FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If you’re judging Mike Maccagnan on whether he has fixed the Jets’ quarterback problem once and for all, then the best you can say is that he merits an incomplete. Even with Josh McCown playing some of the best football of his life, it’s impossible to overlook that he’s 38 years old and might have only seven games left as the Jets’ starter.
Not only that, but the Jets are no closer to finding out whether Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg will figure into their long-term future. And it doesn’t make it any easier that Deshaun Watson looks like the one who got away after getting off to a flying start in Houston before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
But here’s the encouraging part about the job Maccagnan has done: Even if he’ll have to wait until the draft — or possibly a free-agent market that could include Kirk Cousins of the Redskins — the Jets are in a far better place than they were at the end of last season. And because of the general manager’s moves — from a housecleaning to some excellent acquisitions through the draft and free agency — there is a legitimate sense of optimism.
That may be a counterintuitive assessment, considering the Jets still don’t have a franchise quarterback capable of carrying them through the next decade. But with a mostly younger roster being on the edge of playoff contention at 4-5, Maccagnan has poured much of the foundation. Now all that’s left is to find the centerpiece for the construction site.
He won’t rule out Hackenberg, who hasn’t played a regular-season down, as an option, but the GM acknowledges his sluggish development. Nor would he eliminate Petty from the mix.
“All players develop at different paces and different rates,” Maccagnan said Wednesday at his annual midseason briefing. “I wouldn’t say (I’m) discouraged. I think Christian has done some positive things. There are areas he still needs to improve upon, but I’m encouraged with the work (Petty) and Christian are putting in.”
Perhaps if Hackenberg had been drafted in the third, fourth or fifth round, his lack of development might not seem so unnerving. But when you take someone in the second round, you’re essentially looking at him as the answer. Petty was a fourth-rounder in 2015, and while he showed promise in limited work last season, the Jets haven’t viewed him as their franchise guy. It’s tough seeing either as a starter down the road, but Maccagnan did come up with a functional short-term answer.
Not only has McCown put up some of the best numbers of his 15-year career — 96.1 quarterback rating, 70.4 completion percentage, 16 touchdown passes — but he also is as good a locker room guy as you could ever want. He’s a reliable mentor for Petty and Hackenberg, while earning universal praise among the players and coaches as a trustworthy teammate on and off the field.
Maccagnan also has back-filled the roster with several solid moves. After parting with aging, underperforming Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Breno Giacomini, Nick Folk and Sheldon Richardson, the Jets brought in excellent rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, a fine receiver in Jermaine Kearse, a solid left tackle in Kelvin Beachum and excellent defensive players Kony Ealy, Demario Davis (reacquired in a trade) and Morris Claiborne. The development of second-year linebackers Darren Lee and Jordan Jenkins has been a major benefit, as has last year’s acquisition of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The only thing missing: the franchise quarterback.
Does he regret not taking Watson, who went 12th overall to the Texans, Maccagnan’s former team?
“Deshaun was doing a very good job for Houston,” Maccagnan said. “But from our standpoint, I tend to look forward in things like that. You don’t go back and play the what-if game.”
But it’s hard not to, especially the way Watson adapted so quickly to the pro game after an exceptional career at Clemson. Then again, there’s always hope for the future. Just look at the Texans: They botched their quarterback situation the year before by giving Broncos free agent Brock Osweiler a $72-million contract. He bombed from the start.
So maybe the Jets can find a suitable passer, and the sooner the better. If Maccagnan can find the right guy, his mistake on Hackenberg will turn out to be a footnote and not a defining choice.