The No. 1 priority for the Jets heading into this offseason was unquestionably to find a quarterback. Nothing else came close. Without a quarterback, nothing else really mattered. The Jets were desperate.
Or so we all thought.
But the more the quarterback search dragged on, the more it looked like one of these two things was true:
Either the Jets really had no plan to find a quarterback, or their plan was that their 2017 starting quarterback was on their roster all along.
"I think they might already have their quarterback," said one NFL source who has spoken to the Jets about their quarterback situation. "I think they're committed to (Christian) Hackenberg."
That's a theory, of course -- albeit an informed and educated one, considering the lack of other attractive options and the fact that Hackenberg was a second-round pick last year. But it's an option that's increasingly impossible to rule out, considering the odd directions this offseason search for a quarterback has gone -- a search that ended Monday night when they signed 37-year-old Josh McCown to a one-year, $6 million deal.
The Jets, maybe more than any other team, should've had a mad scramble to find the best available quarterback, maybe at any price.
But that doesn't describe their meandering, patient, relatively dull search at all.
They did not appear to offer a strong pursuit of Mike Glennon, the free-agent quarterback they liked the best, according to multiple sources. Before free agency began, Jets coach Todd Bowles warned the market might get "crazy." Maybe the Jets were scared off by the three-year, $45 million contract the Chicago Bears offered, or maybe Glennon just wanted to go to Chicago all along.
Whatever it was, the Jets clearly didn't feel desperate enough to even try to top that offer to what really was the best option on the market: a 27-year-old with starting experience who potentially could've been the Jets' quarterback for years. That left them staring at an uninspiring market filled with journeymen -- and there still is no urgency from them.
They seemingly didn't put up much of a fight when 31-year-old Brian Hoyer signed a two-year, $12 million deal with San Francisco. It's been 11 days since the Bears cut Jay Cutler, the most accomplished quarterback on the market, and the 33-year-old still hasn't been brought in for a visit with the Jets. McCown, 37, was wooed over the weekend. And before he signed, the Jets flirted in person with Chase Daniel, a 30-year-old career backup with two NFL starts.
They never even looked hard in the direction of Colin Kaepernick, who once led the 49ers to the Super Bowl yet sits unbothered by the Jets or any NFL team (much to Spike Lee's dismay). Nor was there any indication the Jets have had any substantive trade talks for promising young quarterbacks like A.J. McCarron (Cincinnati) or Trevor Siemian (Denver).
Given those plus the fact they settled on one of the oldest quarterbacks on the market certainly suggest they had another preferred option all along.
When pondering that, it's important to remember that less than three weeks ago, when GM Mike Maccagnan was asked if his starting quarterback for 2017 was already on the roster, he said "possibly." Asked the same question a few days earlier, Jets coach Todd Bowles agreed "It's possible." Sure, at the moment they are technically the only possible options. But their lack of urgency in exploring other possibilities sure suggests that maybe they think one of those is a better option than most people think.
"We do like our two young quarterbacks," Maccagnan said at the NFL combine in early March. "But they are both young and they both have to go out there and earn whatever position they may eventually have on the team."
If the Jets are committed to giving them a chance, it explains why they dipped into the end of the free-agent pool where McCown resided. He's competent enough to be a Day 1 starter, but at a point in his career where he'll accept being a placeholder for someone else.
And make no mistake: Despite what so many see as a lost rookie year for the 22-year-old Hackenberg, the Jets will give him a chance at some point. They took him in the second-round for a reason, and despite the fact that he didn't play a down last season, team sources continue to indicate they are high on his talent and potential. (Yes, Bryce Petty could be in the mix too, but he won't start throwing until next month due to a shoulder injury, and the Jets were not impressed by his four-start run last year.)
Unless they draft another quarterback in the high rounds -- seemingly unlikely, since that would essentially be admitting they made a high-round mistake on Hackenberg -- maybe the plan really is to give the kid (or kids) a chance. Maybe they want to bring in a veteran to help with the learning curve, and to offer a little cover if neither one of them are ready to go for Week 1.
As the days go on, that looks more and more likely. Maybe the Jets really do think their quarterback of the future is already here.