The Jets plan to be heavy bidders in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes and they're convinced they can make a better financial offer than any team in the league.
But they're also not sure the size of their bid is going to matter as long as the Minnesota Vikings are involved.
Despite their willingness to throw a truckload of money and a heavily front-loaded contract at Cousins in an attempt to lure the free agent franchise quarterback to New York, the Jets are worried he might already be destined to sign with the Vikings instead. According to a team source, they are aware of the league-wide speculation that Cousins is ticketed for Minnesota and they are taking that threat seriously after some informal, preliminary talks with his camp this week.
Of course, they won't know officially which way Cousins is leaning until they can formally begin talks on March 12. But the source said they are worried enough that they're taking seriously the "Plans B and C and, if possible, D" that Jets coach Todd Bowles spoke about on Wednesday. They believe they can outbid the Vikings and offer a better contract structure, the source said, but they still think Cousins might go to Minnesota for what he'll believe is a better chance to immediately win.
It's easy to see why he might believe that, of course. The Vikings just reached the NFC championship game. They have one of the NFL's best defenses, several talented young receivers (Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph), and a sensational young running back in Dalvin Cook who was injured most of last year.
Not only that, they've cleared the deck at the quarterback position. They had three potential starters on their roster in last year's starter Case Keenum, and injured former starters Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater. But all three are unrestricted free agents, and the Vikings have made it clear all three are free to test the market.
"That's a dangerous thing to do if you don't have another quarterback," said one league source, "unless you know you're about to get one."
Technically they can't know, because it would be considered tampering if they've had any conversations with Cousins or his agent, Mike McCartney. Realistically, of course, tampering happens all the time around the NFL and it's safe to assume someone in Cousins camp had at least preliminary talks with officials the Vikings, Jets, Denver Broncos and any other interested teams as the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, the Vikings sure sounded like they knew something, because during Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's combine press conference he wasn't exactly overflowing with compliments about the trio of quarterbacks he's about to let go. He expressed some doubt about whether Bridgewater would ever be able to fully return from the devastating knee injury he suffered two years ago. He questioned Bradford's ability to stay healthy after multiple knee injuries.
And as for Keenum, he made it clear that he's still not sure whether he was a one-year wonder or not.
"The question is no different than is Sam Bradford going to stay healthy? Is Teddy Bridgewater going to be able to [return] to where he was?" Zimmer said. "Is Case Keenum the quarterback he was last year or who he was three years ago?
"All three of our guys have questions. There's no doubt about it, and it's our job to do the very best we possibly can to figure out who is the right guy, the right fit."
Zimmer called it "the $64,000 question with all three of our guys," but really it's a question worth $30 million per year - the price Cousins is expected to command in free agency. The Vikings have around $50 million in cap room and could create more, so they certainly can get in the bidding. What they probably can't do is what the Jets believe they can do: Offer the most guaranteed money and the most money up front.
And if the finances are all that matters, the Jets believe they have a tremendous shot at landing the franchise quarterback they've been searching for since Joe Namath. They're just not sure that money will be all that matters to Cousins. The Vikings clearly can offer Cousins the best chance to be an immediate winner.
And the Vikings are sounding and acting like they know it - and that Cousins knows it - too.