The top priority for the Jets was absolutely clear: Find a franchise quarterback. End the decades-long search. That's why they went so hard after free agent Kirk Cousins.
But they couldn't sign him. And so their never-ending question at quarterback remains.
Though it's hardly their fault that Cousins chose a better situation in Minnesota over the future potential of the Jets, the quarterback situation still looms big over what has otherwise been an incredibly successful start to free agency for GM Mike Maccagnan and the Jets. They spent big, but reasonable to fill holes at cornerback, running back, linebacker and center, and they even came up with a reasonable "Plan B" for their quarterback situation. They also still have about $40 million more in salary cap space they can use.
But quarterbacks are absolutely everything in the NFL. Average quarterbacks can turn bad teams into mediocre ones, and good quarterbacks can turn mediocre teams into contenders. It's why the Vikings discarded journeyman Case Keenum after he helped them reach the NFC championship game, and instead gave Cousins a fully-guaranteed, three-year, $84 million contract because they believe he can put them over the top.
That's why the Jets tried to lure him too, even though, as SNY reported weeks ago, they were convinced he was going to Minnesota all along. So they looked around the market and came up with what seems like a reasonable Plan B, especially since there wasn't another quarterback close to Cousins' ability available on the market. They re-signed Josh McCown for one year, $10 million. They will soon sign Teddy Bridgewater to a one-year, incentive-heavy contract that could be worth as much as $15 million.
And yes, according to a team source, they still might pick a quarterback with the sixth pick of the draft.
The idea is that McCown can be a place-holder as the starter at least in training camp and maybe for the start of the season. Then he can be an insurance policy for and a mentor to the 25-year-old Bridgewater, who was a rising star before he suffered a devastating knee injury two years ago. And if they land Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen in the draft, all the better. Then Bridgewater and Mayfield, Allen or whomever can battle it out for the title of Jets Quarterback of the Future.
The problem, of course, is that there's no guarantee Bridgewater or the future draft pick ever reach Cousins' level. For all the knocks on the former Redskins quarterback, he completed 67 percent of his passes over the last three years and averaged 4,392 yards, 27 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. That may not make him "elite" yet, but it puts him on the very next level and certainly makes him a quarterback that can win in the right situation.
Will Bridgewater or Mayfield/Allen be that good? And if so, how long will the Jets have to wait? Because while they are still in rebuilding mode, they have hopes of being a playoff contender by 2019 at the latest. Maccagnan seems to have built a terrific, young team that has talent at almost every position. The roster matches up with many around the league.
But without the quarterback, they will be the same old Jets, wavering in and out of mediocrity and hoping a franchise quarterback someday falls into their lap. If Maccagnan proves to be right about his "Plan B" - and picks the right guy in the draft -- then the Jets should be set up to be a force in the near future.
If he's not, then the last few days will simply be remembered as a wild spending spree.
Here's a quick look at the new players Maccagnan has added so far:
QB Teddy Bridgewater - He's a no-risk signing for little money and only one year. He was so talented and promising before he got hurt and now the Jets get a 12-month exclusive look at him to see if he's healthy enough to ever get back to that level. And he'll have the re-signed McCown to guide him, too.
CB Trumaine Johnson - Maccagnan's biggest acquisition (five years, $72.5 million, $34 million guaranteed) gives the Jets the best secondary they've had since Rex Ryan was here and Darrelle Revis was still playing like a Hall of Famer. He's a big, aggressive corner who can be really effective if the two young safeties behind him (Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye) are as good as they were last year.
RB Isaiah Crowell - He can fill in nicely for the retired Matt Forte, and he seems to be much more durable. He didn't cost all that much (three years, $12 million, but they can easily get out of the deal after a year) and should be a nice complement to Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire. He's a decent receiver out of the backfield, too.
C Spencer Long - The Jets clearly weren't happy with the play of Wes Johnson last season, and they weren't crazy about the prices of the top centers on the market. Long is a solid player, but he spent half of last season on IR with knee and quad injuries. He could be an upgrade, but center wasn't the Jets' only issue along the line.
LB Avery Williamson - The Jets tried to keep Demario Davis, but the $8 million per year he got from New Orleans was more than what they thought he was worth. Williamson cost the Jets about the same ($7.5 million per season). He's also a similar player to Davis and will be a nice fit inside in their 3-4 defense. It's a gamble not spending a little more to keep a player who became a team leader last season. But here's the key: Davis is 29. Williamson is 26. And the Jets are determined to get younger.