The Jets addressed some of their needs via free agency and the draft, but there’s still one obvious position that needs resolution.
While the drafting of former Penn State star Christian Hackenberg appears the team has found its quarterback of the future, it really does nothing for the present – especially since many draft pundits thought it was a reach and dicey to draft a guy in the second round with some red flags.
Hackenberg’s lack of accuracy at the collegiate level has been well documented -- not to mention his shaky interview process during the scouting combine. But for the Jets, a team starving for a legitimate long-term franchise quarterback, they obviously saw more pros than cons in making the rookie the 51st selection.
Teammates have been impressed with Hackenberg’s natural arm ability and personality so far. But in private moments, veterans have to be pining for the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The journeyman signal caller is coming off a career season and was one win away from clinching a playoff berth, last season. Granted, it was Fitzpatrick’s poor performance in the season finale in Buffalo that kept the Jets from qualifying for the postseason, but for a majority of the year, he was great for Gang Green.
Fitzpatrick’s two biggest fans, wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, have said all the right things about the rookie quarterback, as well as votes of confidence in holdovers Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. But ultimately they know Fitzpatrick gives them the best chance to win and is the best fit right now.
Marshall has tried to publicly play it cool any time he’s asked about the quarterback quagmire. He recently said he was “proud” of Smith and Petty and has been “encouraged” in witnessing their offseason workouts. He understands the business side of the NFL and has often said he’s hopeful that his “great leader” Fitzpatrick will eventually get a deal done, but insists the team will be “OK” if a reunion doesn’t occur.
Decker has said he believes a deal will get done. But unlike Marshall, he’s not as nonchalant about the quarterback situation. Decker is a guy who’s seen what inconsistent quarterback play can do to a budding playoff contender during his days in Denver, so he admitted he’s still “surprised” that the team drafted yet another quarterback project so high. And while trying not to truly question general manager Mike Maccagnan’s drafting philosophy, Decker reasoned that the Jets’ brass “saw something special” in the rookie. He just hopes, like most of the team’s veterans, that Fitzpatrick is under center this season.
Jets players and executives can publicly spin their quarterback situation in any manner, but privately it’s apparent that many inside the facilities feel Fitzpatrick is the best guy to lead the team. It’s just a matter of both sides coming to an agreement and ending the squabbling. It’ll all likely come to a head by the time training camp opens, because Fitzpatrick, quite frankly, is running out of options as other quarterback-needy teams have already filled their voids. The Jets are also out of options, as well, as Hackenberg won’t likely be ready to start this year, and the Smith/Petty combo doesn’t put minds at ease either.
Simply put, the Jets need Fitzpatrick and Fitzpatrick needs the Jets.
Marshall will get the chance to practice with Hackenberg later this month when the Jets begin organized team activities. And when that happens, he’ll get to see firsthand if the Jets will truly be “OK” starting the season without Fitzpatrick. Or if they’ll really be confident going with either a young veteran who Jets fans likely don’t want to see starting opening day, an unproven second-year player with still so much work to do, or the rookie quarterback who many thought was a reach in the draft.