The New York Jets are slowly but steadily building a nice stable of young quarterbacks with hopes of finding their next franchise player.
Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you. The New York Jets have depth at quarterback. Now, it’s not great depth; it’s unproven depth. There’s a difference. Some look down on the fact that the Jets have drafted quite a few quarterbacks over the years (11 since 1999, to be exact), but they are not entirely alone.
Many of the more obvious teams (Washington, Cleveland and Tampa Bay in particular) are always looking for their own Peyton Manning, their own Tom Brady, or heck, even their own Joe Flacco. The only way to find it is to keep drafting quarterbacks until you find “The One”.
Even if that guy isn’t “elite”, all some average teams need to be great is consistency and that consistency for the Jets has been non-existent in the years post Chad Pennington. To see what I mean, check out this link and see where every other team has fared in their quarterback searches since 1999:
So, how did the Jets get into this predicament, outside of the obvious answer of not finding their quarterback of the future? Let’s look back to the first year after Brett Favre re-retired. Rex Ryan was in his first year as a head coach and the gusto and bravado was not yet as wearing as it would later become. They had no quarterback outside of Kellen Clemens and had almost no receivers to throw to. The Jets were an average team on their best day.
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I remember driving to work during the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft and hearing the Jets moving up and drafting Mark Sanchez, a one year college starter from USC.
However, the Jets needed a quarterback and he had something that Ryan and then general manager Mike Tannenbaum liked.
Sanchez started right out of the gate and behind a great offensive line, a stout and rejuvenated defense and the hard running of Thomas Jones and play of LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets made two consecutive AFC Championship games.
We all know what followed.
Sanchez didn’t so much regress as much as he never fully developed. The same old mistakes were tolerated and even ignored time and time again. The decision-makers within the team did little to help, surrounding their below-average quarterback with flash-in-the-pan and washed out receivers. Coddling their quarterback every step of the way. Seriously, his best tandem of receivers was Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes.
Then came mediocrity. Over the next four seasons, the Jets went a combined 26 – 38 and Ryan was on the outs.
Many felt that Ryan shouldn’t have been fired. Personally, I enjoyed Ryan and thought of him as a great coach (still do), but his football approach is never level. It will always tilt towards the defense. He’s rash and – on many occasions – makes very bad decisions. One such decision came in the third preseason game of 2013 when he put Sanchez back into the game in the fourth quarter where his shoulder got blown up on an insignificant play by the New York Giants’ Marvin Austin.
Once again, the Jets found themselves starting the season with a rookie quarterback who had only mild success in college. An 8-8 year was followed by a 4-12 year, and the Jets were staring down the barrel of a long 2015 season.
Enter general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles.
Jan 21, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets new general manager Mike Maccagnan (left), owner Woody Johnson (center), and new head coach Todd Bowles (right) pose for a photo during a press conference at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/NJ Advance Media for NJ.com via USA TODAY Sports
Then, the unexpected happened in the form of the reunion of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
Fast forward to now. The Jets were bounced from making the post-season by Rex’s Bills after a seemingly magical 10 – 6 season. Fitzpatrick broke the franchise touchdown record and was just shy of the franchise’s passing yard record. Seems like serendipity and fate; the Jets have to bring back Fitzpatrick. They have finally found their quarterback.
The NFL is a business, full of assets and products that must be purchased before use. As of today, Fitzpatrick is indeed back with the Jets and unfortunately for Geno Smith, his opportunity to finally silence his critics is gone, faster than a New York minute.
In 2015, Smith had something he never had a chance to have: a season on the bench, learning from a veteran. Yes, it took a broken jaw issued by a former teammate, but it happened. He has some wins and a lot of losses notched on his belt, but he is now more experienced and has had a year to learn the offense.
The depth chart sits with Fitzpatrick atop, Smith as his backup followed by Bryce Petty, with rookie Christian Hackenberg bringing up the rear. Bryce spent his first year on the bench, learning from Smith and Fitzpatrick. Only one year removed from the spread offense implemented at Baylor, he’s still in transition. If he plays this year, it’ll likely be due to another key injury. However, with Gailey running the offense, Petty would be in a good position to drive the bus if forced to.
This puts Hackenberg in a position a quarterback on the Jets has rarely been in: he has little to no chance to start this year, especially now that Fitzpatrick is back. There is a very real possibility of the Jets starting the season with four quarterbacks, which is prudence at it’s highest level.
Hackenberg, barring catastrophe in the quarterback room, will have two years – not one – to sit and learn behind Smith, Petty, and Fitzpatrick. When Bowles and Gailey first took over the reigns, they almost instantly designated Smith the starter. Fitzpatrick, even though he’s the starter again, will still be a huge value for Smith to continue his own progression. Between Petty and Hackenberg, Petty is the more polished in Gailey’s offense and would provide a steadier presence under center, which allows Hackenberg time to acclimate, not only to the offense and his team, but to the entire pro game.
Is he the savior that the Jets and their fans have been waiting for these long years?
We’ll see soon enough.
Remember that Packers fans had to wait a few years before they could see what they had in Aaron Rodgers. Patriots fans lucked into a future Pro Football Hall of Famer in Brady. However, when the time comes for Hackenberg to start, we’ll be seeing him as well-prepared and as well-studied as he could be, and he’ll be hungry.
At that point, there will be no reasons or excuses for him to fall back onto because, honestly, the Jets are not done drafting quarterbacks. Not by a long shot. This is a process that will continue happening until the Jets finally find their franchise quarterback, ready to deliver this team another Super Bowl championship.