Back in the early days of February, Indianapolis Colts General Manager, Chris Ballard, remarked that his team’s rivalry with the New England Patriots was “back on”. The comments came after Patriots OC, Josh McDaniels, jilted the Colts in order to stay in Foxborough — a move that threatened to delay, if not derail, Indianapolis’ preparation for 2018.
The first salvo fired in this renewed rivalry wasn’t a direct one, but it could nonetheless prove to be both penetrative and devastating. Of all the quarterback-needy teams out there who would covett the Colts’ number three overall pick, it was none other than the New York Jets that acquired it. After the Patriots jettisoned both of their future QB prospects, the Jets are in position to secure their future under centre. If played right, New York’s blockbuster trade with the Colts could, in time, transform the balance of power in the AFC East. And one has to wonder whether such a prospect crossed Ballard’s mind — even if only for a moment.
A Costly, but Shrewd, Move
The move was costly, sure. But it could have been a whole lot more expensive. The Jets GM, Mike Maccagnan, managed to hold onto his 2019 first rounder, but was forced to surrender three second-round picks. Recall that the Washington Redskins gave up three first round picks to the St. Louis Rams in 2012 to move from six to two; and the Philadelphia Eagles gave up two first rounders, plus a second, third, and fourth round pick to move to the two spot to select Carson Wentz in 2016. If history is any indicator, this was a good deal for the Jets. It was also an entirely satisfactory one for the Colts who are in need of starters.
The Jets now find themselves in the draft position most thought they would come to occupy naturally. The 2017 New York Jets were written off before a ball was snapped, before exceeding expectations in the first half of the season. But as much as 2017 may have been an encouraging campaign for Todd Bowles’ team, it was ultimately a reminder of something that has been eminently clear for years: This team will continue to languish until it finds a franchise quarterback capable of single-handedly lifting its ceiling.
A Definitive Answer at Quarterback
Despite failing to land a franchise signal-caller, this current Jets regime has been unusually busy the quarterback department. Since 2015, New York has expended second and fourth round picks on Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, respectively, while also signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, and, most recently, former first round pick, Teddy Bridgewater. While the jury may still be out on Bridgewater following the horrific knee injury he sustained in 2016, Maccagnan is simply tired of waiting.
A major source of comfort for Jets fans ought to be the fact that the team is now out of the running to take Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma quarterback is more a top ten pick than he is a top three selection. He would almost certainly have been available at six. The same is true of Lamar Jackson, who is also now certain to end up somewhere other than New York to begin his pro career. In taking Mayfield or Jackson, the Jets would have been reverting to the habits of old. High-risk, but low-cost, quarterbacks with high ceilings and low floors. The experiment has yet to yield anything even remotely positive, and with the move up to three, we can be sure the old approach has been rightly binned. The Jets are finally taking a meaningful risk — one that could lift the franchise into the upper echelons of the NFL.
Number Three Just a Pit-Stop?
The remaining question for league observers is whether the Jets’ move to three represents the final destination, or simply a pit stop on the way to number one (or, more likely, number two). By staying at three, Maccagnan would be to some extent leaving the franchise’s future to fate. If they’re smart, the Cleveland Browns will take Sam Darnold at number one, and no one should rule out the possibility of the New York Giants taking Josh Rosen at number two. The Jets could thus be picking from a board missing this year’s pair of can’t-miss quarterbacks from California.
Whether or not the Jets sit at the three spot will depend on just how tired of waiting Maccagnan has grown. With Darnold and Rosen out there, it would be close to negligent for the Jets to not at least try to move up into the top two spots in this year’s draft. With the notable exception of the Browns, no team in the NFL is in greater need of a franchise player under centre than the New York Jets. Maccagnan has a golden opportunity to rectify this in the upcoming draft. A trade with the Browns is unlikely, but a swap with the Giants could be a worthwhile insurance policy — unless the Jets are confident that their fellow East Rutherford residents will play it safe with Saquon Barkley, and roll on with whatever’s left of Eli Manning. Either way, the Jets have taken a monumental step forward. Whichever way it works out, it will be franchise-defining.