Jets head coach Todd Bowles says the young quarterbacks room is like being in kindergarten, valued veterans are being lopped off left and right, and players are unconvincingly trying to be optimistic about a rough season ahead.
Gang Green insists they aren’t tanking, though.
But when journeyman quarterback Josh McCown is considered any team’s best option at the position, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the masses otherwise. The Jets jettisoned 11 veterans, amounting to a $68 million salary dump for the upcoming season. And with the exception of McCown being penciled in as the opening day starter, the youth movement is here.
Running back Matt Forte may bristle at the whole tanking notion, but Gang Green sure has the look of a team jostling with other lowly sides for the rights to pick one of the highly-touted college quarterbacks in next April’s draft (Sam Darnold of USC, Josh Allen of Wyoming, and Josh Rosen of UCLA).
The Sham for Sam campaign is in full effect, but the Jets want – implore – their ardent tortured fanbase to hang in there. The team will insist that McCown gives the Jets the best chance to win and that winning won’t be as scarce as last season’s five-win campaign – disregarding the fact that McCown owns a career .300 winning percentage. That’s a great number for a right fielder to be batting, not so much for a starting quarterback.
Bowles said he’s addressed the team following the recent releases of linebacker David Harris and wideout Eric Decker. The former was the longest-tenured and most respected Jet, while the latter was a valued voice in a receivers room that now has very little experience. Bowles didn’t divulge into the conversation within that meeting but he did compare the void of veteran leaders to college.
“It’s no different than the seniors leaving college. Your freshmen, sophomores, and juniors have to step up,” he reasoned. “Obviously, we have to develop new leaders and new starters.”
One of those new leaders and starters should be second-year signal-caller Christian Hackenberg. The former Penn State star was essentially redshirted as a rookie, after being selected in the second round last season. And with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith now on new teams and Bryce Petty not really getting a real chance at the starting gig, the Jets would be wise to hand the keys to the kindergarten class’ most physically talented passer.
It’ll be a win-win for the Jets. Should Hackenberg shock the masses and actually play well, the team will finally have its franchise quarterback. If he fails, the franchise will put itself in contention for one of college football’s Big 3 passers.
Bowles gave Hackenberg a fighting chance to usurp McCown, despite the veteran receiving the majority of first-team snaps in OTAs.
“Not at this time, no,” Bowles said when asked if he’s ready to declare McCown the Week 1 starter. “I don’t look at anybody as the frontrunner just yet.”
New York ended its final minicamp early with an abbreviated practice in which backups got most of the reps. McCown attempted just one pass before giving way to the youngsters. The strong-armed Hackenberg went 8-of-12 in passing drills and showed promise, yet there were obvious growing pains, particularly in red-zone play when he was picked off in the end zone. But he did follow up the gaffe with a nice touchdown toss a few plays later.
Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates seemed pleased with Hackenberg’s progression in this final session before training camp opens in August, but wasn’t ready to say that his protégé is ready to really push McCown for that number one spot.
“He’s young. Everyone is excited to see where he’s going, though,” Bates said, addressing the reports that Hackenberg has accuracy issues. “I think he’s accurate, [but] there will be bumps in the road. You just don’t want to hit the same bump two days in a row.”
The bumps will be large and occur often for the Jets this season, so it makes little sense to keep the charade that the team isn’t trying to get as high a draft pick as possible — especially when the cutting of Harris and Decker saved the Jets nearly $14 million in 2017 payroll, but significantly worsened the team. Those were two players who can and will add value to another team.
But in the Jets’ eyes, it made no sense holding onto players who don’t fit into their plans beyond 2017.
The tank is real, and Jets fans know it. Too bad the franchise won’t join their long-suffering fanbase in reality.