A quest that began the moment after Joe Namath delivered his final pass for the Jets in 1976 is nearly a half-century old, with dozens of attempts failing to live up to the legend of Broadway Joe.
There will never be another quarterback quite like Namath, the only one who ever won a Super Bowl for the Jets. The pursuit of the next Joe Willie has ended in disappointment. None of the 30 quarterbacks to start a game for the Jets since Namath’s departure has been able to get back to the NFL’s mountaintop.
The search will continue in 2018, with the Jets hoping to find the answer that has eluded them these past 41 seasons. There will be an appealing, albeit limited, set of choices in the offseason, although there won’t be any definitive results until at least March, when the free-agency signing period begins. Or perhaps the answer will come the following month in the draft.
In the meantime, here’s a look at their potential options:
Kirk Cousins, Redskins. Unless the Redskins are playing a game of chicken and waiting until the last minute to work out a long-term contract with Cousins, a divorce looks inevitable. The Redskins have the option of placing the franchise tag on him for a third straight year, although that would mean he’d have an exorbitant $34.5-million salary in 2018. The more likely scenario is the Redskins either letting him walk as a free agent or applying the franchise tag or the transition tag and trading him to at least get something in return. Cousins would command a prohibitively high salary as a free agent, and whatever team signs him will be accused of overpaying for him. That said, he’s by far the best veteran alternative in 2018, and the Jets absolutely should be in on the bidding. Cousins is 29 years old and in his prime, and though he may not be on par with Tom Brady or Drew Brees, he is a quarterback you can build around for at least the next six or seven years. He’d therefore fit in well with a Jets roster that is among the youngest in the league.
Eli Manning, Giants. Though it’s highly unlikely that Manning would be willing to accept a trade to the Jets (he has a no-trade clause in his contract), there’s still a chance he doesn’t figure into the Giants’ plans in 2018. The Giants likely will have the No. 2 overall pick, meaning they’ll lean heavily toward taking a quarterback, and Manning has made it clear that he wants to start. It would be weird seeing No. 10 in Jets green-and-white, but never say never in this business.
Alex Smith, Chiefs. The No. 1 pick of the 2005 draft could be on the market next year, especially with the Chiefs drafting Patrick Mahomes in the first round last April. Smith turns 34 in May, and his ceiling is limited, but he’s an efficient quarterback who is more than serviceable for the next two or three seasons. He’d be appealing to the Jets even if they decide to take a quarterback early in next year’s draft, because they would have the luxury of bringing along a rookie more patiently with a competent starter in Smith.
Josh McCown, Jets. The Jets got far more out of McCown than anyone could have expected, as he had a career year before suffering a broken hand against the Broncos. Even if they draft a quarterback early or sign a high-priced free agent, they surely would welcome him back next season because McCown is one of the best locker room guys you’ll ever find. But just days before getting hurt, he confessed to Newsday that he badly misses his family in Texas, and he sounded as if he was leaning toward retirement. The Jets will give him time to make that decision in hopes he’ll be willing to return.
Teddy Bridgewater or Case Keenum, Vikings. There’s an interesting decision brewing in Minnesota for 2018. Bridgewater is back after a devastating knee injury suffered in August 2016, but Keenum will remain the starter after filling in exceptionally well when Sam Bradford was injured. Both quarterbacks are unrestricted free agents in 2018 and the Vikings aren’t expected to keep both, with Bridgewater the likely candidate to leave. He’d be a compelling alternative to consider.
Tyrod Taylor, Bills. The Bills clearly are ready to move on from Taylor, as indicated by their decision earlier in the season to start rookie Nathan Peterman. Taylor is a versatile quarterback who certainly is capable, but his upside is limited.
Drew Brees, Saints. Forget it. There’s no way the Saints will let him go, even though his contract expires after this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers. Not happening. The 49ers love what they have in Garoppolo after acquiring him from the Patriots for a second-round pick. His contract is up after the season, but they’ll find a way to keep him.
Sam Darnold, USC. He has all the tools you’d want — size, arm, vision — although he’ll need some time to adjust to the pro game. That said, the Jets probably would have to make a major move up the draft board to get him, especially with quarterback-needy teams such as the Browns and Giants likely at 1-2. Still, it’s worth considering if Darnold decides to turn pro, especially with Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan having an extra second-round pick from the Sheldon Richardson trade.
Josh Rosen, UCLA. The “it” factor is very high with Rosen, who has that rare knack of making things happen when the Bruins need him most. Great arm, charismatic player, franchise-caliber talent. Like Darnold, he’ll be gone early, so the Jets would have to trade up to get him.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. The newly crowned Heisman Trophy winner will command plenty of attention on draft day, although some NFL scouts worry that he’s too short (6-1) to make it in the NFL. But Brees supposedly is too short and he’s going to the Hall of Fame, so if Mayfield slips to the Jets — or if they need to move up a few spots — he’d be worth it.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville. The 2016 Heisman winner is one of the most dynamic players in college football with his ability to run with the football. Some scouts project him as an NFL wide receiver, but he’s intent on being a quarterback. Intriguing prospect who could be there when the Jets pick. Has to be strongly considered.
Josh Allen, Wyoming. The 6-5, 233-pound quarterback has prototype size and arm strength but has been underwhelming this season, completing only 56.2 percent of his passing attempts and throwing 13 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Take a pass in the first round.