FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The assumption has always been that the Jets will take a look at Christian Hackenberg in an actual game at some point this season. But it's starting to look like that assumption is wrong.
Mike Maccagnan, the Jets GM, insisted on Wednesday that there's no "prerequisite" that he has to see Hackenberg in a game before they decide whether to draft another quarterback in the 2018 draft. And a team source told SNY that there are obviously no current plans to make a quarterback switch while the Jets are in playoff contention - and that even if the Jets drop out of the race at some point it's likely that Hackenberg won't play this season at all.
A lot can change over the final seven games, of course, but the general point remains that the Jets are apparently comfortable making an evaluation of Hackenberg's potential to be their Quarterback of the Future even without ever seeing him in a game.
"You're constantly evaluating every player on the roster during the season and in the preseason, but I don't think there's any prerequisite of what we need or don't need to do," Maccagnan said. "We'll see how this season progresses. We still have seven games left to play. You don't really know how seasons unfold. But I don't think there's a prerequisite to what we do or don't have to do."
Maccagnan, in his annual midseason interview with the media, said he's been "encouraged" by the work he's seen in practice from both Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. He also said he wasn't discouraged at all that Hackenberg, the 51st overall pick in last year's draft, hasn't been able to beat out Petty, a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft, for the backup job to Josh McCown.
"The one thing I think with any player is they all develop at different paces and different rates," Maccagnan said. "I think (training camp) was a good experience for Christian. I think we got an idea of areas he still needs to improve upon like any young player. But I wouldn't necessarily say 'discouraged.'"
From the outside, though, Hackenberg's lack of progress has been discouraging. It's unusual for such a high pick to still be unable to get onto the field 25 games into his NFL career. In fact, there were 10 quarterbacks taken in the first five rounds of the 2016 draft. Hackenberg is the only one who hasn't played at all.
And with a 38-year-old starter in McCown and a quarterback-rich draft looming next April, the Jets really need to know if Hackenberg still has any shot to be their Quarterback of the Future. That figures to be tough to do without ever seeing Hackenberg throw a pass in a regular season game.
"I think the season that we're in right now, it's going to unfold the way it's going to unfold," Maccagnan said. "We're still evaluating these players every single day. We have them in the building for a long period of time. We have them at practice, and they'll get their opportunities if they present themselves."
So far the only opportunities for the 22-year-old Hackenberg have come in the preseason. He was terrible in two preseason games as a rookie, completing just 17 of 47 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He showed some improvement this summer completing 56.8 percent of his passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in parts of four games.
So based off that, what's Maccagnan's evaluation of his former second-round pick?
"I think, like a lot of young players, they develop at different paces," Maccagnan said. "I think Christian has done some positive things. There's areas he still needs to improve on. I'm encouraged by the work him and Bryce are putting in."
Maccagnan also touted their ability to learn from the 38-year-old McCown, who has been a "mentor" to both Hackenberg and Petty - which could be one of the reasons Maccagnan left the door open for McCown to return in 2018. Maccagnan also left open the possibility that Hackenberg won't turn out to be the Jets Quarterback of the Future. When he was asked if it's possible that the Jets' long-term answer at quarterback isn't on the current roster, Maccagnan sounded like a GM still in the middle of a quarterback search.
"I don't want to sit here and speculate from that standpoint about what we have and where it's going to be," Maccagnan said. "I think we'll see how this season progresses. We'll see how the young players continue to perform and work in practice.
"And I will say this: With every position on the team we're looking to make them as competitive as possible, so that'll play itself out over time. Then at the end of the season we'll sit down and analyze where we're at with the coaching staff and the team and the season and proceed going forward from there."