There's a long way to go in the preseason, but halfway through, one thing about the Jets quarterback situation is clear: Teddy Bridgewater looks like he gives the Jets the best chance to win.
Yet Todd Bowles can't give him the starting job.
Well, he can, but it wouldn't make a lot of sense, and that's an unfortunate situation for both Bridgewater and the Jets, in what might be the most confusing -- and promising -- quarterback competition this franchise has ever had. The 25-year-old Bridgewater has been terrific in limited action and proved he's healthy after missing two years with an injured knee. He's young and has an incredible upside, plus plenty of experience.
But starting him would be a short-term fix for the Jets' long-term problem. He's only signed for one year, and the Jets are committed to Sam Darnold as their future. Unless you somehow think Bridgewater is going to lead this Jets team to the Super Bowl this year (spoiler alert: he's not), one year with Bridgewater at the helm is a waste of precious time. If he plays well -- even well enough to get the Jets into the playoff race or even the playoffs -- the Jets won't re-sign him, not with all they're paying Darnold. He'd end up signing a lucrative deal with someone else.
Meanwhile, the Darnold era will get pushed back, and the Jets will have to endure his inevitable rookie struggles in 2019 instead.
It's enough to make Bowles' head spin (presumably). Bridgewater's presence (and play) puts him in a real tough spot. And that's before he gets to the possibility of the Jets paying Josh McCown $10 million this year to hold a clipboard as their third-stringer this season.
Sure, they knew all this when they made this their Plan B back in the spring. What's unclear is how they're going to sort it all out.
"We're going to play the best guy," Bowles said Thursday night after Darnold looked good and Bridgewater looked better in the Jets' 15-13 loss to the Redskins in Landover, Maryland. "I'm not going to sit here and evaluate them second by second every day in the public. I understand what's happening. We understand where we are."
If only it was as simple as playing the best guy. Bowles, like everyone else, knows that the right long-term play is to start Darnold, whether he's the "best guy" or not. The Jets believe he's going to be a star, so the more experience he can get the better. They also know they're not ready to contend now. The goal is -- or should be -- to get all Darnold's rookie issues out of his system in time for 2019.
Of course, the problem with that is that is that starting Darnold would essentially be admitting that they know they can't contend this year. Yes, we all know that already, but it's still a hard sell to the players in the locker room. They always think they can contend. And they all want to quarterback who can give them the best chance to win.
Right now, that looks like Bridgewater. Based off last year, there's a good argument that it also could be McCown. But it's really hard to argue that it's the 21-year-old Darnold, no matter how well he plays in the preseason. That may be what Bowles will have to do, though, which is why this unprecedented plethora of quarterbacks (at least for the Jets) has created such a mess.
"It's always been cloudy, it's never changed," Bowles said of his quarterback quandary. "It's the same. It'll be a tough choice. We've still got two more games to play and we'll go from there."
A lot can happen in the next three weeks. Maybe the Jets can trade Bridgewater. Maybe some team like the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who suddenly have two injured quarterbacks, will dangle an offer in desperation that's too good to refuse. Or maybe Bridgewater will get the Week 1 job, knowing it'll only be temporary until the Jets deem Darnold ready.
Of course, that creates another problem: What if Bridgewater starts and wins? Remember, Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has said many times his goal is to build a perennial contender, not just a one-year wonder. If that really is the goal, a successful Bridgewater racking up wins would kind of be in the way, unless the Jets somehow think it's best to sit Darnold for an entire year.
Yes, it's a good problem to have. In many ways it beats every other quarterback competition the Jets have ever had. But a good problem is still a problem, and at the moment there's no perfect solution. The short-term goals are in the way of the long-term goals. Winning now could delay winning in the future.
Maybe Darnold will light it up in the last two preseason games, win the job outright and make this a moot point. If not, just don't say, "May the best man win." Because depending on how you measure it, it's possible that the best man won't.