Entering the offseason, the New York Jets were scheduled to pick just ahead of their division rivals, the New England Patriots, sitting 13th overall. They dealt their 13th-overall selection to the Green Bay Packers, however, swapping first-round picks with their 15th-overall selection as part of the Aaron Rodgers trade, moving them instead from one pick ahead of the Patriots to one pick behind.
And that gave New England some level of control over the Jets’ draft. They ended up using their pick to trade back three spots with the Pittsburgh Steelers at 17, a team that they know had some of the same needs that the Jets had—specifically at tackle. While they wouldn’t come right out and say it, chances are it played at least a minor factor in their decision to move on the trade.
Asked about how much they monitor their division rivals in such situations, Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh told reporters yesterday, “We keep tabs on all the teams, not just our division rivals”, via the team’s website.
“We try to do our research and try to have a feeling as far as positionally what a team might be looking for”, he added. “We’ve got all that posted right there in the draft room and try to be cognizant of what the teams are looking for. So maybe had an idea of what Pittsburgh was looking for. Certainly, didn’t know if that was going to be accurate”.
Of course, if that is a large part of your motivation for trading down, you’re taking a sizeable risk. After all, cornerback was a key need for the Steelers in addition to offensive tackle, and the Patriots were targeting cornerback Christian Gonzalez, whom they managed to get at 17 anyway.
But a combination of their feeling that Pittsburgh would lean toward tackle, of what the Jets and the Washington Commanders at 16 would do, and their comfort level with an acceptable number of prospects in their range is what ultimately led to them making the move—that, and, perhaps, helping to deprive the Jets of a possible franchise left tackle.
New York ended up drafting edge rusher Will McDonald IV after the Steelers selected Georgia tackle Broderick Jones. Groh says that they had intelligence that the Commanders preferred cornerback Emmanuel Forbes over Gonzalez, whom they ended up taking at 16.
And so they got the player they wanted three spots later, picked up an additional fourth-round pick from the Steelers, and also possibly deprived their division rival of the player they were hoping to draft, which they wouldn’t have been able to do had the Jets not swapped first-round picks with the Packers.
Whatever the intention was in there, it all worked out quite well for New England—and possibly for the Steelers. Or maybe even the Jets, for all we know. As Groh insisted, they didn’t know exactly how it was going to play out. They didn’t know Pittsburgh would draft Jones, or that Washington would draft Forbes, or that the Jets wouldn’t have drafted McDonald anyway.
But it’s a fun story for Steelers fans to tell themselves right now. And we may never know the truth. Unless it comes out at some point that the Jets were planning to draft Jones, this will just be an amusing little anecdote about how the Evil Empire helped them secure their potential franchise left tackle.