The New York Jets made one of their most aggressive moves in recent franchise history over the weekend. For the price of three second round picks (two in 2018 and one in 2019), they moved from the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft to the third overall pick. The decision was unquestionably driven by a desire to fix the longest standing problem with this organization: the lack of a franchise quarterback. Despite it still being a question mark who the player will end up being taken with the pick, many have rushed to either laud or criticize the decision. How did the Jets get here and was this level of aggressiveness needed?
Many times fans of sports teams, particularly teams who are not very good, argue there is one overarching “mater plan” in place from their team’s current leadership. If wins are not happening, you need something to believe in so the “THE PLAN” takes the place of success on the field. This tweet sounds harsh but isn’t wrong:
Jets pass on Watson and Mahommes to take excellent safety then spent 15M on TWO back up QB’s then use a 1 and 3 twos to get second/third best QB in draft. It could work out, but this is a lot of bad decision making and inefficient use of cap $’s and draft picks.
— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) March 17, 2018
This trade was not the culmination of a perfectly orchestrated plan. The Mike Maccagnan/Todd Bowles Jets have bounced around from strategy to strategy, accumulating a few hits but more misses along the way en route to an uninspiring 20-28 record and a roster currently lacking a franchise quarterback and a pass rush.
Yet, this doesn’t make them an exception in the NFL. Very few teams are operating on a consistently successful strategy. Part of the job is being flexible enough to pivot and humble enough to learn from past mistakes. After winning too many games to pick in the top five and lacking a convincing enough infrastructure to woo Kirk Cousins away from a Super Bowl ready Vikings team, the Jets gave up the $5 dollar poker at the quarterback position and pushed all their chips into the middle of the table, with a “198 cents on the dollar” trade up as outlined by Chase Stuart here.
Maccagnan’s $5 dollar poker has been a combination of signing journeymen veterans to low cost, short term contracts and taking fliers on mid round prospects who “look the part” but have gaping holes in key elements of their game. This has failed miserably to date, most notably with selection of Christian Hackenberg compounded with the decision to pass on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes because of the presence of him on the roster in 2017.
After missing on Cousins this offseason, Maccagnan signed Teddy Bridgewater and brought Josh McCown back. From a financial standpoint, this isn’t problematic and Bridgewater in particular is a very reasonable risk at his price tag. But, there is a justifiable concern about having a rookie parked on the bench as a third stringer and how that will impact his development. There is only so many practice reps to go around and we’ve seen in recent years Carson Wentz, Watson, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Russel Wilson and others ultimately benefit from playing right away. You only learn by being out there and McCown or Bridgewater isn’t a future Hall of Famer like Brett Favre sitting ahead of Aaron Rodgers
Dividing up reps is a summer problem, though and there is no guarantee that both McCown and Bridgewater are on the week 1 roster. They are footnotes on the upcoming decision in April that is going to make or break this entire front office and coaching staff.
You can make a justifiable argument that three second round picks is a steep price for a team with many holes on their roster. The NFL Draft is a crapshoot and there is no guarantee that any regime, particularly one that thought Hackenberg was a second round pick, is going to make the right choice. The Jets could have stayed conservative and sat at number six or even looked to trade back, while watching multiple teams snap up quarterbacks in front of them or division rivals like Buffalo or Miami leapfrog them for a chance at a franchise altering player.
There is a chance six quarterbacks go in the first round this April, in a class that most pundits seem to agree is strong at the quarterback position. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph are generally everybody’s top six guys and it isn’t crazy at all to envision a scenario where they all go night one. How you feel about these six is going to influence how you feel about this trade.
Personally, I view Darnold, Rosen and Mayfield as closely bunched together at the top, let’s call Rosen QB1, Darnold QB2A and Mayfield QB2B and believe all three are going to be good to great starting quarterbacks. Jackson and Allen are generally considered the next tier and wild cards of this class (I like Jackson more). From this standpoint, I think this trade has guaranteed the Jets are getting one of the top three quarterbacks and have avoided the possibility of getting the 4th or maybe even the 5th guy if teams got trade up crazy. Due to viewing the quarterbacks this way (and being extremely exhausted of Maccagnan’s $5 dollar poker at quarterback), I am bullish on this trade. I don’t care if the Jets trade 500 second round picks, if they get their franchise quarterback it will have a domino effect on improving this team and wash away many of the recent mistakes.
Yet, not everyone views the quarterbacks in the way I just laid out. Some people may think Allen is a top three guy. Some people may think there is only one legitimate franchise quarterback in this class so the difference between #3 and #6 is negligible. Some may think Allen is the 6th best quarterback but based on Maccagnan’s track record he is going to take him with the 3rd overall pick. Some may think Buffalo is still going to leapfrog the Jets, that Cleveland and Buffalo will get Darnold and Rosen and then there is a huge drop-off so the Jets were foolish for moving up. All these may be valid concerns. We won’t know until the pick is made and the quarterback management process begins to play out this season.
As it stands, I am going to hope Maccagnan learned from his mistake of drafting an inaccurate quarterback who struggled in college because he had a big arm. I am going to hope he executes on landing Rosen or Mayfield, which was my preferred route to signing Cousins all along because there is nothing more valuable in sports than a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract. These hopes could very well be squashed but the Jets needed to insure they were getting “their guy” at QB this offseason and they have done that. Say a prayer it is the right guy.
Photo CreditL NFL.com