FLORHAM PARK, N.J.—Jacoby Ford remembers everything about the day the courtship began: The pickup from the airport. The shower of compliments. The steak dinner. And, of course, the invitation to head somewhere more private for a physical exam.
As far as manners go, the New York Jets are gentlemen when it comes to wooing free agents.
In the technology-savvy National Football League, where players now study Xs and Os on iPads rather than in playbooks, the Jets still employ an old-fashioned way of pursuing players during the off-season: They ply them with steak and booze.
The Jets were frisky suitors in the past three months, winning over quarterback Michael Vick, running back Chris Johnson, right tackle Breno Giacomini and two receivers, Eric Decker and Ford.
Coaches lavished the apples of their eyes with praise, and wined and dined at least three of the players in New Jersey's finest restaurants. They would consummate the relationship by inviting them back to the team's swanky training facility to take a physical and sign a contract.
According to Ford, a 26-year-old receiver and kick returner who spent his first four season with the Oakland Raiders, the Jets even picked him up. He said that in late March or early April, the Jets flew him to Newark International Airport, where a Chevrolet Suburban was waiting for him. It whisked him to the Jets facility, where he got a tour and spoke with general manager John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan in Idzik's office.
The Jets leaders told Ford, one of the NFL's fastest players, that he would fit in perfectly with the team. Ford and Ryan talked about Clemson, the receiver's alma mater, where Ryan's son currently plays football. Ford then met the team's offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, and its special-teams coordinator, Thomas McGaughey.
Then Mornwinheg, along with another Jets staffer, took Ford out to a nearby steakhouse for dinner.
The three talked some football, but the dinner conversation was more of a get-to-know-you session. "Do you have a family? Do you have a girlfriend?" Ford recalled being asked, as he enjoyed his eight-ounce filet mignon and side of asparagus.
After dinner, the receiver said, he retreated to the hotel room the Jets had booked for him. The next morning, he took the physical, signed the contract and flew home to Florida.
Just as corporations recruit potential hires over dinner, so do football teams. And why not? Professional sports franchises are wise to pull out all the stops to vet and seduce multi-million-dollar investments. They aren't necessarily essential, though; Vick said he didn't have dinner with team officials during his five-hour visit.
Giacomini said it was the terms of his contract and his comfort with the team that led him to choose the Jets.
"It's all about business at the end of the day," he said.
Still, he said, "it's good to get to know the coaches in case you do sign." Giacomini, who won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in February, said the Jets' two offensive-line coaches, Mike Devlin and Ron Heller, and another staffer took him to a bring-your-own-booze Italian restaurant in Morristown, N.J.
There, they asked the right tackle what he wanted to wash his chicken parmesan down with. He said a six-pack of Bud Light
He and his dining companions talked about their families and hunting as Giacomini easily drained the half-dozen bottles. "It was my first time meeting the coaches, so I didn't want to ask for a 30-rack right away," he said.
Edited by F.Chowds, 23 May 2014 - 06:47 AM.