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Wind beneath Jet's wings

Father an inspiration for GM Tannenbaum

He had been on the practice field earlier in the day, watching the up-and-coming team he's helped construct, and Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum could have had any number of things on his mind.

Will quarterback Chad Pennington author another stellar season? Is running back Thomas Jones, acquired in an offseason trade with the Bears, going to upgrade the rushing attack? How are top draft picks Darrelle Revis (cornerback) and David Harris (linebacker) adjusting? Will offensive lineman Pete Kendall's contract demands become a distraction?

But at the moment, as he considered his journey from delivering the Boston Globe as a fifth-grade student in Needham, to fulfilling his dream of becoming general manager of a professional sports team, Tannenbaum focused on something altogether different.

Richie Tannenbaum.

With Fathers Day on his mind, it only seemed fitting.

"He was there for me through all the ups and downs of growing up," said the 38-year-old Tannenbaum, who enters his second season as Jets GM and has the team on the rise after a 10-6 season and playoff appearance. "When you try to get into football, there is a sustained period of time where you're not making a lot of money and you're working a lot of hours and everyone has days where you ask yourself if it's really worth it. He helped me endure the rough times."

Two weekends ago, Tannenbaum returned to Needham to celebrate his father's 65th birthday and retirement. Richie Tannenbaum worked as an engineer for the MBTA since 1977, and his approach to the job made an indelible mark on his son, who often thinks about the "incredibly consistent work ethic" when he's called upon to work the 18-hour days that have become the norm in the NFL.

"I always felt it was remarkable that he really had just two jobs -- one was working for the MTA in New York and the other for the T in Boston -- and he never blinked, just worked every day," Tannenbaum said.

While the son marveled at the father's ability to work with his hands, he himself was swept up by sports, specifically the passion with which they are followed in Boston. He remembers the Celtics dominating headlines in the late '70s and early '80s, and was intrigued by the man behind it all.

"I was following Red Auerbach, and the part that got me excited was how clear it was that he had a plan -- from drafting Larry Bird as a junior-eligible, to some of the offer sheets going back and forth when the Knicks were trying to get Kevin McHale [in 1983]," he said. "He just seemed a half-step ahead of everybody else."

That sparked Tannenbaum's interest in the building of a team "using all different avenues." He graduated from Needham High in 1988 and attended UMass-Amherst, where he studied accounting and sports management. One of his research papers was on the way in which Super Bowl teams had been assembled (focusing mainly on the 49ers under Bill Walsh).

Tannenbaum interned with the minor league Pittsfield Mets upon graduation, and received his first taste of NFL life as an intern with the Saints while he attended law school at Tulane. He dabbled on the agent side of the business under Boston-based Brad Blank before hooking on with the Browns, in Bill Belichick's final year as coach there (1995), as a player personnel assistant.

Tannenbaum returned to the Saints in 1996 and landed with the Jets under Bill Parcells the following year, and he's ascended the ranks, now entering his 11th season in New York, an eternity in the NFL. While Tannenbaum's expertise has been in salary cap management, he's also broadened his responsibilities in player personnel.

Working in concert with second-year coach Eric Mangini, he's helped steer the Jets in an upward direction. Among the notable offseason moves have been dealing for Jones to boost a rushing attack that ranked 30th (3.5 yards per carry); trading up in the first and second rounds of the draft to select Revis and Harris; signing former Cowboys defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman; and inking big-play receiver Jerricho Cotchery to a contract extension.

Tannenbaum explained the moves as part of an overall plan to "keep laying the foundation" as the Jets attempt to wrestle AFC East supremacy away from the Patriots. Back in Needham, where most of the neighborhood cheers for the Patriots, Richie Tannenbaum and his wife, Marilyn, are watching with pride.

"I always believed the kids should do what they like to do, and he always wanted to do something in sports and something in law," said Richie. "If he could combine the two, he figured he had it made."

Indeed, Tannenbaum, who is married with a daughter, feels fortunate to be in his situation. The Jets have taken off, and so too, has his career.

Continental shift?


The future of NFL Europa will become a hotter topic among NFL officials, as it has at this time of year before. The regular season ended yesterday, the championship game is scheduled for next weekend, and some owners continue to wonder why the NFL is investing in the spring league that annually loses money and doesn't seem to generate much media attention in the United States.

Any talk of NFL Europa's demise is met with a passionate retort from Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, a longtime supporter of the league that began play in 1991.

Peterson points to one statistic, specific to the Chiefs, that he feels illustrates the benefits of the league: Kansas City has sent 150 players to NFL Europa, and of them, 17 became NFL starters, 25 became backups, and three earned at least one Pro Bowl nod. He also notes that if the NFL season started today, the Chiefs' quarterback would be Damon Huard, another product of NFL Europa.

"From the football side, the thing that has always been most attractive to me is that it's a place where we can develop young players and improve the quality of play," said Peterson. "What happens with a lot of the players on the roster, your 45th-53d players and practice squad players, once training camp and the preseason are over, they don't play football anymore. So all they've had is 6-7 quarters of full-contact, live football, and their skills can erode.

"To me, NFL Europa presents them an opportunity to get back to that, playing full-contact football at a high level. It's not the level of the National Football League, but it's certainly close to it."

Others aren't as passionate as Peterson, feeling the value of the league as a breeding ground for players has declined since the NFL recently expanded practice squads from five to eight players, and that the quality of play isn't particularly high anyway.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to NFL owners, who have supported the league with the thinking that it's important to have an American football presence in Europe. It will be interesting to see whether the NFL playing its first regular-season game in Europe this year (Dolphins-Giants Oct. 28) will contribute to some owners backing away from their support of NFL Europa.

