Who should the New York Jets pursue to be their starting quarterback in 2023?
Nearly one week has passed since the New York Jets‘ 2022 season came to an end. As things stand now, how would we stack up the best quarterback options for the Jets in 2023?
Here are my rankings as of January 14.
1. Derek Carr
Derek Carr’s exodus from Las Vegas seemed imminent once the Raiders made him inactive prior to Week 17. Carr officially joined the quarterback market on January 12 when he confirmed that he will be leaving the Raiders through a Twitter post. While Carr is still under contract with the Raiders, all signs point to him being traded or released prior to February 15, when his entire 2023 salary ($34.9M) and $7.5M of his 2024 salary become guaranteed.
As I explained in great detail a couple of weeks ago, I believe Carr is clearly the Jets’ best option. Carr checks so many important boxes for New York.
Firstly, from an on-field perspective, Carr is exactly what the Jets need: an above-average starter who can be trusted. Over nine years in the league, Carr has consistently proven he is a top 12-16 starting quarterback on a yearly basis. That is plenty good enough for the Jets to make a playoff push with a roster that is impressive outside of the quarterback position. If they had a quarterback of Carr’s caliber under center for 17 games in 2022, the Jets would be preparing for a wild card game this weekend.
Durability is another major plus with Carr. The Jets’ primary starting quarterback has missed at least three games in seven consecutive seasons. Carr has missed three games due to injury in his entire career (and none since 2017).
Carr’s contract is appealing. Trading for Carr does not mean you are committing to him long-term.
As it is currently structured, Carr’s deal can be escaped after the 2023 season with a reasonable dead-money charge. Per Spotrac, releasing Carr after 2023 would net his team $32.6 million in cap savings while Carr would be owed $11.3 million in dead money. That’s not bad at all for a starting quarterback. The deal can also be escaped with ease after the 2024 season ($41.3M in savings and $1.9M dead money) before ultimately expiring after 2025.
Now, we still need to see if Carr actually gets traded or if he gets released and signs a new contract – he could also restructure his deal after getting traded – but either way, acquiring Carr will certainly not require nearly as much financial commitment as, say, acquiring Lamar Jackson.
With this in mind, adding Carr gives New York the time and flexibility to properly develop a young quarterback, whether that’s Zach Wilson or a new draftee. The Jets can ride Carr until the wheels fall off while developing a younger, higher-upside quarterback behind him to eventually take his place as the long-term answer. If Carr succeeds, that’s great, but if he flops at some point, the Jets will be able to turn to a youngster who has been patiently developed over the years.
Finally, remember this key part of the equation: A decision on Carr will be made by February 15. The Raiders will trade or release him before that point.
This saga figures to move quickly, and I think that is very appealing for the Jets.
The Jets are about to add a new offensive coordinator. Acquiring their new quarterback as quickly as possible would be greatly beneficial as the Jets integrate a new coach and system. The more time everyone on the team gets to gel, the better.
Plus, taking care of the quarterback situation early will help the Jets paint a clearer financial picture for the rest of the offseason. They will know exactly how their cap situation looks going into free agency, rather than entering free agency and still waiting for that quarterback domino to fall.
Carr makes so much sense for the Jets. If I were Joe Douglas, I would trade whatever needs to be traded to ensure I can get Carr before he hits the open market. The Raiders do not have much leverage, as they need to release him for nothing if no trade is made by February 15, so the Jets should be able to get it done with a modest package of draft picks.
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2. Lamar Jackson
For me, there is a big gap between one and two. Carr is my guy.
But I see an even more sizable margin between two and three.
If Carr does not work out for whatever reason, the Jets must set their sights on Lamar Jackson.
Jackson’s future in Baltimore is getting murkier every day. Jackson, an impending free agent, has been out since suffering a PCL injury in Week 13 and will miss the team’s playoff game on Sunday.
There seems to be limited communication between Jackson and the Ravens on his recovery process. Initially, Baltimore expected Jackson to be back well before the playoffs, but he still isn’t even close to being ready. The whole situation comes off as sketchy, to say the least. Head coach John Harbaugh always seems reluctant to speak about Jackson’s injury. It’s almost as if it bothers him to discuss Jackson.
John Harbaugh said he didn’t know that Lamar Jackson was going to send out his tweet last night. Harbaugh said he can’t comment on the nature of the injury (whether it’s Grade 2 or borderline Grade 3) pic.twitter.com/z5VELJtYjd
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) January 13, 2023
Jackson is headed for unrestricted free agency. Baltimore and Jackson could not come to an agreement on an extension prior to the season, so they decided to put contract talks off until the offseason.
