- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If it ain't broke ... try to fix it anyway.
The Jets are applying that unconventional approach to their offensive line, which emerged last season as one of the most dominant blocking units in the NFL. Instead of trying to squeeze another season out of the accomplished, but aging line, they're taking a proactive approach.
And the fall guy will be left guard Alan Faneca.
By using their second-round pick Friday night to select former UMass offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, one of the great human-interest stories of the draft, the Jets sealed the fate of Faneca. They have decided to part ways with the nine-time Pro Bowl selection, a move that was made official Saturday.
Faneca's agent, Rick Smith, in an e-mail to ESPNNewYork.com, had said late Friday that he has "no clue" about the Jets' plans for Faneca. But he added, "[I] should know more [Saturday]."
The Jets have been trying to trade Faneca for several weeks, league sources said, but found no takers.
From the organization's perspective, Faneca has three strikes against him -- age (soon 33), high salary ($7.5 million) and declining skills. It's the anti-hat trick that usually gets you fired in the NFL. The Jets are taking a chance, breaking up a good thing, but it's better to start too early than too late.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum, speaking to reporters after picking Ducasse, sidestepped questions about Faneca's future. Asked point-blank if Faneca will be on the team this season, Tannenbaum replied, "All those questions are hypothetical. All I can say is, I feel really good things about Alan and what he's done for us. I know there's a lot of speculation, but that's typically what happens on a weekend like this."
Translation: Thanks for the memories. Tannenbaum gave the same scripted answer recently about Thomas Jones, and now he's in Kansas City.
It's fairly stunning that it has come to this for Faneca, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract in 2008. After a wonderful career with the Steelers, he became a stabilizing force for the Jets' line, helping the maturation of left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. But it's a cold business, and now the Jets are ready to move on.
The Jets will take a financial hit because $5.25 million of Faneca's $7.5 million is guaranteed. That's a lot of money to eat, and it's believed the Jets were trying to negotiate something to make an easier escape.
Ducasse will get a chance to compete immediately at left guard. Tannenbaum wouldn't commit to that, saying it would be left guard or right tackle. But he did say that "we're going to keep playing around with that over the next few days."
Write this down: Ducasse will compete with veteran backup Rob Turner and Matt Slauson (sixth-round pick in '09) at left guard. If Ducasse pans out as a rookie, he could slide out to right tackle in 2011, replacing steady vet Damien Woody, who turns 33.
Ducasse (6-foot-4½, 332 pounds) started at left tackle at UMass, but his skill set is better suited to right tackle, according to scouts. He's big and powerful and plays with an attitude, all the attributes you want in your strong-side tackle. He's had some issues with pass protection -- he struggled when exposed to top competition at the Senior Bowl -- so the Jets are thinking the transition to the NFL will be easier at guard.
Makes sense. That he'd play between two Pro Bowl players, Ferguson and Mangold, will reduce the burden on Ducasse. The old adage is, you can hide a player at guard, but not at tackle. The Jets also have an enormous amount of faith in line coach Bill Callahan, a magician when it comes to developing talent and molding lines.
"When Bill Callahan signs off on a guy," Tannenbaum said, "you feel really good about that."
Ducasse has a tremendous personal story. He was born in Haiti, lost his mother when he was 5 years old and was sent to the U.S. in 2002 by his father, who wanted his son to get a college education. He attended high school in Stamford, Conn., but he didn't start playing football until his junior year. He wound up being an all-state player.
"He's an incredible worker," said Tannenbaum, who happens to be a UMass alum. "After what he's been through in his life, you'd never bet against him."
Ducasse is man of few words and, in a conference call with reporters, he didn't say much more than, "I'm very excited. It's the Jets. They have a very good team and they're right there, they're close to home."
If he's as good as the Jets think, he'll be the newest member of the Fab 5.
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