Boomer Esiason knows what it’s like to go into a season with no hope, when the players around you are so bereft of talent that a losing season - and all the criticism that goes along with it – is a foregone conclusion.
“In 1995, my No. 1 receiver was Wayne Chrebet, off the streets from Hofstra,” the former Jets quarterback recalled Wednesday afternoon. “He turned out to have a great career, don’t get me wrong. It’s Richie Kotite’s first year. We had 11 guys going in 11 different directions, and I was the only one going in the right direction, by the way.”
How bad was that 3-13 season for Esiason? In retrospect, especially after the Jets went 1-15 the following year despite jettisoning Esiason and signing Neil O’Donnell and several other high-priced free agents, it was extraordinary.
“We won three games before they spent $80 million and won one game?” said Esiason, a CBS analyst who spoke at the network’s annual preseason press briefing in New York. “That was my greatest season ever in 1995, although I almost got killed [because of a concussion].”
It has been more than two decades since that debacle of a season, but Esiason can’t help but draw a comparison to the impending doom he foresees with this year’s team. With another veteran quarterback, Josh McCown, taking over as the starter on a team with little firepower on offense, Esiason knows how ugly this is about to get.
“We can all look at the roster and say they’ll have one of the worst, if not the worst, offenses in football,” he said. “They’ll be a bottom-three offense in first downs, time of possession and points. I mean, those are three of the most important statistics. Going in the way they’re going, even with a 38-year-old quarterback [McCown] . . . how much can he bring you, I don’t know. He’ll bring you stability, if he can stay upright.”
Esiason agrees with coach Todd Bowles’ decision to start the season with McCown, who is a more polished quarterback than Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. But he expects the Jets will get a look at their younger quarterbacks before long.
“He will not be the starter come Week 5 or 6, simply because they’re going to have to go to one of those young guys just to see if they can play,” Esiason said of McCown, who has played only one series in the preseason as the Jets tried to get a read on Hackenberg and Petty. “[McCown] is going in blind, essentially. Everybody wants to feel the anxiety of a real game with the players that you’re going to play with, and he hasn’t really felt that.”
Why not make Hackenberg or Petty the starter now?
“You know, you still do have other players on that team that want to win,” Esiason said. “But they know what they see in practice. They know what’s happening, and they’re realistic about it. The reality is they have one of the worst offensive rosters in football, and they’re trying to trade [running back] Matt Forte. So what are they telling you? I guess they’re telling everybody kind of what Buffalo is telling people, and what Cleveland has been telling people over the years. I guess they’re lining up for whoever they think is going to be the best quarterback coming out of college next year.”
Esiason feels for Hackenberg, who was given every chance to beat out McCown and Petty but simply couldn’t.
“Is there a team to support him? Is the offensive line good enough? Is the running game good enough? Are the wideouts good enough? He’s in another new offense. You’re asking for the impossible. It’s just not a solid foundation for a quarterback to really learn and shine. It’s unfair, because he hasn’t really had a chance with a good team.”
Bottom line for Esiason: This is going to bring back memories of 3-13 in 1995 – and perhaps 1-15 in 1996. And Todd Bowles is likely to pay the price with his job.
“It’s going to be a long year,” he said. “Unfortunately for them, the rebuild started two years too late, and they know that. I think Todd Bowles is going to be in the crosshairs. If they went 8-8, I’d give him coach of the year. But if they go 2-14 and each week, Todd is going to have to get up there and give those postgame press conferences, fans are going to get tired of hearing the same old thing. Unless those players just play completely out of their minds, especially on defense . . . I just think it’s not going to go smoothly.”