While reports indicate that Baltimore still plans to talk extension with Jackson after the year, it’s getting harder and harder to envision Jackson staying.
Earlier this week, the Ravens inked a massive contract extension with linebacker Roquan Smith, who they just acquired in October. Not only does Smith’s contract essentially ensure Baltimore will use the franchise tag on Jackson, but it also could have rubbed Jackson the wrong way. The Ravens showed no hesitation in extending an off-ball linebacker they’ve had for under three months, yet they are reluctant to sign their five-year franchise quarterback. That’s not the best sign.
Acquiring Jackson would surely require a hefty trade package and an enormous contract. Bringing him to New York would cost the farm. Additionally, this saga will likely carry on deeper in the offseason than Carr’s saga. You can easily picture this thing drawing out for a while. These two factors are big reasons I would prefer Carr for the Jets. He would be cheaper (both in terms of the trade and contract) and can be acquired earlier. Carr’s durability is also better.
If I’m the Jets, though, it would be very hard to pass up on someone with Jackson’s talent level after Carr goes off the board.
Yes, Jackson has budding durability concerns and is a specific type of quarterback who requires the scheme to be molded around him. But this is a player who won MVP at 22 years old and is the most electric ball carrier in the NFL. Jackson is a franchise-altering stud when healthy – as a runner and a passer. Jackson has a career passer rating of 96.7 and a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.7-to-1. The man throws the ball as efficiently as many quarterbacks who do not have nearly the same running ability. And, considering he is still just 26 years old, it’s not as if Jackson’s potential is capped out, either.
New York has skill-position talent that beats out anything Jackson has ever played with in Baltimore (specifically at wide receiver) and a defense that is ready to go compete for a title. The Jets would have to improve their offensive line to match Baltimore’s talent at that position, but they have the pieces to do so if they can just stay healthy.
Additionally, with a new offensive coordinator coming in – one who likely will not be from the Shanahan coaching tree if the Jets’ rumored candidates are any indication – the Jets will have a chance to mold their offense to Jackson rather than trying to squeeze him into Mike LaFleur’s established scheme. I would be intrigued to see Jackson in an offense that gives him more chances to show off his arm talent rather than relying solely on his legs.
Jackson walks in the door and is immediately the most talented and most galvanizing quarterback the Jets have had since Joe Namath. With Jackson, the Jets would have a real chance to be perennial Super Bowl contenders for a long time. I would support the Jets making an aggressive trade and contract offer to land him.
There is no way to frame Jackson as a risk-free acquisition. It’s undoubtedly a high-risk/high-reward proposition. A lot of things would need to break right for a Jackson trade to work out for the Jets – specifically regarding health and scheme. But the upside is limitless. And considering some of the alternative quarterback options we are about to get into, that upside will be difficult for the Jets to pass up on.
Carr is my number one option. If the Jets don’t want Carr or Carr isn’t interested in joining the Jets, Jackson is the next target. New York can’t let Jackson’s concerns deter them from pursuing him when the remaining options are as uninspiring as the ones below.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo + High-level backup
As I mentioned earlier, the gap between the top two options and three-and-beyond is enormous for me. I am not nearly as high on Jimmy Garoppolo as others. Personally, I believe the Jets will have failed if they strike out on both Carr and Jackson. In an offseason where the Jets are in a perfect position to make an aggressive quarterback move, ending up with Garoppolo would be underwhelming. Still, he’s probably the best remaining option if the Jets do not get Carr or Jackson.
Let’s just get the biggest concern with Garoppolo out of the way: Durability.
Garoppolo is as injury-prone as they come. Since becoming the 49ers’ starter in 2018, he has played only 51 out of 82 possible regular season games (62% / 10.2 games per season). He’s played just one full season out of his five years as the starter.
Durability at the quarterback position is already a huge problem for the Jets. Acquiring one of the most injury-prone quarterbacks in the NFL does not seem like the smartest solution to that problem.
With his track record of durability, the Jets could not rely solely on Garoppolo. They would need to bring in a high-level backup for security.
Another important point with Garoppolo is the fact that he may no longer be the scheme fit he once appeared to be. Mike LaFleur is out as offensive coordinator, and based on the rumored candidates New York is pursuing, there is a good chance that LaFleur’s replacement is not from the Shanahan/49ers coaching tree that LaFleur comes from.
