Palladino: Jets Must Find Out About Hackenberg Immediately

With Rumors Swirling That USC Darling Darnold May Stay In School, Gang Green Needs Alternate Flight Plan

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

They chose yet another old, journeyman quarterback to lead the offense.

They still don’t have an offensive line.

They set their two top veteran wide receivers free in the open market, leaving them with Quincy Enunwa and Charon Peake as their “stars.”

If the Jets hadn’t consciously positioned themselves to “Suck for” Sam Darnold in next year’s draft, then it’s a mighty big coincidence. As they stand now, they stack up as one of the worst offenses in the NFL, if not the worst.

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Because of that, they could be looking at a best-case scenario of a two-win season and the No. 1 overall pick, which of course they would use on the aforementioned quarterback from Southern Cal, already considered the darling of the 2018 draft.

Funny thing, though. Rumors about Darnold’s availability have already begun, and they’re not encouraging. NFL.com reported that sources close to him indicate the redshirt sophomore might opt to spend two more of his three remaining years of eligibility at USC.

Sam Darnold

Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold runs with the ball against Penn State during the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

While it’s entirely possible that the specter of working for an organization as dysfunctional as the Jets would scare any top prospect back into school, that probably wouldn’t be Darnold’s primary motivation for rejecting the $30 million or so that would come his way as a No. 1 overall pick. The less cynical reason would be seasoning, having another year or two to learn the game and be better prepared to become a Day 1 starter for somebody, even if that somebody eventually does become the Jets in 2020.

The fan base won’t stand for such a long period of futility, though. Those folks are already frustrated from five non-winning seasons in the last six. And while they’re more than willing to sacrifice the upcoming season in hopes of landing a talent like Darnold, blowing another might trigger full-scale rebellion.

The solution is to make Darnold a secondary consideration. And to do that, the Jets need to find out what they have in Christian Hackenberg. And they need to do it fast, like as soon as they hit training camp July 28.

Since they don’t seem particularly enthralled with Bryce Petty, and journeyman Josh McCown is strictly a place-saver while either Hackenberg matures or Darnold rides to the rescue, the Jets might as well take the direct line to Hackenberg. To monkey around with McCown, be it as the nominal starter or participant in a two-man competition, serves little purpose than to put off the inevitable. Eventually, and the sooner the better, the Jets have to find out what they have in 2016’s second-rounder.

MOREJets’ Hackenberg Ignores Naysayers, Focuses On Making Progress

If the kid can play even a little, then Darnold could spend all three of his remaining years in school, and then get a master’s and two Ph.Ds for all the Jets would care. They’d have a bonafide starting quarterback capable of winning. Assuming Petty would no longer be in the picture, drafting a backup rather than a savior would become the priority.

Christian Hackenberg

Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg watches from the sidelines during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on Jan. 1, 2017. (Photo by Ed Mulholland/Getty Images)

But they can’t reach that point until they find out about Hackenberg. And what better gauge does a franchise have than experience? Even in as seemingly hopeless a situation as the Jets find themselves in now, Hackenberg can prove a lot.

Poise. Will he persevere even as the season goes from bad to miserable? Or will he fold?

Ability. Even if he throws a multitude of interceptions, is he making the right reads, and are whatever mechanical problems he’ll have correctable?

Leadership. He showed command in the huddle during the offseason practices, and that should carry over. But if it doesn’t, the hierarchy will know immediately that they’ve got the wrong guy.

If Hackenberg can’t do it, they’ve still got the 38-year-old McCown and all his experience as a fallback.

Then they can figure out the Darnold stuff once the USC star decides his future.

If Hackenberg can do it, then it won’t matter what path Darnold chooses. The Jets will be going in a different direction.

Upward.

Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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