Josh McCown is not the New York Jets' quarterback of the future, but neither were any of the other quarterbacks available on the free-agent market. There was no ideal answer to the Jets' biggest question.
But McCown is the perfect player to get them closer to the answers they need.
He is a stop-gap, a bridge, maybe even Ryan Fitzpatrick 2.0 (albeit six years older than what Fitzpatrick was two years ago). And he knows it. At age 37, and after 15 seasons with seven NFL teams, he's surely not delusional about what he really is.
And yes, with a thin free-agent market and a weak quarterback class in the draft, that is exactly what the Jets need at this moment. Because despite whatever the outside world thinks about Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, the Jets seem intrigued by their two young quarterbacks. And especially after spending a second-round pick on Hackenberg a year ago, the Jets are intent on giving the kids a chance.
McCown's presence buys them time to do just that, and at a reasonable cost. He gets $6 million for one year, according to a source, with another $2 million tied to how many games he plays. He has $5 million in other bonuses too, tied to whether the Jets can make the playoffs or make and possibly win the Super Bowl -- a $5 million bonus the Jets (and most of their fans) would gladly pay.
So assuming a miracle doesn't happen, the Jets will pay only $6-8 million for a quarterback good enough to at least keep them afloat. They also get a player many around the NFL consider to be a good guy, a leader and a very good influence. He can be a mentor and a teacher to Hackenberg and Petty, a guide through their growth. He can help shape the Jets' future, even if he knows he won't play a part.
What other quarterback out there could have done that? Yes, the Jets could've tried to out-bid the Bears and their three-year, $45 million offer to Mike Glennon. But he's 27 and wouldn't have been anybody's mentor. He'd be trying to re-establish his once-promising career after not starting a single game the last two years.
His presence would've meant Hackenberg wasn't the Jets' future. It would've been the same if Tyrod Taylor had been let go by the Buffalo Bills. And with those two off the market, what were the Jets' better options? The sometimes moody Jay Cutler, at age 33 and probably feeling like he should start? Chase Daniel, who in eight years has started fewer NFL games (two) than Petty did last year (four)? Or Robert Griffin III, who couldn't possibly have anything to offer two young quarterbacks as he tries to reignite his own, lost career?
None of them would better serve the Jets' future at quarterback than McCown.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Jets have found all their answers yet. It would be different if McCown were playing the role that Kurt Warner did in 2004 with the Giants, who had just traded for the NFL's top pick, Eli Manning. The Giants knew Manning was their future -- that he'd get years to prove them right or wrong.
After a year in which Hackenberg couldn't fight his way onto the field while the Jets ran through quarterbacks, and after Petty's four uninspiring shots, the Jets obviously don't know what the ceiling is for either player. In many ways, their faith in both players is a shot in the dark.
But McCown gives them a chance to find out, and gives them a measure of short-term stability if it turns out they're wrong. Yes, that means the Jets could be back to Square 1, searching for a franchise quarterback as soon as next March. But at least they won't be stuck with an overpaid, overrated retread that they can't afford to dump.
By next March, McCown will have served his purpose. He will have been the bridge to the future, whether that future is bright or not.