INDIANAPOLIS - In 12 days the Jets will begin what figures to be an intense and massive pursuit of free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins - a push that could mark the end of their decades-long search an heir to Joe Namath.
But despite their $100 million in salary cap room they know they are not guaranteed to win the Cousins sweepstakes. That's why they have a backup plan - or two, or possibly more.
"We have a Plan, A, B, and C," said Jets coach Todd Bowles at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday. "Obviously we have some things with free agency and the draft coming up that we'd like to have, that we're going to look for -- obviously without divulging any plans. We'll see how they play out. But we have plans for each situation."
Though neither Bowles nor GM Mike Maccagnan would say it, "Plan A" is definitely Cousins, the first true franchise quarterback to hit the open market in his prime in the free-agent era. The Jets are slightly wary of his price tag, according to a team source, knowing he's expected to land a deal worth a record $30 million annually. But the source said the Jets - particularly Bowles - want to at least try to land the proven quarterback.
And it appears they are prepared to meet his price and perhaps front-load his deal - a deal several agents speculated could bring Cousins as much as $50 million in the first year.
But what happens if Cousins wants to play elsewhere? There is rampant speculation around the league that Cousins is destined for Minnesota, where he'd replace journeyman Case Keenum on a team that just reached the NFC championship game. The Jets can compete with any team in the chase financially. But it will be hard for them to beat the Vikings - or even the Broncos - if Cousins is looking for a place where he can immediately win.
In that case, though, it's not clear what the Jets' Plan B or C actually are. The free-agent market drops off after Cousins, with perhaps Keenum or Sam Bradford being the best of the rest. Nick Foles, who just won the Super Bowl with Philadelphia, could be an option, though there's no indication the Eagles are willing to trade him.
So Plan B could be the draft, where the Jets hold the No. 6 overall pick. They could sit there and land whatever quarterback is available - and in that case Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield figures to be the most likely one. Or they could trade up - something Maccagnan indicated he'd be willing to do, perhaps at the cost of the extra second-round pick he acquired in the Sheldon Richardson trade last September.
Knowing that, he could be willing to let Cousins get away, and take his chances on moving up for USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen or Wyoming's Josh Allen - the quarterbacks who at the moment figure to be the first three taken in the draft.
"I don't think we necessarily want to go into anything feeling pressured," Maccagnan said. "I think really if you go into pro free agency, there are some potential options there. We have to see how the market plays itself out."
Those potential free-agent options outside of Cousins figure to be Plan C - and they include Keenum, Bradford and even the 39-year-old Josh McCown who played so well for the Jets last season.
Obviously that's not ideal. None of those options are the ready-made solution that Cousins seems to be. But oddly, the Jets sound - at least publicly - comfortable with the idea of having to settle for someone else.
"Yeah," Bowles said. "There's a lot of situations that work out where your Plan A is never the plan that works out and Plan B or C works out even better. They're right next to each other so we feel good about it."
"I think the goal is to find that quarterback that you feel pretty comfortable with to lead your franchise going forward," Maccagnan said. "If it comes via pro free agency or the college draft, when it's all said and done we don't necessarily have a preference either way. Our goal is to try to find, identify and acquire one of those guys."
Make no mistake, though: They've identified Cousins as that guy, according to multiple team sources. Maccagnan was being coy, refusing to even call quarterback the Jets' top offseason priority, "In an attempt not to tell every other team in the NFL what we're going to do," he said.
But the NFL knows. The Jets will be after Cousins. And they have the financial ammunition to give it a heck of a shot.
"The thing we'll probably end up doing, obviously we'll be very active on the first day in terms of the higher-profile guys," Maccagnan said. "Everybody is well aware we have quite a bit of cap space to work with. There are quite a few players we're interested in."