Sometimes it’s the deals you don’t make that turn out for the best.
Case in point: At the start of free agency, the Jets offered free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins a whopping $90 million guaranteed over three years, a full $15 million more than the Vikings were offering at the time. Cousins revealed in a video series posted this week on the Vikings’ website that he used the Jets’ offer as leverage to get Minnesota to raise its offer to $84 million. Done deal.
Another case of the Jets missing out on their quarterback of choice? Well, at the time, yes.
But missing out on Cousins turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Rather than overpay for another quarterback alternative on the open market, general manager Mike Maccagnan instead signed Vikings free agent Teddy Bridgewater to a modest one-year deal. And then Maccagnan hit a draft-day home run by trading up from No. 6 to No. 3 and winding up with USC quarterback Sam Darnold after the Giants took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2.
On Wednesday, the deal got even better. With Darnold playing so well that he’s a virtual lock to go into the season as the starter, Maccagnan parlayed the Bridgewater signing into a third-round pick by trading him to the Saints. That’s some awfully good work by the fourth-year GM, who has gone a long way toward replenishing his 2019 draft after getting maximum value for Bridgewater.
While it’s conceivable that another team more desperate at quarterback might have paid a steeper price for Bridgewater, the lack of injuries to any starter on a playoff-caliber team precluded a better deal than Maccagnan got with the Saints. And with Darnold the likely starter and Josh McCown the perfect backup and mentor for the prized rookie, Maccagnan made a smart move by swinging the trade now.
Bridgewater would have been a luxury had he remained with the Jets, and there’s a chance he might have created a quarterback controversy if Darnold struggled over a prolonged period. That’s not what you need on a rebuilding team. The preferred quarterback dynamic is the one the Jets have now with Darnold and McCown. There is the young blue-chip passer who will go through the inevitable growing pains associated with almost every quarterback in his situation, and there is a 39-year-old mentor in McCown, who understands his role and realizes he doesn’t have a long-term future with the team.
McCown has said consistently that he will do whatever is best for the team, and he wasn’t just paying lip service. He has been around the league long enough to know that teams don’t draft quarterbacks in the first round to have them sit. McCown was in a similar situation last year, when the Jets were trying to see if Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty could be the starter, and even though McCown barely played in the 2017 preseason, it was obvious the Jets had to go with him over their two younger passers. Hackenberg and Petty were clearly not ready to start, and McCown responded with one of his best seasons.
The Jets took a big swing on Cousins after the season and clearly were committed to him, based on their contract offer. But they also grew concerned early in the negotiating period that Cousins was using them for leverage, and that turned out to be precisely the case. Cousins smartly drove up the price with Minnesota, his preferred destination, and signed with the Vikings.
Disappointment for the Jets, yes. At least initially.
In the end, it couldn’t have worked out better. They got their franchise quarterback in Darnold, who developed more quickly than anyone could have expected. And they got an important draft pick back with the trade of Bridgewater.
Big win for a team not used to them when it comes to quarterbacks.