FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets’ quarterback question has an easy solution on the surface. A deeper look reveals its complexity.
An easy answer would be to tank to get the No. 1 overall pick and draft the best quarterback available next spring.
The real answer: Josh McCown is the current starting quarterback and best option as the Jets head into their Week 4 game against the Jaguars on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Jets fans wouldn’t mind McCown sitting as quickly as possible so younger backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg can get a chance to show the fans, front office and coaching staff if they have a future.
And in this current rebuild, or tank job, however you describe it, getting a top-five pick in next April’s draft seems to be a goal.
Here is where things get tricky: If the Jets get one of the top quarterbacks next spring, there’s no guarantee that player will start Week 1 of the 2018 season. McCown isn’t guaranteed to start Week 1 of 2018 as a stop-gap until the new quarterback is ready because he’s an unrestricted free agent.
And what if the Jets chose a different path to find a franchise quarterback?
The free-agent market will have several quarterbacks coming out, including Washington’s Kirk Cousins, who might command a per-season salary of $20-25 million. Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, Teddy Bridgewater and Jimmy Garoppolo also will be unrestricted free agents in 2018. The Jets will have an estimated $64.9 million in salary-cap space next year that could land a veteran quarterback, and if the Jets sign a free-agent QB to a long-term deal, it might allow them to fill other holes in the draft.
But would the fan base be happy?
“Like any college quarterback, it’s all about potential,” said Dane Brugler, a senior draft analyst for NFL Draft Scout the last seven years. “It’s all about upside, in that there’s an inherent risk, which [Jets general manager Mike] Maccagnan is fully aware of. You don’t win in the NFL without a quarterback. You look at who makes the playoffs every year, the consistent winners on the NFL level, they have one thing in common: It’s the quarterback position. With the Jets’ you have to at least try and they took Mark Sanchez in the first round; that looked like it was going to work at first then it didn’t. Now it’s time to try again.”
If the Jets draft a quarterback in the first round it would be the first time since Sanchez was selected fifth overall in 2009. But since 2000, finding that franchise quarterback has eluded them. There have been 11 quarterbacks drafted by the Jets, including two in the first round and three in the second round. Such gems as Erik Ainge (2008 fifth-rounder), Greg McElroy (2011 seventh-rounder) and Brooks Bollinger (2003 sixth-rounder) are on the list.
It’s not easy to find one. Just ask the Patriots, who hope Tom Brady (a sixth-rounder that every team passed on) plays until he’s 50.
McCown is being used as a mentor to Petty and Hackenberg until they’re ready to take over, if at all. In the preseason, the two young quarterbacks were given every opportunity to win the No. 1 gig. Hackenberg struggled and Petty played OK, but neither was good enough to beat out journeyman McCown for the No. 1 spot.
In the first three weeks of this season, McCown, 38, has been a thoughtful and understanding professional — while completing 69.8 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions — as the Jets decide what to do.
“I think when you’re in a situation like this, where you are building something and you’re a veteran player, you don’t know how long it’s going to take, or what not,” he said. “But what you can do is just share with the young guys your process, how you go about your journey, your day, and try to communicate the best you can.”
The Jets could bypass the three quarterbacks currently on the roster and select one of the top college prospects if they come out.
Many draft experts have USC’s Sam Darnold as the top pick at quarterback. If the Jets don’t want/get him, the next batch, by consensus, are UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald project as second-rounders.
Are any of them worth top-pick commitment?
“They’re probably a little overrated,” said former Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt, who works for NFL.com. “I think there’s a really good crop of them and some people that we haven’t talked much about. But I think expectations [are different now] because of what the Philadelphia quarterback, Carson Wentz, did last year, the Dallas quarterback, Dak Prescott, did last year. I think the quarterback that comes out today [are] so much better than the ones that used to come out.”
What the Jets are going through isn’t easy. What what if they get the top pick and draft Darnold? Do you play him immediately? The Los Angeles Rams didn’t with Jared Goff last year when he was the No. 1 overall pick.
If you don’t play Darnold, or whoever is selected that first year, do you re-sign McCown?
Is Petty ready?
You know what you have in McCown but giving Petty and Hackenberg playing time now could reveal some answers about the future.
“I’m a firm believer in that you don’t predetermine a rookie quarterback’s playing time when you draft him,” Brugler said. “You don’t draft a quarterback and say the moment you draft him, ‘You’re starting from Day One.’ You go into training camp, you have every opportunity to win the job, and be the guy. But if you do have a veteran like Josh McCown and he clearly outplays the rookie [in the summer] then you go with Josh McCown until you feel the quarterback is ready.”
So as Jets fans wave through the season waiting for their future quarterback to arrive, the path isn’t so easy.