Peterson said each NFL team loses $500,000-$650,000 per season on NFL Europa, but he believes that to be a small investment given the football rewards. He points out that one mistake on a player could cost that much, a mistake that could be avoided by sending a player to NFL Europa.

"I'm just hopeful and optimistic that we keep tweaking it and continue to move it forward," he said.

Kendall is taking a hard-line stance on contract


While Mike Tannenbaum has pushed many of the correct buttons in his first 16 months as Jets general manager, he's currently dealing with his first public contract dispute, as offensive lineman Pete Kendall fired salvos at management last week by telling reporters that he's "very unhappy" and that his situation has "become a circus."

Kendall's unhappiness, according to his agent, Neil Schwartz, traces to the 2005 season.

After a midseason loss to the Falcons in Herm Edwards's final season as Jets coach, Schwartz said, the team asked Kendall to take a pay cut. Kendall was furious, as he was battling through injuries (Schwartz said he was taking shots in his back before games) and playing out of position during a 4-12 season.

Kendall didn't take the pay cut, but in March 2006 he accepted a restructured contract through 2009.

Now, after putting together a solid 2006 season, Kendall figures turnabout is fair play: If the Jets asked him to take a pay cut during a season in which he struggled, he's within his bounds to ask for a raise -- from $1.7 million to $2.7 million -- after starting 14 games and serving as a captain.

The sides remain in a stalemate, and Kendall was running with backup players during parts of last week's minicamp, replaced by second-year player Adrien Clarke (four career starts).

"It's awkward," said Kendall. "I'm not happy to be here, and I suspect there are people in the organization who aren't happy that I'm here."

Etc.

Keep in mind . . .
Four nuggets not to forget from last week: 1. The return of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to the practice field for noncontact drills, seven months after undergoing surgery on his right ACL; it was considered a positive step leading into the start of training camp; 2. Giants fullback Jim Finn sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury, leaving second-year player Robert Douglas, who was signed off the Texans' practice squad last December and has never appeared in a regular-season game, as the top pure fullback on New York's roster; 3. Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden declaring Jeff Garcia as the leader in the team's quarterback competition; 4. Browns defensive coordinator Todd Grantham signing an extension through 2009, meaning that Grantham, coach Romeo Crennel, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, and general manager Phil Savage are all locked up through 2009.

Amicable split
Who knew that getting fired could be such a cordial experience? When a player gets released unexpectedly, as longtime Jaguars safety Donovin Darius did Thursday, the last thing one would expect is for the player to return to the stadium later in the day and hold his own press conference. But that's what Darius did, noting that he had "nothing but great things to say about this organization." Wonder what someone like Ty Law might say about that approach?

Bling it on
The Indianapolis Colts received their Super Bowl rings Wednesday and Massachusetts native Ryan LaCasse, who enters his second season with the club, wasted little time insuring the new possession. "It's not exactly everyday hardware," said LaCasse, a 2000 graduate of Stoughton High and a former Hockomock League all-star. LaCasse, who envisions the 50-diamond, $5,000 ring being brought out on special occasions or for speaking engagements, said the ceremony was nice because it provided one more chance for the Colts to gather as a team. "One thing you quickly realize in the NFL is that teams don't stay together," he said. "After the season, guys fly out to different parts of the country, they become free agents, so it's pretty rare to have the same group back in one place." The ring ceremony was hosted by actor/comedian Sinbad, a "blast from the past" that took LaCasse back to his school days in Stoughton.

Hurry-up offense
The Cowboys are set to enter discussions on a contract extension with quarterback Tony Romo, to which we ask: What's the rush? Romo has only 10 regular-season starts and one playoff start on his résumé, all last season. And while he provided the Cowboys an initial boost after replacing Drew Bledsoe, he cooled at the end of the season, losing four of his final five starts (including playoffs).

Paper Charger
With last year's starting inside linebackers, Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey, no longer on the roster, the Chargers are projected to open the season with former University of Maine star Stephen Cooper playing alongside five-year veteran Matt Wilhelm at the heart of their 3-4 defense. Cooper hasn't missed a game over his first four seasons, making his mark mostly on special teams, but no-nonsense general manager A.J. Smith cautioned not to read too much into anything at this point. "We think he has an outstanding future, has all the physical tools to excel and the year-round training habits, but all we're talking about at this time of year is a paper football exercise," Smith said. "We'll start to know more when preseason and double sessions come around, when the pads come on. All the stuff now, when you're in shorts and T-shirts, is strictly athletic ability, which we already know about. It's different when players are trying to take heads off."

Planning an anniversary party
The Patriots preach a one-game-at-a-time mantra, but some members of the organization are on the year-to-year plan. How else to explain that team officials have already been in discussions regarding the 2009 season and how to honor the 50th anniversary of the franchise? There has been talk of wearing the team's throwback red jersey and old helmets for at least one game. And on the subject of planning ahead, the Patriots have already determined that they will wear their "third" silver jerseys against the Bills at Gillette Stadium Sept. 23.

Extra points
Scouts and personnel men across the NFL will have a chance to watch Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver and Nebraska offensive lineman Chris Patrick, two of the top players available in next month's supplemental draft, work out this week. Oliver's workout is scheduled for Thursday on Georgia's campus, while Patrick will work out at Nebraska tomorrow . . . Former Boston College standout Will Blackmon, a second-year cornerback with the Packers, missed six days of recent practices with a minor groin injury . . . Rams coach Scott Linehan put kicker Jeff Wilkins on the spot during the team's final minicamp practice last week, telling him if he made a 52-yard field goal, the team wouldn't have to run sprints. Wilkins, a pressure-tested veteran entering his 14th NFL season, nailed it . . . Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu was held out of recent minicamp practices with a sore hamstring . . . Did You Know: The Ravens are the only team in the NFL that didn't sign an unrestricted free agent from another club this offseason.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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