Last season, the New York Jets were the best team to not make the playoffs, finishing the year with a somewhat surprising record of 10-6 and missing the postseason by the thinnest of margins. That success has expectations raised in New York and for a team that has a nice looking roster, it’s feasible that they could take the next step into the postseason next January. However, there is one big question mark on the Jets’ roster that could squash those aspirations has quickly as they arose — and it comes at the most important position on the field.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick’s situation up in the air (the Harvard product still remains unsigned by the team after leading the offense last season), it’s anybody’s guess who the Jets’ starting QB will be next season. The team drafted Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the NFL Draft a few weeks ago, but they also have 2015 draft pick Bryce Petty and one-time starter Geno Smith on hand, making the room crowded with potential options (even if none of them are overly exciting).
Given how vital it is for the Jets to select the right quarterback to lead the charge next season, which player should they turn to? Let’s examine each option for the team and predict who’ll end up under center when the season kicks off in September.
4. Geno Smith
Smith is entering his fourth season with the Jets, making him the most experienced option on their current roster. However, during his two-season stint as the primary starter in 2013 and 2014, Smith was underwhelming at best. In 30 games, he threw for 5,571 yards and 25 touchdowns compared to 34 interceptions and seven fumbles. A QBR in the low ’40s was the biggest indication of just how much Smith struggled when given the reigns of the offense.
Fitzpatrick took over last season and the results were huge for the team, so it would be hard pressed to see the Jets turning things back over the Smith — even if he is their most experienced option. It would take an impressive summer for Smith to earn his job back and with so much competition at quarterback for the Jets, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the team cut ties with him before the beginning of the season — especially if they work things out with Fitzpatrick.
3. Christian Hackenberg
This year’s second-round draft pick for New York, Hackenberg appears to have a somewhat realistic shot to start as a rookie for the Jets. His collegiate numbers weren’t spectacular at Penn State, as he never completed better than 60% of his passes in any of his three seasons as a starter at the school, but his 6-foot-4, 228 pound frame gives him the look of an NFL QB.
Scouts raved about his leadership qualities and ability to make all the throws prior to the draft as well, so with some work this summer, Hackenberg could play his way into the top spot on the Jets’ depth chart.
Certainly, you don’t select a QB in the first two rounds of the draft if you don’t think he can, at some point, be your starter. With the Jets’ situation with Fitzpatrick in flux, Hackenberg might win the job by default. Ideally though, they’d like to give the rookie some time before they throw him into the fire of an NFL game.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick is an experienced quarterback entering his 12th NFL season in 2016. He’s had multiple solid seasons over that time span for multiple teams, but last season was likely his best when he was the starter for the Jets.
In leading the team to the 10-6 record, Fitzpatrick threw for a career best 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. He developed a solid rapport with receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and proved to be the undisputed leader of the offense. It would be an ideal situation if the Jets could bring him back, but with contract talks becoming long and strenuous, it may be a relationship that won’t continue.
Fitzpatrick wants more money after his career season, and the Jets don’t seem to be willing to give him that money, so it very well could lead to the veteran signing elsewhere — all though, nobody else seems to be madly pushing for his services. Potentially, Fitzpatrick might have to “settle” for whatever the Jets offer him if he wants to play next season, but at this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if he wound up elsewhere or doing something else.
1. Bryce Petty
All the talk is about Hackenberg as the young QB of the future for the Jets, but last season’s fourth-round selection, Bryce Petty, has a serious case as the potential starter for the team as early as next season. No, Petty didn’t receive any playing time during his rookie season, but the Baylor product showed plenty of promise in college (unlike Hackenberg) and has a year of NFL experience under his belt. Plus, the word around the Jets’ facility is that second-year pro has made major strides since he entered the league.
Essentially, the QB situation in New York isn’t one you’d wish upon even your least favorite team. They have a somewhat experienced quarterback who didn’t play well when he was the starter, two guys who have never taken a snap in a NFL regular-season game, and a free agent who wants to be paid like a top-tier starter.
It’s a mess and training camp will tell us a lot, but if the development of Bryce Petty has come along nicely over the past year, it might be time to hand him the job — even if it’s just to see what he’s got. If they can’t re-sign Fitzpatrick, what else are they going to do?