INDIANAPOLIS — Unlike a majority of his peers on Tuesday and Wednesday, who addressed reporters in person from a lectern set up at the Indiana Convention Center, Jets Coach Robert Saleh sat at the team’s facility at Florham Park, N.J., and answered questions about the team’s pre-draft plans via a video conference call.
Saleh and his coaching staff opted not to attend the first few days of the six-day N.F.L. combine, the most prominent player evaluation event on the league’s calendar, which started on Tuesday. Instead, Saleh said he would spend the time refining the team’s offensive and defensive schemes for next season and solidifying its free agency and draft plans before some of his assistant coaches arrive in Indianapolis later in the week for positional on-field workouts.
Saleh said he did not think forgoing the preliminary days of the combine would hinder the Jets’ strategy for building their roster. The time spent at home not traveling, he said, should be beneficial ahead of the hectic weeks leading up to the draft.
“We really feel comfortable about where we are with the scheme and making that extra jump and regaining a week to continue to stay ahead of the off-season,” Saleh said.
The Jets, who struggled in the top-heavy A.F.C. East behind the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots last season, won only four games, earning the No. 4 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Because they traded safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks in 2020, the Jets also hold Seattle’s No. 10 overall pick, giving them, in total, seven more selections in the six remaining rounds.
The bounty of draft picks is expected to help Saleh, who is in his second season as head coach, continue an organizational rebuild that began with his hire and the selection of quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick before the 2021 season. The Jets have not had a winning season since 2015, and when the team trudged to a 2-8 start in 2021, Saleh said the team would not take a reactive approach to correct the slump.
“I respect the heck out of the urgency from the fans and the wanting to flip this thing, but in fairness, this is the first time this fan base is actually experiencing something like this,” Saleh said in November. “Usually it’s been a quick fix, followed by a scramble. This is an actual plan.”
Saleh’s remarks on Wednesday seemed to hint at the next phase of that plan, one which does not rely on vetting prospects en masse from a centralized location. Saleh and his assistants coached some of college football’s top players at the Senior Bowl in early February, an experience that Saleh said gave them more meaningful hands-on opportunities to interact with prospects.
The Jets may also trade some draft picks, General Manager Joe Douglas said, which could rearrange their strategy this off-season. Douglas said the team is “open for business” and will entertain calls from other teams looking to move up or target a college player.
“If there’s an opportunity to trade back, accumulate more picks, more assets and still be in target range to get the players that we’re excited about, of course we’re going to consider that,” he said.
By skipping the first two days of the combine, Saleh said Jets coaches and scouts would avoid the unproductive lulls that accompany rounds of testing, interviews and drills of the 324 players who attend.
After the 2021 combine was canceled because of the pandemic, teams scattered to scout players at pro day workouts hosted by their colleges and private workouts coordinated by their agents. They also met with players virtually through videoconference calls. The Jets, Saleh said, plan to be at pro days this season and to host private workouts at their facility, which will allow the team’s coaches to evaluate any player they would have at the combine.
The Jets will also continue to conduct some player interviews virtually and as part of private workouts, opting not to rely on the combine as their only opportunity to vet potential draft targets, he said.
“If you’re going into the combine thinking a 20-minute interview is going to make or break whether or not you’re going to give a young man millions and millions of dollars, then shame on you,” he said.
Douglas, who made the trip to Indianapolis, said he and Saleh had agreed that the coaches’ absence would be a positive that would allow them to continue their work while also being involved virtually.
“It’s almost the best of both worlds,” he said.