Coming into Buffalo, the Jets have their own quarterback troubles

September 8, 2017

The scene was Ford Field, in Detroit, Michigan, on the night of Aug. 19. The second of four preseason games for the New York Jets saw them accept the opening kickoff and run two plays that gained three yards. On third down and seven from the Jets’ 22-yard line, Christian Hackenberg took the snap from the shotgun formation. He took one, two, three steps back, his eyes locked onto the receiver to his right.

He never saw Cornelius Washington.

But he certainly felt the Detroit Lions defensive end.

Washington blew past the left tackle and headed straight toward the unsuspecting second year quarterback from Penn State. A violent collision followed and the ball fell to the turf at the same time as Hackenberg did. Fumble. Guard James Carpenter recovered the loose football at the 10-yard line and the Jets punted on fourth down in a game they would end up losing 16-6.

It was one play in an otherwise dull and meaningless preseason game. But at a micro level it may have symbolized what may come to be the 2017 Jets season.

Entering Sunday’s season opener at New Era Field against the Bills, it is evident that the Jets are in the embryonic stages of a rebuild. Gone are Darrelle Revis, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eric Decker, Calvin Pryor, Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson, amongst others. Industry website estimates that the Jets have $20,334,776 in available cap space for this season. That number triples to $62,677,862 for 2018.

And that is what this season is going to be about for the Jets. Next year. And the years to come.

Officially, no one employed by the Jets has used the word ‘tank’ on the record. Indeed, executives, coaches and players have talked about being competitive. But words and actions are two drastically different things. And for a team coming off an AFC East worst 5-11 season in 2016, divesting itself of high-salaried players without quality replacements certainly indicates that GM Mike Maccagnan and the football operations department has decided to punt on this year.

Which means, for all intents and purposes, the 2017 New York Jets season will be defined not by what transpires in cities like Buffalo and Miami and Foxboro, but rather Los Angeles, Louisville, and Cheyenne.

Indeed, the talk surrounding the Jets is centered around Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. Louisville quarterback and the reigning Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson, could and should be added to the discussion.

Potentially, any of the four would be the Jets’ first franchise quarterback since signing Joe Namath to a then-record $427,000 rookie contract on Jan. 2, 1965. Since Namath’s retirement in 1977, Jets quarterbacks have ranged from serviceable (Ken O’Brien, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Boomer Esiason) to something less-than-desirable (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Neil O’Donnell, Mark Sanchez) to terrible (Browning Nagle, Geno Smith).

After Namath left the Jets following the 1976 season–he played four games for the Los Angeles Rams in 1977–they have drafted 21 quarterbacks. Of those 21, O’Brien (1985 and 1991) was the only one to represent the team in the Pro Bowl, and none were All-Pros.

Moreover, after misfiring with the selection of Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, the Jets have selected five quarterbacks in the last eight drafts, including one every year between 2013 and 2016. Those signal callers are: Greg McElroy (2011), Smith (2013), Tajh Boyd (2014), Bryce Petty (2015), Hackenberg (2016). Of those five, only Petty and Hackenberg are on the current roster, and they serve as backups to Josh McCown, who was named the starter on Aug. 28. McCown, 38, has a career record of 18 wins and 42 losses in 60 starts. He’s thrown for 14,242 yards and 79 touchdowns against 69 interceptions while playing for Arizona, Chicago, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay. In his last 22 games as a starter, McCown and his teams have lost 20.

Signed to a one-year, $6,000,000 contract on Mar. 20, McCown is certainly not part of the Jets’ future. Still he provides head coach Todd Bowles a veteran starting quarterback, something that neither Petty nor Hackenberg can claim.

Since being selected 51st overall in the 2016 draft, the question about Hackenberg has been if and when he will be ready to play at the NFL level. He did not play in 2016, and showed he was still a work in progress during the just-completed preseason, as Hackenberg was 42 for 74 for 372 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions while being sacked nine times for 59 lost yards.

By comparison, Petty, 26, played in six games in 2016 and completed 56.4 percent of his passes (75 for 133) for 809 yards. Despite coming into camp as the No. 3 quarterback, he earned the backup job in three preseason games, completing 32 of 48 passes for 426 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and was sacked twice, losing 10 yards.

But come one o’clock Sunday, September 10, it may be Hackenberg, and not Petty, who backs up McCown when the regular season begins for the Jets. Petty sustained a Grade 1 MCL sprain in the 32-31 preseason loss to the Giants on Aug. 26, and did not play in the 16-10 exhibition season finale win over the Eagles on Aug. 31. As of this writing, it is unknown if Petty will be cleared to play.

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Denis Gorman
About Denis Gorman

Denis Gorman is a contributor to The Buffalo Star and a veteran sportswriter who also freelances for AP. His work has been featured in over 20 newspapers, covering the four major pro leagues as well as College Football, College Basketball, Arena Football, the WNBA and the MISL.

Browse more articles by Denis Gorman.

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