The Jets may be forced to go the non-ideal QB route
In 2008, the New York Jets pursued Brett Favre. In 2012, the Broncos signed Peyton Manning. The Buccaneers did the same in 2020 with Tom Brady. In 2021, Matthew Stafford went to the Rams, while the 49ers traded three first-round picks to nab Trey Lance in the draft. In 2022, the Broncos and Browns traded an arm and a leg for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, respectively.
This is the price that a team without a quarterback must pay to get one. Whether the move works out or not is often a toss-up, but a franchise thinking that their roster is a quarterback away will move heaven and earth to acquire “the” guy.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas has not shown a proclivity toward overpaying, particularly on the trade market. He has his price and doesn’t like to budge from it. However, the handcuffs of fiscal responsibility have clearly been removed this offseason, as Woody Johnson made it clear that he will pay whatever it takes to get that QB.
In the ideal NFL world, a team gets a quarterback on a rookie deal and utilizes the cheap contract window to maximize their winning potential, ideally culminating in a championship. However, even for the great QBs, that window is becoming increasingly narrow. No longer content to wait until after their fourth season, the top (and even not-so-top) first-round quarterbacks want their money after their third season in the league, which is the earliest that they are allowed to negotiate an extension.
What does a team do if they don’t have that quarterback, though?
If there are many other holes in the team, the solution is usually to tear it all down and start over. The problem is that the highly drafted QBs often enter a situation in which there is little or no other talent on the roster, thereby reducing their chances of success. Obviously, a team can try to build around their young quarterback, but in a sink-or-swim league, many unprotected quarterbacks sink.
If there is legitimate talent on the team, though, the roster is often caught in no man’s land. They’re good enough to land outside the draft pick territory necessary to select a top quarterback but also not able to get over the hump with the QBs currently on the roster.
The trend has increasingly become for such teams to move mountains to try to acquire that difference-making QB. The results are mixed.
- The Rams mortgaged their future for Stafford, a risky move that both netted them the ring but also may have been the harbinger of their 2022 meltdown.
- The Bucs, on the other hand, became a dominant force for a couple of seasons under Brady and also won the ring.
- The 49ers got Trey Lance only to end up in mostly the same place with the same QB (Jimmy Garoppolo) and then the Irrelevant draft pick (Brock Purdy).
- The Broncos won in 2012 with Manning but seemingly swung and missed with Russell Wilson in 2022. They hope Sean Payton can right the ship and salvage their investment.
- The Browns made a foolish investment in Watson and saw their team succeed more with career-long Plan B Jacoby Brissett.
- The Saints keep trying to get their Drew Brees replacement and will have to pay the piper at some point.
- The Colts kept getting veteran retreads and eventually saw the strength of the rest of their roster crumble in 2022.
- The Vikings have been stuck in the same cycle of slightly above mediocrity since acquiring Kirk Cousins.
This is the prospect the Jets are looking at. They can go for the lower ceiling options as the Colts have or swing for the fences like Denver did twice. They can try to settle in between, as Minnesota did with Cousins. There are no guarantees with whichever direction they choose.
The only thing that is pretty much known is that the lower-ceiling options will likely yield similar results to what the Colts have received over the past few seasons. If the Jets are not going to nab Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr, they may be better off trying the 49ers route—trading up for the QB they like in the draft.
It hasn’t worked for the Jets in the past (see: Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold), but the unknown with a high ceiling might still be preferable to the known with a clearly low one.
The Jets are not in an ideal position. That much is obvious. NFL franchises fall into two categories: teams that have their QB and the rest that are searching for one. That guy must be found.
If getting Rodgers is mortgaging the future, then the Jets need to go into full win-now mode upon his acquisition. With Carr, they can try to build for a few years and not just the short term, but there is no guarantee that it will work.
Many analysts point at the Rams’ process in 2021 as heavily flawed, as winning a ring in any given season is a toss-up at best. However, maybe a fan base that has endured 12 years of losing is desperate enough to go for it all, even if it means tearing it all down afterward. Maybe they’d prefer not to settle for a one-and-done playoff spot year after year, even if that makes for more competitive and entertaining football for a longer period of time.
There is no surefire blueprint here. All the different methods have been tried with varying degrees of success. But the one thing that is virtually certain is that acquiring a bridge QB is essentially bridging to nowhere but another rebuild.
This is what Robby Sabo meant when he said that Joe Douglas must end up with Aaron Rodgers. The Jets cannot sell their fan base on more bridging. It’s time to shoot your best shot and let the results fall where they may.
Without that, Douglas likely will not be around to oversee what happens next.
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