The Jets have four quarterbacks on their roster, which seems like one too many. They cut Bryce Petty last week to clear at least a little room on their depth chart, but they still have another move to make. Or maybe two.
Whatever they end up doing, the Jets' quarterback situation isn't as clear cut as some think, from the identity of the Opening Day starter all the way down to the likely odd-man out. As Todd Bowles said last weekend, the Jets are "open to anything right now" -- especially at quarterback.
"We're going to let it all play out before make those kinds of decisions," he said.
For the moment, veteran Josh McCown will enter spring drills as the starter. But beyond him there is a lot of uncertainty. With the third phase of the offseason workout program -- the on-field, "organized team activity" practices -- less than two weeks away, here's a look at where the Jets' quarterback situation stands:
There is no secret about his role. He is part player, part mentor, and he has promised to embrace that. The Jets' expectation is that he will start and hopefully play well until they decide it's time to turn the page towards the future. They've offered him no promises. Everyone seems to be working under the assumption that McCown will be the Opening Day starter, but that is not a guarantee. At some point, this will be Sam Darnold's team.
But the Jets aren't going to squander an opportunity, either. If McCown is playing well like he did last year and if somehow the Jets are in contention, he could conceivably keep the job all season. The assumption is that's not likely, as long as Darnold at some point is deemed ready to play.
His development is really the key to everything that happens in the quarterback rotation this summer and this season. The Jets hope he advances quickly. In fact, they are so sure of the ability and potential of the No. 3 overall pick in the draft that privately they aren't ruling out the possibility of him starting on Opening Day.
How realistic is that? It's really up to him. The Jets will let him develop at his own pace. McCown will get the starter's reps in the spring and probably most of the summer. Darnold will likely get the traditional No. 2 quarterback's share, even if the Jets don't anoint him the primary backup right away (though he surely will be the primary backup by Opening Day). He's the one they want to give the extra work to so he can be ready at some point during the season, and the summer is really the best time for a young quarterback to learn.
As for his arrival as the starter, the Jets are open to Opening Day if he earns it. If not, they'll wait to see how McCown does. If McCown struggles and Darnold is ready, or if at some point the season is clearly lost, that's when Darnold will arrive.
Until Bridgewater gets on the field (and stays on the field) his place in the Jets' quarterback hierarchy remains a mystery. The Jets signed him because they were intrigued by his ability and potential, but they understand there's no guarantee he's the same player he was before the knee injury that cost him almost all of the last two seasons.
It's not even clear where he is in his recovery. The Vikings managed to get him in for a few snaps at the end of last season, but they still had some questions about his long-term health. Bowles said he expects Bridgewater will be on the field and throwing during the last phase of the offseason program. But when asked if Bridgewater would be limited, Bowles was unclear, saying "I can't give you 100 percent, but I'll see when it gets to that point then I'll be able to tell you."
The Jets have always looked at him like a bonus quarterback. If he's what he once was, they have a terrific young quarterback who possibly could figure into the mix this year -- though it would presumably take McCown struggling and Darnold not quite being ready. If he's not what he was, then they really didn't risk anything at all.
But Bridgewater's place on the Jets figures to remain an unanswered question all summer long.
When the Jets zeroed in on their "Plan B" after failing to woo Kirk Cousins in free agency, this former second-round pick figured to be the first one out the door. Instead they cut Petty, perhaps giving one more shot to Jets GM Mike Maccagnan's 2016 second-round pick.
Let's be realistic, though: He no longer has any shot at being the Quarterback of the Future. At best, he'll find himself in a battle with Bridgewater for the No. 3 job -- though if Bridgewater proves to be healthy that could be a battle Hackenberg won't be able to win. What Hackenberg mostly needs to do this summer is show the Jets he's worthy of some preseason playing time so he can get some decent game action on film. Then, hopefully, if the Jets cut him -- or after his contract expires following the 2019 season - someone will give him a chance to resurrect his NFL career.
Because now that the Jets have Darnold, Hackenberg's chance will clearly not come here.