Ernie Accorsi knew back in 2004 that he would always be remembered as the GM that brought Eli Manning to the Giants. Whether it worked out or not, that would be his legacy, regardless of everything else he accomplished in his career.
That's the way it now is for Mike Maccagnan. He began to define his legacy as the Jets GM with the bold trade he made on Saturday to ship three second-round picks to Indianapolis to move up from 6 to 3 in the NFL draft. And in less than six weeks, on April 26, he will further define it when he picks the player he expects will be the Jets' long-awaited franchise quarterback.
Now he just better be right.
There are no second chances in this high-stakes game. Picking a quarterback near the top of the draft - which is clearly what Maccagnan intends to do - has either a right or wrong choice, and the GMs and coaches pay with their jobs for the wrong one. Accorsi, of course, got it right. His brilliant, draft-day trade - that included giving up a future No. 1 pick - resulted in him sitting in the stands watching the Giants and Manning win a Super Bowl four years later.
Now Maccagnan just needs to make sure he takes the next Manning, and not the next Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell or Akili Smith.
If he's right, Maccagnan will be a hero to a Jets nation that has been starved for a quarterback, not to mention a championship. Sure, there already some who say the Jets got robbed, trading two second-round picks this year (including one they acquired in the Sheldon Richardson trade) and another next year to move up just three spots. But that's nonsense. There is no price too high - none - for the right franchise quarterback.
It's a player that could turn a franchise into a contender for the next 10 years.
Of course, again, that's if they pick the right player. Not everyone is convinced Maccagnan can do that, especially after he spent a second-round pick on Christian Hackenberg two years ago. But there are four at the top of the draft that almost everyone seems to love - USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Wyoming's Josh Allen. If nothing else, he'll have his choice of at least two of them.
It's hard to say at the moment which one he values the most. Some in the Jets organization have expressed a concern about Mayfield, in particular how his volatile personality will play in New York. Maccagnan was at his Pro Day this week, and he was also out in UCLA to see Rosen. He'll probably be at USC for Darnold and in Wyoming for Allen at their Pro Days next week, too.
Darnold and Rosen are generally considered the top two by most around the NFL. Allen is loved by scouts and some think he might turn out to be the best of the bunch, but the consensus is he's also a bit of a longer-term project. That doesn't necessarily rule him out, though, since the Jets' put themselves in position to let a young quarterback grow with their "Plan B" in free agency - signing 25-year-old Teddy Bridgewater and veteran Josh McCown.
It does set up an interesting scenario where, if Bridgewater shows he's fully recovered and can rediscover his old form, there could actually be a battle of young quarterbacks over the next year or so for the Jets' Quarterback of the Future job. But really, after too many years of journeymen and draft busts, that would be a wonderful problem for the Jets to have.
And that's what this is all about - finding the right young quarterback, no matter how and no matter what. In the 14 years since Accorsi traded to acquire Manning for the Giants during the first round of the 2004 draft, the Jets have started 13 different quarterbacks. And the list is filled with names like Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kellen Clemens, Brooks Bollinger and an aging Brett Favre. While Manning was winning Super Bowls and starting all but one game for the Giants, Chad Pennington and Vinny Testaverde were really the best the Jets could do.
Obviously it wasn't good enough. Obviously Maccagnan knew that. And obviously all the rebuilding he's done over the last couple of years -- including the huge contracts he's doled out over the last three days -- weren't going to matter if he couldn't find his own Eli Manning. He's now set himself up to do that six weeks from now. He's in a position to make the pick that will be his legacy.
And in the end, this could turn out to be the most important trade in Jets history - as long as the player he picks doesn't turn out to be a mistake.