The New York Jets will have their franchise’s most pivotal moment since the 2010 AFC Championship Game this Thursday when they select their next “franchise” quarterback. This is going to be a unique moment in the organization’s history. The decision will determine the legacy of the current management structure along with what type of era this will be remembered as for a franchise that has been historically short on success.
The Jets needed to end the apathy and irrelevance around their franchise this offseason. After missing out on Kirk Cousins, they were appropriately aggressive in guaranteeing they would have an opportunity at one of the draft’s top three quarterbacks by moving from the sixth overall pick to the third overall pick. Whoever they take on Thursday will be the highest selected quarterback in franchise history since Joe Namath in 1965. The last time the Jets selected in the top three, they drafted Keyshawn Johnson first overall in 1996, prior to that they took Blair Thomas (RB), Freeman McNeil (RB) and Lam Jones (WR) in the top three. It is rare for the Jets to be selecting this high and it is even rarer for them to be taking a quarterback this high.
The most recent historical comparison is the 2009 trade up to select Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick. What did the Jets give up to move from #17 to #5? Abram Elam, Brett Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman and their second round pick in the same draft. This year, they basically replaced three JAGs with two second round picks. It is a steeper price but this is a more rich class at quarterback with the top four prospects all being superior to Sanchez coming out of school.
The Sanchez trade is a little complex to assess. He obviously did not turn into a franchise quarterback but the team went to back to back AFC Championship Games with him under center. Sanchez also improved each of his first three years prior to his career falling off cliff in an ugly Tim Tebow filled 2012 season. The Jets didn’t get their franchise quarterback but they got two of their five most successful seasons in franchise history and a degree of relevance over a three year stretch that feels like an eternity ago.
Since the Sanchez move, the Jets have been in an endless cycle of five dollar poker at quarterback and playoff-less football. A second round pick on Geno Smith. A second round pick on Christian Hackenberg. A fourth round pick on Bryce Petty. Two one year contracts for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Two one year contracts for Josh McCown. It isn’t surprising this walk through the wilderness has coincided with the third longest current playoff drought in the NFL at 7 years.
This type of drought is genuinely unique to the Jets, as it their longest absence from the playoffs since 1970-1980. For fans who are 35 and under, this is the first time the Jets are actually living up to their hapless stereotype over an extended period of time. This was a team who made the playoffs seven times from 1998-2010 and won seven playoff games. It is now a team, who is dancing around Rich Kotite levels of win output (2016 and 2017 were their least amount of wins over a two year period since he was the Head Coach) and is staring at a full decade in the abyss like they had during the 1970s…unless they can get this pick right.
There is no rope left for Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles. If this quarterback does not develop into a quality NFL starter who is a harbinger of this team climbing into being more consistently competitive, they are going to be rightly be fired. Patience should be thin at this point. This shouldn’t be like the couple who marries each other just because they happen to be dating in their late 20s or early 30s. We have no proof that either of these two know what the hell they are doing in their respective jobs. They can take a big step towards assuaging those concerns by making a logical pick on Thursday night.
Yet, that is only step one. Step two is creating an environment that is conducive to a young quarterback succeeding, which means putting the necessary offensive talent around him and building an offensive scheme around his strengths. It is also giving him every opportunity to win the starting job in year one and putting him under center from week one if the camp competition is remotely close. Nobody should buy into or have the patience for a 6-10 season with Josh McCown under center so we can hear a narrative that 2019 is being punted as a year with playoff expectations because it will be the young quarterback’s first time really playing. Enough is enough. Maccagnan and Bowles don’t get 5 years of garbage football before changes are made.
2018 is about two things: drafting the right quarterback and getting him as much experience as possible so the team is legitimately ready to compete in 2019. This quarterback isn’t sitting behind Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He is sitting behind 39 year old Josh McCown and if the Jets do the right thing and select Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold, there is no reason that quarterback won’t be ready to play over him by the time the regular season is here.
Thursday night is going to determine whether the Jets will have their longest playoff drought in their 58 year history on the way or whether they are about to turn a corner in a positive direction. It will determine who the General Manager and Head Coach will be in the coming years. It will determine whether the Jets are about to become the Cleveland Browns or are going to move back towards being the organization they were from 1998-2010, with a higher ceiling because they’ll have a legitimate star under center.
So, yes…Thursday is about as big as it gets for a team that has accomplished nothing of note on the football field since a cold January night in 2011.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com