The millennium kicked off a volatile new beginning for the New York Jets.
Between Jan. 11, 2000 and the NFL draft on April 15, 2000, the Jets had a new owner, general manager and coach. Woody Johnson bought the team for $635 million, Bill Parcells “retired” to the front office, coach-in-waiting Bill Belichick resigned to join the New England Patriots and incoming head coach Al Groh traded star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The confluence of events left the Jets with an NFL-record four picks in the first round — Nos. 12, 13, 18 and 27.
The picks helped usher in an era that saw the Jets make the playoffs four times in seven seasons, but they weren’t enough to build a sustainable future for a franchise with only two postseason appearances since 2007.
How did they acquire the picks?
This is where things get interesting. And a lot of it ties directly into the Jets’ biggest rival over the past 20 years: Belichick and the Patriots.
The Jets already had the No. 18 pick after finishing 8-8 in 1999 with Parcells at the helm. When Parcells stepped down after the season, he promoted Belichick to head coach. One day later, on Jan. 4, 2000, Belichick abruptly announced his resignation at an infamous news conference and the Jets received the 16th overall pick from the Patriots in exchange for the right to hire him.
Parcells then promoted Groh to head coach, which led to a new problem: Keyshawn Johnson. Groh quickly became disgruntled with Johnson and traded the former 1996 first overall pick to the Buccaneers for their Nos. 13 and 27 first-round picks. In a hilarious twist, Johnson admitted that he probably would have stayed with the Jets if Belichick hadn’t left.
“Once Bill [Parcells] stepped aside, and Bill Belichick took over, I felt confident they would still be able to do something,” Johnson, who wanted to renegotiate his rookie contract, told The New York Times after the trade. “Once the second Bill left, it was left to the newcomers, and it didn’t come together.”
The Jets weren’t done wheeling and dealing. A day before the draft, New York traded with the San Francisco 49ers using the Patriots’ No. 16 pick along with their No. 48 pick to move up to No. 12. Loaded with a bevy of picks, a new coach and a new owner, the Jets looked poised to remake their team quickly.
How did the picks pan out?
The players the Jets drafted weren’t nearly as exciting as the stories behind each pick. New York went defense-heavy with their first two picks, taking defensive end Shaun Ellis and edge rusher John Abraham with the 12th and 13th picks. They went offense at No. 18 and 27 with quarterback Chad Pennington and tight end Anthony Becht.
Ellis lasted the longest of the four with an 11-year career in New York. He became a force on the defensive front and tallied 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 574 combined tackles. He ended his playing career with the team whose pick the Jets used to trade up to draft him — the Patriots.
Abraham played six seasons with the Jets and recorded 53.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 283 combined tackles. Abraham also tied a franchise record set by two members of the New York Sack Exchange — Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau — with four sacks in a game in 2001. The Jets traded Abraham to the Falcons in 2006 and used the No. 29 pick they received to take center Nick Mangold, who became the leader of their line for the next 11 seasons.
The Jets drafted Pennington out of Marshall to be their franchise quarterback. He didn’t become the full-time starter until Week 5 of the 2002 season. Pennington’s career oscillated between good and bad over his eight years in New York because of various shoulder ailments, but he finished with a respectable 34-23 record that included 2-3 in the playoffs.
Becht probably had the least memorable Jets career of the four. He caught 133 receptions for 1,164 yards and 17 touchdowns in five seasons for New York and never really became the pass-catching powerhouse the Jets had hoped. He played for the Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs to finish out his career.
While none of the Jets’ first-round picks turned into perennial All-Pros or superstars, they were a part of the most successful Jets era of the millennium. New York finished above .500 all but one of the five seasons all four played together and made the playoffs three times over that span.
The only player the Jets really missed out on, though, was a quarterback named Tom Brady, who went 199th overall and played for the coach the Jets expected to have on their sideline for the next 20 years.
See, it all came back to Belichick after all.
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