FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The tape recorders and smartphones were arranged in single file, primed to record any hint of Mike Maccagnan’s draft strategy. But in typical fashion, the Jets’ third-year general manager kept much of his thought process and plans for Thursday night’s first round close to the vest.
Citing competitive advantage, Maccagnan chose to speak only in general terms during his laid-back sit-down with reporters Monday afternoon. He avoided (politely, of course) all talk of the Jets’ plans for safety Calvin Pryor, whose fifth-year option must be picked up or declined by May 3, and he delicately declined to say whether he’s actively shopping defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson.
“I’m not going to sit here and speculate or comment on anything we’re doing or not doing,” Maccagnan said, only helping to fan the trade rumors. “Simply stated — this is not directed at Sheldon or any player on our team — when you’re a general manager, you’re looking at all the different ways you can maybe change the team, or improve the team, or help the team. So you just weigh everything accordingly as you come across it.”
The answers to these pressing questions will become more clear once the draft gets underway. But until then, speculation will continue to swirl about the Jets’ plans for Richardson, Pryor and the No. 6 overall pick, which Maccagnan could use on a quarterback or a much-needed defensive back or could trade to acquire more picks.
“There’s always inquiries,” he said of fielding calls from teams looking to move up. “From an inside standpoint, there’s always a bit of gamesmanship in it. Teams are always playing poker a little bit. There’s a lot of conversations that go on. And this is no big state secret.”
The Jets can go a number of ways in Round 1, taking a standout on defense (safeties Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams, cornerback Marshon Lattimore) or offense (quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and DeShaun Watson, tight end O.J. Howard, running back Leonard Fournette). But while Maccagnan noted the improved accuracy of mock drafts in recent years, he cautioned against reading too much into their due diligence on the top quarterback prospects. Even with young quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg (the Jets’ second-round pick in 2016) and Bryce Petty (a 2015 fourth-rounder), Jets executives and coaches did extensive scouting on Trubisky (North Carolina), Watson (Clemson), Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.
“The quarterback position, as everyone is aware, is an extremely important position,” Maccagnan said when questioned about the team’s faith in Hackenberg following his redshirt rookie season. “And I think until you feel you have that position situated or in a place where you feel very comfortable with . . . Quite frankly, I don’t know if there’s going to be a year that I, or we as a team, don’t look strongly at that position because it’s so important. You almost have to every year.”
Petty, who underwent surgery on his non-throwing arm, “can physically throw” but still is in the rehab process, Maccagnan said. Hackenberg, for all of his intellect and confidence, remains a mystery. And 37-year-old newcomer Josh McCown is a seat warmer until the new face of the franchise emerges.
So the Jets are in a precarious position, but Maccagnan insisted that their interest in quarterback prospects isn’t necessarily an indictment of Hackenberg’s future.
“I know it’s like ‘If this happens, then this must be the case,’ ” Maccagnan said. “But I don’t think it’s a referendum on one or another player. I think it’s until you’re in a position where you feel, ‘Hey, this is where you’re at’ — and we’re not at that position yet. But, I mean, we may be. Time will tell.”