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Mike Tannenbaum’s take: As preseason winds down, the decisions get tougher

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Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum on the sideline with Rex Ryan (USA Today Sports Images)

Mike Tannenbaum was general manager of the Jets from 2006-2012, a franchise that went to consecutive AFC championship games, and is currently working as an agent for coaches and executives. He will regularly contribute to Yahoo! Sports with views about business of the NFL and how to field winning football teams.

Being the general manager of a NFL team is: Extremely challenging this time of year. I always felt that after our top 35 players our roster was firmly in pencil and not pen on account of the unexpected nature of our sport.

Unexpected cuts from other teams or trades were avenues we were constantly exploring to improve our team. Preseason injuries, and especially season-ending ones, can be devastating to a team no matter what kind of public spin a team puts on it. If it’s a starting player at a position where you don’t have a lot of depth, it’s especially painful (trust me, I’ve been there). You will hear the typical “next man up” lines (lines I’ve used in the past), but those are trying moments for leaders of teams. You do your best to come up with the best plausible solution.

Further, you’re lucky if that top 35 stays intact; coaches and GMs are constantly discussing the pros and cons of trying to get your team ready, balanced with managing the team’s health as it gets ready for opening day. Often times our schedule would be tweaked as we got to this point in camp depending on the overall health of our team.

The reason most NFL GMs are on Ambien: You need to be constantly searching for ways to improve your team. There will be players added to rosters after Sept. 1 that will affect playoff races. Look at the following key players who were acquired after Sept. 1 in years past and started at least 10 games (thanks to Elias Sports Bureau):

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Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch (USA Today Sports Images)

Will Witherspoon, started 10 games for Eagles in 2009
Brandon Lloyd, started 10 games for Rams in 2011
Braylon Edwards, started 11 games for Jets in 2009
Marshawn Lynch, started 11 games for Seahawks in 2010
Dan Koppen, started 12 games for Broncos in 2012
Richard Seymour, started 16 games for Raiders in 2009
Brian Waters, started 16 games for Patriots in 2011

Lessons Learned: Evaluating preseason performance is difficult, no more so than at the quarterback position. A ton of variables enter into this; some teams game plan more than others, some teams play their starters longer than others, but it’s interesting to look at some noteworthy quarterbacks who played well in the preseason in recent years and then followed it up with a sub-par regular season:

Drew Bledsoe, Dallas, 2006
Preseason: 33-of-44, 425 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 118.1 rating
Regular season: 90-of-169, 1,164 yards, 7 TD, 8 INT, 69.2 rating

Eli Manning, New York Giants, 2007
Preseason: 35-of-51, 345 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 107.1 rating
Regular season: 297-of-529, 3,336, 23 TD, 20 INT, 73.9 rating

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle, 2009
Preseason: 38-of-53, 414 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 111.7 rating
Regular season: 293-of-488, 3,029 yards, 17 TD, 17 INT, 75.1 rating

Colt McCoy, Cleveland, 2011
Preseason: 28-of-46, 320 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 101.7 rating
Regular season: 265-of-463, 2,733 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT, 74.6 rating

Nick Foles, Philadelphia, 2012
Preseason: 28-of-46, 320 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 110.1 rating
Regular season: 161-of-265, 1,699 yards, 79.1 rating

Matthew Stafford, Detroit, 2012
Preseason: 26-of-37, 360 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 116.9 rating
Regular season: 435-of-727, 4,867 yards, 20 TD, 17 INT, 79.8 rating

Recently, I realized: There are parts of the training camp ritual that I truly miss,

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(USA Today Sports Images)

particularly spending time in Cortland, N.Y. with some of the most welcoming people in the country. In particular, Mark Braun of Doug’s Fish Fry, one of the most knowledgeable and die-hard Jet fans anywhere, is as good a person as there is. Mark was born with the “generosity gene” and he truly derives pleasure from helping others. You owe it to yourself to one day go there and experience a family meal in a great All-American environment – Mark Braun sets a high standard for all of us.

During the week, keep an eye on: The third week of the preseason is typically when you will get the closest to a regular-season game from a coaching standpoint, in terms of game planning in all three phases.

Evaluating the starters for two-and-a-half quarters in this week’s games may give you the best indication of where your team currently is. Most coaches I’ve been around liked to play the starters all of the first half and one series into the third quarter so players get used to coming out of halftime, making adjustments and playing one more series.

A game I’m very familiar with is the Jets-Giants game, which always had a little more energy due to two teams from the same market going at it. Unfortunately, it’s also a game that has caused significant injuries to both sides (Jason Sehorn, Chad Pennington and Osi Umenyiora to name a few).

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