The New York Jets are slated to have upwards of $80 million in cap space, next offseason, and with 38-year old Josh McCown only inked to a one-year, $6-million deal for this season, Gang Green could be in the mix for a new starting quarterback – if second-year passer Christian Hackenberg doesn’t provide the embattled coaching staff with some semblance of confidence this year.
Neither the player nor the franchise can afford another redshirt season. 2017-18 is the time for the Jets’ brass, namely general manager Mike Maccagnan, to appear as if they knew all along that Hackenberg was the right choice in the second round of the 2015 National Football League draft. It’s a daunting task, however, considering the franchise’s recent second-round flameouts.
And should the Jets not trust handing over the kingdom to Hackenberg, a new candidate could be on the horizon – current Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. While Cousins’s name can’t be publicly bandied about by any other team’s management, it still won’t stop media and fans alike from thinking of a scenario where Cousins ends up in New York.
Washington and Cousins failed to reach a long-term contract by Monday’s deadline, which means once the 2018 free agency period commences, Cousins will be in high demand by quarterback-starved teams – like the Jets — as it’s difficult to imagine Washington franchise tagging him for a third-straight year and costing themselves $34.5 million on yet another one-year deal.
When a team lacks such long-term solutions at the game’s most pivotal position, it makes for strange bedfellows. Hackenberg has yet to face a starting defense in a real game situation. He played 76 preseason snaps last summer, and all of them against backups. In the regular season he was essentially redshirted, not seeing any game action.
McCown is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, potential free agent quarterbacks will be linked to the Jets all season, and he’s yet to even take a credited snap in the NFL, but Hackenberg’s real nemesis may be mastering an offense that’s really not suited for him. The West Coast offense requires pinpoint accuracy from the pocket and on the move, quick reads, and elusiveness. The system is predicated on the quarterback being able to work through his progressions rapidly, while maintaining rhythm in his mechanics. Those aforementioned qualities aren’t the first to come to mind when describing the raw passer. And those are qualities that take time and experience to develop – factors that may play against him if he’s not able to unseat McCown.
Training camp will be huge for Hackenberg and the Jets’ long-term quarterback prospects. If he can’t beat out McCown (2-20 over his last two seasons as a starter) and the Washington situation turns acrimonious with Cousins, the jeers for the young signal caller will be high and the cheers for Cousins will be even higher from a tortured, yet loyal Gang Green fanbase. The old NFL axiom says that only the President of the United States is more scrutinized than the capital’s starting quarterback. And the way Cousins embraces such pressure shows he’ll have little problem dealing with an equally aggressive New York market.
Hackenberg won’t just be handed the starting job. He’ll need to earn it. And if not, an up-and-coming star like Cousins could be waiting in the wings.