NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The search is on for Woody Johnson and the New York Jets.
With Rex Ryan and John Idzik out, the team is moving quickly to line up interviews for candidates to be their next coach and general manager. Former NFL general managers Ron Wolf and Charley Casserly have been hired as consultants, and Johnson and the Jets are running concurrent searches for both positions.
“I’m relying on a lot of people,” Johnson said Monday. “The three of us will be leading this search, but I’ve always been open to ideas and discussion.”
Johnson, Wolf and Casserly will fly out to Seattle this weekend to speak with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive line coach-assistant head coach Tom Cable about the coaching position, and director of pro personnel Trent Kirchner about the GM job.
The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, so the Jets are able to interview members of their organization.
Meanwhile, the list of candidates to replace Ryan seems to keep growing, with the Jets also requesting permission to speak with Arizona defensive coach Todd Bowles, Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, and San Diego offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn, who also served as assistant head coach under Ryan, is expected to receive an interview.
In addition to Kirchner, the Jets have requested to speak with Baltimore assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, Minnesota assistant GM George Paton, Philadelphia director of pro personnel Rick Mueller, and Houston director of college scouting Mike Maccagnan.
Rod Graves, the Jets’ senior director of football administration, will be interviewed for the position. Graves, who was brought in by Idzik in 2013, was Arizona’s general manager for six seasons. He’ll oversee New York’s football operations on an interim basis until a GM is hired.
“I think I’m going to ultimately be the one who hires the coach, but I will certainly listen to the new general manager,” Johnson said. “If that comes first, I’ll definitely do that.”
There will be plenty of challenges for the new regime, particularly following a 4-12 season and a fourth straight year without making the playoffs.
The first order of business: What to do at the quarterback spot? Geno Smith mostly struggled through his second season, and was benched for three games in favor of Michael Vick. But, as he did last season, Smith came on at the end of the year, culminating in the best performance of his career in the season-ending win at Miami. He threw for a career-high 358 yards and three touchdowns, went 20 of 25 and had a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
“I believe in myself, I have faith in myself and confidence that I can be a starter in this league,” Smith said. “But it comes down to me being more consistent obviously, doing a lot better of a job down the stretch of games and winning games.”
Smith got a somewhat surprising vote of confidence from Johnson, who said the young quarterback was “much, much better” in his last five games.
“I really think he can be good,” Johnson said.
But the Jets hold the No. 6 pick in the draft, and they could opt to upgrade the position there — although Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston could be gone before New York goes on the clock. Or, the Jets could try to bring in a veteran to compete with Smith, but the free agency crop could be thin.
The new general manager will come into a good salary cap situation, as Idzik got the Jets about $20 million under the cap — but was heavily criticized for not making use of it. That issue was magnified as New York struggled mightily at the cornerback position, which will also need to be a priority.
“We didn’t spend every dollar that we had, but (Idzik) had a plan for that,” Johnson said. “We were going to sign players that we didn’t get signed. So, we reserved it for that and maybe we should have spent more. Probably should have.”
New York has 14 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including Vick, linebacker David Harris, running back Bilal Powell and right guard Willie Colon. Steady nose tackle Damon Harrison will be a restricted free agent, and is in line for a bigger deal.
Star defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson expected a new contract by now after a solid fourth season, but the Jets exercised a fifth-year option last spring.
The new GM will also need to determine whether wide receiver Percy Harvin, a midseason acquisition, is worth a $10.5 million cap hit. The team’s two longest-tenured players — left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson ($11.7 million) and center Nick Mangold ($10.4 million) — also could be asked to restructure because of hefty cap hits.
“We’ve got to make some good decisions,” Johnson said. “We have to structure it properly. We have to know exactly what we’re looking for in a head coach and how he defines what he’s looking for, and same with a general manager.”
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