The New York Jets wanted a cornerback, so they brought in three with first-round grades for pre-draft interviews and physicals in the spring of 2007.
The intrigue about those visits, considered job interviews by the players, started before any of them ever reached the team’s training facility.
Each player was picked up by a private car service and shuttled the 30 minutes or so it took to get between the team’s training facility and the airport. And during the round-trip rides the driver was under orders to engage the players in conversation.
Why? Because the Jets had replaced the car service’s driver with a team employee.
Unbeknownst to the players who thought they were dealing with a black-suit-and-tie-wearing chauffeur, the job interviews with the team began the second they met the driver at the airport.
After each trip, the fake driver would write a report for the New York personnel department on what the players said, how the player treated him, whether the player complained about traffic or anything else.
The fake driver basically assessed how the players treated someone they figured wasn’t likely to help their careers in the anxious minutes before entering a pressure-packed series of conversations with team personnel.
One player emerged as the most polite, conversational, calm, enthusiastic person of them all.
And so the Jets, who also hosted Leon Hall of Michigan and Aaron Ross of Texas, not only picked Revis but traded up to the No. 14 overall spot in the first round to get the future perennial Pro Bowl cornerback.
“That was a factor why we traded up,” Mike Tannenbaum, then the Jets general manager and now the Miami Dolphins executive vice president for football operations said last week while being careful not to mention the Revis name to avoid any tampering issue.
“That wasn’t the reason for drafting the player, but that was a factor.”
And that is definitely part of the process the Dolphins are completing this week in advance of the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday evening.
Dolphins security director Stuart Weinstein, working his 31st draft for the team, did 643 background reports of draft-eligible players. It was the most reports he has ever turned in to the Miami personnel department.
Aside from getting a sense of the players through those reports, the Dolphins interview the men, interview their relatives and others close to them — such as conversations with running back Todd Gurley’s high school coach.
And then the Dolphins also use a bit of spy games to learn who these guys truly are and how that might affect how they fit with the team.
“Have we done it this year?” Tannenbaum said, repeating the question. “Yes and no. We do that as a matter of course. Candidly, if we bring in a player for an interview here I want to know what he’s saying to my assistant as much as what he’s saying to me. How they treat the assistant is who they really are.”
Tannenbaum is not talking about how each player treats the Dolphins’ assistant football czar. There is no such person. He’s talking about how the players treat, to use the old term, his secretary.
It should not surprise that general manager Dennis Hickey approves of the subterfuge.
Hickey worked 18 years for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joining the team in 1996 or one year after Mark Dominik. Dominik became GM in 2009 and Hickey became his right-hand man.
Under Dominik, the Bucs spied, or monitored if you prefer, on at least one player — Justin Blackmon in 2012.
Dominik, now working for ESPN but still very close with Hickey, recently said on ESPN radio Tampa Bay planted a scout at a bar near campus at Oklahoma State where Blackmon played to see how often the receiver frequented the spot.
“He sat there for one week,” Dominik said on the show. “Went in at 3 o’clock every day and stayed until 11 o’clock at night. That was his job, and we checked to see how many times did Justin Blackmon come in? And he came in too many times, and we took him off our board.”
The Dolphins won’t say if anyone is off their board, although it would make sense if a couple of players are. The Dolphins also aren’t saying which players from this draft they’re in love with.
Last year, after a long interview and investigation process the team fell in love with one player who stood out above most of the others: Wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
The team picked him in the second round.