The Jets haven't given up on landing the biggest quarterback fish in the free-agent pool, but they are preparing in case it happens. They have an array of options mapped out if their "Plan A" fizzles and Kirk Cousins signs somewhere else.
And their "Plan B" could be interesting, especially if the "B" stands for Teddy Bridgewater.
If Bridgewater becomes a free agent (and there's some doubt about that at the moment), he could be the next best option on the open market, and an enticing one for the quarterback-starved Jets. He carries some obvious risks since he's still recovering from a devastating knee injury he suffered 19 months ago. But he's also only 25, already has 28 starts and a Pro Bowl on his resume, and was considered a rising star before he got hurt.
He would also cost the Jets far, far less than the $30 million per year and perhaps $90 million in guarantees that Cousins is seeking.
So if he's healthy -- a big "if" -- Bridgewater as a "Plan B" could be a steal.
"Teddy is a guy that two years ago played fantastic," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL scouting combine last week. "I thought he was a very ascending player and obviously had a terrible knee injury. Don't get to see him play in real, live action in basically two years, so there's the question with him."
That question, Zimmer said, is simple: "Is Teddy what he was?"
That's an interesting question the Jets will have to answer, especially since Bridgewater has attempted only two passes in the last two seasons. A Jets team source said Bridgewater is on the list of options they're considering, though the source wouldn't say if he's part of a Plan B, C or D. He's not the kind of ready-to-go answer to their quarterback question that Cousins is. But he could have more upside than other free agents, like his Vikings teammates Case Keenum or Sam Bradford, or soon-to-be former Bengal A.J. McCarron.
Other than his health, Bridgewater would seem to be less risky than the top quarterbacks in the draft. The Jets will have seen what he can do against NFL competition and they know he can handle the speed and other challenges of the pro game. There's no way they can be as sure about that with Wyoming's Josh Allen or Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.
So the idea of signing Bridgewater -- and perhaps bringing 38-year-old Josh McCown back as a bridge and as his mentor -- makes a lot of sense.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Bridgewater was the last pick of the first round of the 2014 draft, and really was "an ascending player" in 2015. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 3,231 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Vikings went 17-11 in his starts and looked set at quarterback for years.
But on Aug. 30, 2016, he suffered a gruesome, non-contact injury at a training camp practice and had to be rushed by ambulance to a local hospital. He suffered a torn ACL and a lot of other structural damage in his left knee. There were doubts if he would ever play again.
He progressed to the point where he was added to the Vikings roster in November, and on Dec. 17, in a 34-7 win over at home of the Cincinnati Bengals, Zimmer even got him into a game. He only threw two passes and one was picked off, but he got a rousing ovation from the crowd simply because he was back.
"This kid is a great competitor," Zimmer said. "He's got the heart of a lion, a champion. He's going to do everything he possibly can to be ready. I wouldn't have dressed the guy if I didn't think he was ready during the season. If we would have had to have him go in, I was comfortable in playing him.
"I'm hopeful for Teddy, No. 1, that he has an outstanding career. He's earned it. He's deserved it."
With the Vikings set to make a strong push to land Cousins, it appears Bridgewater's career will resume someplace else -- at least probably. That doubt has to do with a clause in the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement that says a player's contract "tolls" if he's on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list through the sixth game of the final season of his deal. Bridgewater was, which means the Vikings could retain him in 2018 at the same $1.354 million salary he made last year.
The NFL is expected to rule on that sometime this week. Most around the NFL expect the league will allow Bridgewater to become an unrestricted free agent.
And if he's free, he can't be ruled out for the Jets, especially if their fears are realized and Cousins ends up in Minnesota. They could take a short-term chance on him to see if he's healthy. They could even pair him with a quarterback from the draft. It would be a gamble, but the payoff could be enormous -- far bigger than any of the other free-agent options if Cousins is gone.