to be a blessing. If there's no collective bargaining agreement, Tannenbaum won't be allowed to trade draft picks for players. He might actually have to use all of his picks, and those picks will have greater value if free agency occurs after the draft, which is the way it's looking.

Some might argue that as a negative, considering some of Tannenbaum's smartest acquisitions came via trades. But based on where the team is now, the focus needs to be on getting younger.

The organization already has decided to move second-year offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse to right tackle, Damien Woody's spot for the last three years. Ducasse hasn't proven he can do the job, but the Jets loved him enough to take him in the second round in 2010 and they appear willing to take a risk because of that conviction.

Just watch. That will be the theme of the offseason (if there is an offseason) -- building over buying, developing over importing.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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