Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
CHICAGO - First came the free-agency cleanup, when rookie general manager Mike Maccagnan chose his targets wisely, threw a bunch of Woody Johnson cash at them and fixed his beleaguered secondary within a week.
And now this: With his first draft pick, Maccagnan came away with a steal Thursday night. Which is saying something when you've got the No. 6 pick.
But getting USC defensive end Leonard Williams at that spot was something no one could have expected.
Not with all the effusive words of praise that came Williams' way from scouts and coaches who see him as a big-time talent who can get to the quarterback as effectively as he can bring down runners. He's the kind of all-around talent who would be the No. 1 overall pick in some drafts, a player whom defensive-minded coaches can build their schemes around.
Maccagnan can thank Oakland and Washington for making it happen.
Once the Raiders decided that they valued Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper over Williams, the door cracked open for Maccagnan. And then came the shocker: Washington's own rookie GM, Scot McCloughan, decided to take Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. The move was a head-scratcher, especially given that Washington needed help with its pass rush.
That decision paved the way for Maccagnan to get the most complete defensive player in the draft. Williams is the kind of player who can turn around a game with a sack or a punishing hit on a running back. He's good enough that opposing offensive coordinators need to account for him on every play -- and do their best to run that play away from Williams' side.
Now you put him on a defense that already is stout along the line with Sheldon Richardson and Mo Wilkerson, and you've got the best collective three-man line in the league.
New Jets coach Todd Bowles likes to use a 3-4 defense, but with that many quality linemen, he will surely think about running some 4-3 alignments. And with the back end solidified thanks to the free-agent signings of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine and safety Marcus Gilchrist, the Jets' defense has taken a quantum leap forward since the end of last season.
Wilkerson's uncertain contract situation throws a potential complication into the situation. He is looking for a deal similar to the eight-year, $108.9-million contract that J.J. Watt signed, and that's not going to happen.
That doesn't mean Wilkerson will walk quietly into the season with the final year of his deal calling for a $6.9-million salary. He's not attending voluntary workouts in the offseason and could stage a holdout in training camp.
But now is not the time for Maccagnan to blink on a Wilkerson contract demand, especially given that his leverage may have just declined now that Williams is on board. In fact, there still is a chance Wilkerson will be traded; reports in recent days indicated that teams have inquired about Wilkerson's availability.
So one way or another, the Wilkerson situation will work itself out. The Jets will be in a much better situation if he's signed long term, but they also have to be mindful of other salary-cap considerations. And if a team is willing to give up a first-round pick for the defensive end, Maccagnan will have to give that serious consideration.
In the meantime, Maccagnan and Bowles can celebrate a major draft-day victory by coming away with a terrific prospect. A three-year starter for USC, the 6-5, 300-pound defender had a combined 218 tackles and 21 sacks. He had three forced fumbles in 2014 and added an interception and three passes defensed.
You don't produce those kinds of numbers without being a terrific all-around player, and Williams is just that. Now it's Bowles' turn to fold Williams into his defensive scheme and watch him contribute to a defense that no doubt will be the strength of the first-year coach's team.
Williams will be coming to the big stage of New York, and he certainly looks -- and plays -- the part. The Jets are lucky to have him.