The Jets might be running an entirely new offensive scheme. It would defeat the purpose of acquiring Garoppolo in the first place. Garoppolo’s familiarity with LaFleur and the Shanahan scheme was the main reason he was an appealing target.
As a player, Garoppolo does offer excellent production throughout his career – much better than anyone else the Jets could realistically acquire outside of Carr and Jackson. For that reason, I do still have him as my number three option.
For his career, Garoppolo has a 99.6 passer rating with 8.3 yards per attempt and a 2.1-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Those are very good numbers.
My issue with Garoppolo is the legitimacy of his production. Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers have proven to be the strongest offensive environment in the NFL. Shanahan schemes up easy offense like no other coach in the league while the 49ers are loaded with talent at both the skill positions and the offensive line. It feels as if any quarterback could make the throws Garoppolo has had to make to put up his gaudy numbers. Heck, the 49ers have Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, putting up All-Pro numbers right now.
Garoppolo is also too interception-prone for someone who is supposed to be a game manager in a quarterback-friendly scheme. His career interception rate is 2.4% (above the 2022 NFL average of 2.3%). He has posted an interception rate that is worse than the NFL average in four of his five seasons as a starter.
If Garoppolo is throwing picks at an above-average rate in that offense – one that rarely attacks aggressively downfield and schemes up a boatload of short and quick throws that are wide open – it feels likely he is going to become an interception machine on any other team.
Should the Jets decide to sign Garoppolo, they would probably bring in a high-level backup like Mike White, Jacoby Brissett, or Gardner Minshew for security. White is my preference among these options. He is already a favorite in the locker room and showed intriguing potential when healthy in 2022. But Brissett and Minshew offer larger sample sizes of respectable production as starters than White. Not to mention, White has durability issues himself, so he’s not the most reliable fallback for Jimmy G.
This is the last-resort option. I truly believe the Jets need to come away with Carr or Jackson this offseason. But if the Jets do end up with Garoppolo and a quality backup, there is still a path to enjoying a successful 2023 season if the football gods are feeling generous enough to gift the Jets with good health at the quarterback position.
Beyond Garoppolo-plus-backup, I’m not sure there is anything else the Jets could realistically do that would be considered remotely successful. As much as I am skeptical of Garoppolo, the Jets could not justify avoiding Garoppolo and choosing someone like White, Minshew, or Brissett as their top option entering Week 1 of the 2023 season. Garoppolo at least offers a track record of top-notch production and winning – even if the legitimacy of those things is questionable. In a playoffs-or-bust season, the Jets cannot afford to send an unproven quarterback onto the field in the season opener.
New York needs to get a proven veteran quarterback in the building this offseason, and Garoppolo qualifies as such. If they miss on Carr and Jackson, Garoppolo-plus-backup is the way to go. Again, though, I would hope the Jets can land Carr or Jackson and avoid getting to this point, because I am not high on this option.
Not worth discussing
In here, I’ll quickly mention some options that are too unrealistic to spend time discussing.
I would be all aboard for the Jets signing Daniel Jones or Geno Smith in free agency. They each had excellent years in 2022. However, I anticipate they will return to their teams. If things go south and one of them somehow shakes free, we can start discussing them at that point. Until then, I do not consider Jones and Smith to be available.
Jared Goff is a trade option that I have seen discussed. Goff had a stellar season in Detroit. He appears likely to return, though. If he surprisingly hits the trade market, count me in, but that doesn’t seem to be on the table.
Ryan Tannehill is another name I see floated around. I could see him being shopped by Tennessee, but I do not think the Jets (or any team) will be interested in trading for a quarterback with a $36.6 million cap hit who has been underwhelming the past two seasons and is coming off ankle surgery at 34 years old.
Aaron Rodgers is not getting traded with that contract of his. The same goes for Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray.
Tom Brady is not coming to the Jets.
Let’s not even talk about the draft. The Jets are not rolling with a rookie starter in a playoffs-or-bust season.
The Jets’ 2023 quarterback plan is pretty simple as I see it. The primary goal should be to get Derek Carr. If that does not transpire for whatever reason, the Jets should pivot to being the most aggressive pursuers of Lamar Jackson. Strike out on Jackson, and you settle for Jimmy Garoppolo and a good backup, preferably Mike White.