There was a time not terribly long ago when the $6 million man was part of the American lexicon, a phrase associated with the bionic astronaut played by actor Lee Majors in a hit television series in the 1970s. Alas, time and inflation have rendered that monetary figure a much more modest sum in today’s world. And in the case of the Jets, it’s chump change.
Their own $6 million man, Josh McCown, is a well-traveled 37-year-old journeyman quarterback who likely will go into the 2017 season as their starter. That’s not quite the move to the future that Jets fans had been hoping for as their woebegone franchise continues to look for the second coming of Joe Namath — nearly half a century after Joe Willie won the team’s only Super Bowl.
McCown is commonly referred to in NFL parlance as a “bridge quarterback,” a player who is at least functional enough to fulfill the duties of the position, albeit not at the level of a playoff-caliber starter. He owns a career record of 18-42 and is 2-20 in his three previous seasons in Tampa Bay (2014) and Cleveland (2015-16).
No one — least of all Jets fans — is under any illusion that McCown will be anything more than a placeholder for a younger quarterback who eventually will take over.
Alas, the question becomes: Just which younger quarterback are we talking about?
Is it Christian Hackenberg, last year’s second-round draft choice, who essentially was redshirted as an NFL freshman and didn’t come close to seeing the field in 2016?
Is it Bryce Petty, a 2015 fourth-round pick who was 1-3 in four starts before suffering a torn labrum in a Dec. 24 game against the Patriots?
Or does the answer perhaps lie in next month’s draft, in which the Jets almost certainly will be in position to draft a highly touted prospect with the sixth overall pick?
The answer likely will determine the trajectory of the franchise for the foreseeable future, or at least after the time comes when McCown will have completed his role as the nominal starter.
The feeling here is that the Jets absolutely need to consider drafting one of this year’s top prospects, even if it means taking a gamble on yet another young passer who might not pan out. There are only three quarterbacks worth taking that high, but the Jets must expend every amount of energy determining whether any of them should be viewed as an eventual franchise-saving prospect.
* Deshaun Watson of Clemson won a national championship last season, offers a rare blend of arm strength and mobility, and has the leadership thing down pat. His coach, Dabo Swinney, famously said in January that any team that overlooks Watson in the draft, “they’re passing on Michael Jordan.” That kind of hyperbole is a bit much, but there’s no denying Watson possesses that special something — the “it” factor, as we like to call it — that can make the difference for a football team. If the other quarterback-needy teams ahead of the Jets — the Browns at No. 1, the 49ers at No. 2 and the Bears at No. 3 – pass on Watson, he’s absolutely a consideration for the Jets.
* Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina comes into the draft as a junior and has only one full season as a starter, but that 2016 season was awfully impressive with 30 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He performed very well at the NFL Combine last month — take that for what it’s worth, because you get only part of the picture when these guys run around in shorts and no helmets — and the Jets are absolutely interested in him. As they should be.
* Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is the other top prospect, although he might be a notch below Watson and Trubisky in terms of how well he projects in the NFL. There is no denying the significance of his benching by coach Brian Kelly midway through last year, but Kizer is a legitimate pro prospect with a big arm and terrific mobility.
* There is a fourth quarterback who might figure into the equation, but likely not at the No. 6 spot. Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech, the son of former major-league pitcher Pat Mahomes, is a bit more of a question mark because he comes from the “Air Raid” offense, which requires little to no reading of opposing defenses and no work from under center. Those are red flags for many NFL scouts, but Mahomes still will be intriguing enough for many teams to consider, possibly lower in the first round or in the second. But he’d be a reach at No. 6, so the only way the Jets would consider him is if general manager Mike Maccagnan traded down several spots and collected additional picks.
For now, though, this is McCown’s team, and even if the Jets take a quarterback high up, chances are McCown will start Week 1 barring an unexpectedly rapid improvement from Hackenberg or a change in thinking about Petty’s viability. Remember, coach Todd Bowles waited until the Jets were out of playoff contention before he benched Ryan Fitzpatrick and went with Petty.
Considering the Jets’ situation, McCown is a palatable alternative because they need to develop a quarterback over the long term.
Some have argued that the Jets should have given 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick a shot, but he is simply not the same quarterback he was when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. In addition to a drop in production, his decision to sit during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination created intense debate on a national level, and some teams might be scared off by the possibility of further controversy. But even though Kaepernick has indicated he will stand for the anthem from now on, he didn’t make football sense for the Jets. Kaepernick is best suited for a read-option offense that no longer works in the NFL, and his struggles as a pocket passer the last three seasons attest to his limitations.
Kaepernick is one of several former starters — Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III and Fitzpatrick are others — who remain unsigned. And former starters Geno Smith (Giants) and E.J. Manuel (Raiders) signed for the veteran minimum. It’s uncertain whether Kaepernick is willing to sign as a backup or how much he would require in a contract offer.
In the meantime, the Jets will go with their $6 million man. Even if it is a vastly devalued proposition from a generation ago.
Where some recent Jets quarterbacks have landed:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2015-16
Unsigned free agent
Geno Smith, 2013-16
Signed by Giants to back up Eli Manning
Mark Sanchez, 2009-12
Signed by Bears to back up Mike Glennon
Kellen Clemens, 2006-10
With Chargers as Philip Rivers’ backup
Michael Vick, 2014
Announced retirement on Feb. 3, 2017
Greg McElroy, 2012
Analyst for ESPN’s SEC Network