The Jets made a daring trade in March, positioning themselves to select one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL Draft.
The trade, in which the Jets moved from No. 6 overall to No. 3, paid off. But after drafting Sam Darnold on Thursday night and electrifying their long-suffering fan base, now comes the hard part.
What happens at the quarterback position?
When the Jets open rookie minicamp on Friday at their Florham Park, New Jersey, facility, Darnold will be watched closely by the offensive coaches.
The Jets could bring in another rookie quarterback on a free- agent tryout so they don’t wear out Darnold’s.
In the long term the Jets want Darnold to become the No. 1 quarterback. Getting there might be tricky.
The Jets have five quarterbacks on their roster, but when they go to training camp in late July that number stands to shrink.
“We’ll see how that unfolds going forward,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said Saturday. “There’s always conversations you have with teams and we’ll see how that unfolds in the little bit of time.”
Is there a trade market for backups Christian Hackenberg and/or Bryce Petty?
Hackenberg, a 2016 second-round pick, has yet to play in an NFL game, but teams might be intrigued by his strong arm. Hackenberg has been exposed to numerous offensive schemes at Penn State and with the Jets. There are some scouts who believe Hackenberg has the physical skills to become a viable quarterback in the NFL.
Petty was a 2015 fourth-round pick from Baylor who is 1-6 as a starter with a 53.1 completion percentage. He’s thrown four touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his career.
Todd Bowles gave Petty every chance to prove himself last season when he started the last three games. Petty lost all three games, completing just 49.1 percent of his passes for 544 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Then-offensive coordinator John Morton was conservative in his playcalling with Petty in two of the three games.
The assumption is that Petty or Hackenberg will be gone by the start of training camp.
At the top of the depth chart is Josh McCown, the projected starter, and Teddy Bridgewater, the backup. Each quarterback signed for one season and are on different career paths.
McCown will turn 39 on July 4 and contemplated retirement following the 2017 season. After a discussion with his family, McCown elected to play for a 16th NFL season. He’s coming off a career year and expressed excitement about playing in the West Coast offense again. With Morton gone, new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates takes over and McCown has praised their working relationship.
McCown has also embraced the challenge of mentoring younger quarterbacks, something he’ll do with Darnold.
“I talked to him a little bit when training with Jordan Palmer,” Darnold said of McCown. “He played with him for a year and just from how Jordan talks about him, I could tell that he was an amazing guy and a great leader. I’m excited to be in the same room as him and learn from him.”
Bridgewater could trump everything here. He’s missed nearly two years while recovering from a severe knee injury suffered in training camp in the summer of 2016 when he played with the Vikings. Bridgewater, 25, is a proven quarterback who is trying to return to form.
His contract is structured that if he makes the roster he gets a $5-million base salary. If he doesn’t, the most the Jets are obligated to pay is his $500,000 signing bonus.
The battle for the starting job between Bridgewater and McCown, with Darnold waiting in the wings, will perk up during the Organized Team Activities. If Bridgewater can’t prove his knee is healthy enough to compete, the Jets can walk away from him.
If McCown outperforms Bridgewater, then Darnold could be elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart.
And what if Darnold outplays McCown in offseason workouts and the preseason?
“There is no way to tell until that week one, right?” Darnold said. “I’m going to prepare really hard every single week. I’m going to prepare like the starter, whether they want me to start or not, I’m going to do what I do. I’m going to prepare really hard, play the way I play, and that’s pretty much all I can worry about.”