Training camp is less than a month away, and many fans and media members alike are projecting the New York Jets 53-man roster. With each spot at a premium and only a few up for grabs, there is only so little time for bubble players to prove that they belong.
There is pressure on the Jets to make a playoff push after finishing 10-6 in 2015, so it’s crucial they assemble a talented roster. However, the reality is that the Jets must also look to the future.
Currently the Jets have three quarterbacks on their roster – Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg – but Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to be back. While it’s not ideal for any team to carry four signal-callers, the Jets are still looking for their future quarterback as Fitzpatrick serves as the bridge. Despite the limited spots available, each quarterback has a different value and thus should be included in the 53-man roster.
The New York Jets Must Keep Four Quarterbacks
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Short-term Solution
Fitzpatrick is still a free agent, but no other team has given in to his demands, so it’s only a matter of time before he returns to the Jets. The 12-year veteran is coming off a career year, throwing for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns (which is a Jets record for passing scores in a season). Fitzpatrick also has a deeper understanding of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system and has established a strong rapport with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, which can take a year or two to develop.
While stats don’t lie, they never tell the whole story. Fitzpatrick has complete command of the locker room with many respected veterans such as Marshall and cornerback Darrelle Revis advocating for his return. However, stability is not the only thing he brings to the team. Part of Fitzpatrick’s value has been his ability to help accelerate the development of Smith and Petty. Petty has been very vocal about Fitzpatrick’s influence during his NFL transition. With the addition of Hackenberg, the Jets prefer to give the rookie the same learning opportunity.
Geno Smith: The Viable Backup
Geno Smith may appear to be the odd man out considering that he was inherited from the old regime, but he’s the only viable backup the Jets have on the roster. While his first two seasons have been shaky, Smith still has valuable NFL experience. In the event Fitzpatrick gets injured, head coach Todd Bowles is more comfortable putting in Smith as opposed to Petty and Hackenberg, as neither quarterback is ready to see the field.
Smith has taken advantage of Fitzpatrick’s absence and is having a strong off-season. The only problem is Smith typically looks good in practice, but has trouble translating it on the field during pressure situations. Granted he didn’t have much talent around him, but even last year in a 34-20 loss against the Oakland Raiders, Smith had mental breakdowns. Smith has one year left on his contract, and unless Fitzpatrick gets benched and he plays lights out, his time in New York is most likely over after this season.
Bryce Petty: Yesterday’s Future
It was only a year ago when Petty was hailed as the future quarterback of the New York Jets. Viewed as a project, the team hoped to sit him behind a veteran so he could learn the intricacies of NFL quarterback play. But that was last season. The addition of Hackenberg and Petty’s lack of experience in a pro-style offense makes him the most vulnerable to being cut. Petty has all the physical tools to be a successful NFL quarterback, but there are questions about his football IQ. At Baylor, Petty played in Art Briles’ spread offense where reading defenses was not the quarterback’s job. While the coaches have seen improvement from year one to year two, the knowledge gap still exists.
Time is always of the essence in the NFL, and even though the Jets are in a win-now situation, Petty has enough potential to be the future franchise player. The ability to read defenses and adjust to a pro-style offense can be learned, but the intangibles he possesses cannot. General manager Mike Maccagnan must have seen something to trade up in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, so it would be a waste to give up on a project after one year because a newer, shinier toy comes along. Additionally, Petty shares a birthday with Joe Namath, so that must count for something.
Christian Hackenberg: The New Heir
Maccagnan shook up the draft when he selected Christian Hackenberg in the second round this spring. Hackenberg is a polarizing figure because of his yearly regression since his freshman campaign. After a strong first season under head coach Bill O’Brien, Hackenberg struggled his sophomore and junior seasons as he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Hackenberg’s glaring problem is his accuracy. After posting a 58.9 percent completion percentage in year one, his numbers dropped to 55.8 percent during his sophomore campaign and he concluded his junior outing with a 53.5 completion percentage.
Hackenberg’s advantage is that he played in a pro-style offense. While there’s still a learning curve, he’s ahead of where Petty was his rookie season. In a league where turnover is high, teams aren’t always able to allocate the time needed to develop a project. The Jets hope Hackenberg can channel his earlier playing days and become the franchise player they’ve envisioned.
While an argument could be made that there aren’t enough reps for four quarterbacks, the team is still searching for its future signal-caller. The Jets also have a veteran roster, which puts the team in a bind as the pressure to win is at an all-time high. However, the Jets didn’t make the playoffs last season despite having an easy schedule. With a more difficult schedule in 2016, the chances of the Jets winning the Super Bowl are slim, so they must continue to look toward the future.