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Posted: Monday April 27, 2009 8:43AM; Updated: Monday April 27, 2009 1:25PM
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Behind the Jets-Browns trade and thoughts on all 32 draft classes

Story Highlights

Safety Abram Elam was the key to the Mark Sanchez trade

Quick-hitting opinions on the weekend hauls of every team

Stat of the week, aggravating travel note and 10 Things I Think

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Former Jets Abram Elam and Eric Mangini will be reunited in Cleveland.
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KANSAS CITY -- I'm going to have 32 opinions on 32 teams here in a few paragraphs, and a few will surprise you. But I've got to start off with a cool story that played a big part in the trade of the weekend -- and, in all likelihood, the trade of the year in the NFL.

If you're a New York Jets fan, and you find yourself standing in line at a Modell's somewhere in the metropolis this week waiting for your SANCHEZ jersey, you really should pause and give thanks to four people:

1. Safety Abram Elam, the most important of three players in the deal between Cleveland and the Jets that netted USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Most important for several reasons, which I'll get to in a moment.

2. Rex Ryan, the Jets' coach, who finessed a vital part of this trade Friday night.

3. Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets' GM, who wouldn't take no for an answer.

4. Dawn Aponte. Capwoman, Cleveland Browns. Formerly the Jets' cap person, and formerly a VP with the NFL Management Council.

The trade got done when it got done -- and without another team busting in to trump the Jets at the last minute -- because Aponte spied a minute clause, one unknown-to-most, in the collective bargaining agreement (I bet Roger Goodell didn't know it was in there) that would have threatened the trade and quite possibly put it in jeopardy when the Browns were on the clock at 4:33 p.m. Saturday, trying to send the pick to New Jersey.

Here's what happened: When the Jets went to work out Sanchez at Mission Viejo High in California on March 24, he was so impressive and cast such a presence on the practice field that Ryan turned to Tannenbaum and said: "This is our guy. Let's go get him.'' Easier said than done, of course.

By last Friday, the Jets were having mostly fruitless discussions with the Rams, picking second, and Browns, picking fifth. The Rams wanted a ransom to move out of No. 2. At five, the Browns didn't want quite so much, but there was the matter of three players Cleveland liked. And the matter of not doing anything until Cleveland was on the clock, because if Sanchez wasn't there, the Jets weren't interested in moving from their pick at 17 to five. Given that the Jets didn't want to include their 2010 first-round pick in the deal, they had to get creative and throw in the three players coach Mangini wanted: Elam, defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman and backup quarterback Brett Ratliff.

Elam was the apple of Mangini's eye in the deal. In March, the Browns signed Elam, a restricted free-agent, to a one-year, $1.5-million offer sheet. The Jets, loaded with safeties, still matched it. And last Friday, when Tannenbaum and Mangini were talking conditional trade, Elam's name was front and center. He'd have to be in the deal for it to work for the Browns.

Not so fast, Aponte said. She remembered an obscure article in the CBA -- Article XIX of Veteran Free Agency, Section 3 (h). It said: "If a Club exercises its right of first refusal and matches an offer sheet, that club may not trade that player to the Club that submitted the offer sheet for at least one calendar year, unless the player consents to such trade.''

Aponte told Mangini the consent would have to be in writing. One problem: Now it was Friday, and the Jets had to finesse this very carefully. In March, Elam signed the offer sheet with Cleveland; he thought he'd be a Brown. A week later, the Jets matched the offer, and now he thought he was a Jet for good. So now the Jets had to find some face-saving way to ask Elam to sign this formal document approving a trade ... a trade that might not happen.

Late Friday, Ryan got on the phone with Elam and explained the lay of the land. The conversation went something like: We don't know if this is going to happen, but we know you had some interest in going to the Browns in March, and now we've got Jim Leonhard and Kerry Rhodes at safety, and you probably have a better chance to start in Cleveland, and you are Eric's kind of guy, but if the trade doesn't happen you've got to come back to us, and you're going to be a great player for us ...

Elam thought about it, then told Tannenbaum he'd do it. The Jets e-mailed Elam a PDF attachment with the correct language. He signed it and faxed it to the Jets' offices in Florham Park, N.J. The Jets re-faxed it to the league office, knowing that if they made the deal with the Browns on the clock, this was one technicality that, were it not satisfied to the league's approval, the trade could get knocked down.

At the same time, the Jets knew the Washington Redskins would be watching. If the Redskins knew they were doing this deal without a 2010 first-round pick included in the compensation package, Washington could jump in while New York struggled to make the deal, and the 'Skins could get Sanchez. A longshot, but a chance.

On Saturday, the draft got to Cleveland's pick. The Browns were set on moving down, and they pulled the trigger. The deal got approved by the league when it looked over the paperwork and saw Elam's signature on the legal document approving the trade.

And now you know ... the rest of the story.

One final note on the Jets: Tannenbaum told me Sunday night that running back Shonn Greene, whom New York traded three picks to get at the top of the third round, "was far and away the best player available'' when day two began, and the back his coaching staff wanted. We won't know if Sanchez is going to make it for a few years, obviously. But I like teams that love players and, within reason, break the bank to get them. I like the moves.

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