Jesse Kaye, former scout for the Green Bay Packers, died Saturday, June 3, at a suburban Green Bay health care facility. He was 79 and had been in failing health since suffering a stroke in 2016.
While Kaye handled a myriad of duties during his five years with the Packers, he was best remembered in league circles for the glowing report he wrote on quarterback Tom Brady when he was scouting for the New York Jets in advance of the 2000 draft. Kaye's scouting career covered roughly 30 years.
As a senior, Brady's playing time at the University of Michigan had diminished as a result of a platoon arrangement with sophomore Drew Henson and his draft stock never improved from a late-round tag in what turned out to be one of the worst quarterback classes in history except for Brady and Chad Pennington.
Kaye was hired by the Packers in May 1989 to perform double duty as a pro scout in player personnel and as an administrative assistant to coach Lindy Infante. In his role as scout, Kaye replaced Burt Gustafson and answered to vice president of football operations Tom Braatz. After his first year, Kaye also assisted Braatz with contract negotiations.
In January 1992, recently named general manager Ron Wolf turned pro scouting into a separate department and named Kaye the director. However, Wolf replaced him two years later with Ted Thompson, who had served as Kaye's assistant.
Kaye was hired by the Jets as a college scout in August 1994, only months after his release by the Packers. Eight years later, he was promoted to director of college scouting and charged with coordinating the Jets' drafts for then general manager Terry Bradway.
But Kaye's place in Jets' lore was cemented two years earlier when he was still their Midwest scout and tried to sell Parcells on the second day of the 2000 draft to take a second quarterback after selecting Pennington in the first round. Parcells was the Jets' director of football operations at the time after stepping down as coach the day after the 1999 season ended, and his decision to ignore Kaye's pitch has haunted the organization for more than two decades.
"(Kaye) liked Brady and there wasn't anything on the surface that would make you think (Brady would turn out like he did)," Dick Haley, who was then director of player personnel for the Jets, told me in a 2002 interview. "First of all, (Brady) was in the 190s and like 6-4. So he was very thin. He didn't run fast at all. And Henson was considered to be a big-time player. I saw a game early and Brady didn't play at all. But it was a matter of (Kaye) going in and digging out and finding the guy."
Parcells claimed in the wake of that 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story that he respected Kaye as a scout but didn't remember him or anyone else mentioning Brady's name in the draft room that year.
Haley wasn't alone among those who have offered a different take on the story. According to sources with the Jets, Kaye had given Brady at least a third-round grade.
In 2014, Gary Myers, NFL columnist for the New York's Daily News, quoted a source who was inside the Jets' draft room in 2000 confirming that Kaye all but begged Parcells to draft Brady; while in 2020, former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who was in charge of player contracts in 2000, told ESPN's Rich Cimini that Kaye "was in love with Brady," believed he was going to be "a great player" and urged Parcells to draft him.
Kaye retired from the Jets in 2014.
Prior to joining the Packers, he had scouted for the BLESTO combine and the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1986 to '89.
Born in South Bend, Ind., where his father was stationed in the Navy during World War II, Kaye grew up Green Bay and was an all-metro high school quarterback at Green Bay Premontre, where he played for Packers Hall of Famer Ted Fritsch.
Thereafter, Kaye was a much-traveled player in both college and pro football.
In college, he played on the freshman team at the University of Colorado with high school teammate Bob Canadeo, son of Packers Hall of Famer Tony Canadeo. Next, Kaye transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where he was an alternate or part-time starter at quarterback and left halfback during the 1964 and '65 seasons. His final stop was the University of Tampa, then in the initial stages of transitioning into an NCAA Division I program, where he started at quarterback in 1966.
As a pro, Kaye was the backup quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League when they lost in the Grey Cup in 1967; a member of the Miami Dolphins' taxi squad (or what today is the practice squad) in 1970, Don Shula's first as head coach there; and went to camp in 1974 with Minnesota, where he started the first preseason game for coach Bud Grant during a brief strike by NFL veterans. Kaye joined the Vikings after being released in training camp by the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.
In addition, Kaye played for the Spokane Shockers in the Continental Football League in 1968 and for several seasons with the Manitowoc Chiefs and Lake County Rifles in the semipro Central States Football League, where he was twice named the league's MVP.
Funeral services for Kaye are pending.