Tannenbaum has shown he can build a winner

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, left, general

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, left, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, and owner Woody Johnson, right, watch practice. (January 13, 2010) (Credit: AP )

Bob Glauber

Newsday columnist Bob Glauber Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He

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Mike Tannenbaum's operative phrase for what lies ahead in this time of NFL labor uncertainty is that any plans he has for the Jets "will be in pencil."

Without knowing whether there will be a new collective-bargaining agreement and whether the rules of engagement will change as far as acquiring new players and keeping old ones under contract, the general manager simply can't count on anything at this point.

But once the league and the players' union agree on a new deal, Tannenbaum will be among the most proactive executives and the Jets will be well situated for the 2011 season - whenever that season begins.

"We always try to look at the offseason as a continuum and we're always looking for ways to improve the team," he said. "We always talk about 'every rock, every day.' "

It's something he learned from mentors Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick; look under every rock every day to try to make your team better.

Tannenbaum has been one of the most aggressive general managers in any sport, and he'll be in the market to improve a team that was one step away from the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

Last year was a tour de force for the 41-year-old GM, who followed up the previous year's hiring of coach Rex Ryan and the trades to draft Mark Sanchez and bring in Braylon Edwards with several additional moves:

He traded for wide receiver Santonio Holmes, a former Super Bowl MVP. He traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who formed a terrific tandem with Darrelle Revis. He signed defensive tackle Trevor Pryce after the Ravens failed to keep him after he'd been released.

And, perhaps most importantly, he signed cornerstone players Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Revis to long-term deals. Look for him to lock up the last of the "Core Four" players, David Harris, once the CBA is completed.

"We always talk about sustainable success, and in my mind, if you look at the past two years, the foundation is there," Tannenbaum said. "There is going to be turnover in a free-agent system in any sport. I think because of the infrastructure that [Ryan] has created here, we have great teachers. They allow players to come in and be contributors."

Tannenbaum knows he can't keep the entire roster intact. He'd like to keep the receiving corps together, but re-signing Holmes, Edwards and Brad Smith is unlikely, especially if a salary cap is in place.

Tannenbaum said he expects LaDainian Tomlinson to be on the team after signing a two-year deal before last season. But Tannenbaum will be looking for an upgrade after seeing Tomlinson fade down the stretch.

He'll need to see contributions from the last draft class, which has turned into a work in progress. Cornerback Kyle Wilson regressed and guard Vladimir Ducasse, fullback John Conner and running back Joe McKnight weren't significant contributors.

He'll need a solid draft class this year, especially with New England coming off a 14-2 season and the Patriots having six picks in the first three rounds.

"The bar is pretty high in our division, and for us to get to where we want to go, we need to win more regular-season games, hopefully, win a division," he said. "I think that would be one of our goals for next year."

The Jets have shown their mettle by winning four playoff games in two years - all on the road. Though there's no rule that says you can't win a championship by playing on the road - the Giants did it after the 2007 season and the Packers are in next Sunday's Super Bowl after three straight road wins - the easier path is to play at home and get a bye week.

Tannenbaum has built a team that's close to having what it takes to win a title, and he'll do his part to take that next step. No guarantees, but you have to like what you see. Another strong offseason for the GM and there's every reason to believe the Jets can dream big in 2011 and beyond.

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