By Jason Keidel
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Most legendary NFL clubs are defined or at least archived by their head coach-quarterback tandem. Even today, you won’t find any perennial playoff teams that don’t have both positions secured. For a decade, the Giants were set at both spots, with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning bagging two Super Bowls together.
Their roommates at MetLife Stadium, however, haven’t been so lucky. But that doesn’t mean that Jets coach Todd Bowles and QB Josh McCown should be shown the door after this season. Indeed, you could argue both coached and played well above the subterranean expectations we placed on the Jets this season. And you have to be at least slightly impressed by both.
The case to keep Bowles is simple. The Jets roster was bereft of stars and high-end starters. We wondered if they’d win a single game, yet Gang Green was 3-2 after five contests. And while they’ve regressed since, it’s clearly because of their dearth of dominant players, not because they aren’t trying.
In fact, Bowles has done an exceptional job with his ragtag bunch of castoffs, gypsies and youngsters. They played the Patriots down to the final minutes, and if not for a horrible call by the refs, they may have won. And they just played the superior Panthers neck-and-neck deep into the fourth quarter.
If you have some beef with Bowles, who replaces him? Jon Gruden is the yearly avatar of every coaching vacancy, and he never bites. Chip Kelly just took the UCLA gig. Bill Parcells is 76. So unless you have some hotshot coordinator under your pillow, Bowles is not just the safe choice, he’s the best choice to lead the Jets in 2018.
And Bowles’ quarterback this season, Josh McCown, should join him in 2018.
Maybe he doesn’t have the name or historical bona fides, but the truth is McCown has been more than serviceable this year. He’s been pretty darn good. He’s tossed a respectable 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s averaged 231 passing yards per game, more than Manning, Cam Newton, Derek Carr, and Andy Dalton. McCown’s passer rating (95.3) is better than that of Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Is McCown better than said QBs? Of course not. But it proves he belongs on the field as the Jets’ starting signal-caller this year and next.
If you’re somehow obsessed with starting fresh with a younger quarterback, you don’t have many options. You can try Christian Hackenberg in 2018. But if Gang Green had any confidence in him, they would have started him in 2017. You can try to trade for Bengals backup A.J. McCarron, who was almost dealt to Cleveland before the Browns famously botched the paperwork. What will McCarron do that McCown can’t?
You can back up the Brinks truck for Kirk Cousins, whom the Washington Post said Tuesday has made a case to be the highest-paid QB in the NFL, which is absurd. But Cousins will surely get at least $20 million a year, no matter where he plays next year. The Jets, known for being parsimonious, would be wise to keep the quid and develop a player while McCown keeps outplaying the back of his football card.
The best bet is for the Jets to toss their nth hat into the draft. Their record suggests they won’t pick high enough for a shot at USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen, but perhaps they take a flyer on Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma or Wyoming QB Josh Allen. Or maybe they can unearth a prospect in later rounds. History has shown us there’s quality in and beyond the first round of the draft. NFL history his festooned with Pro Bowl and Super Bowl quarterbacks picked well past the top-10 draft slots, or even the first round. Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Andy Dalton and Dak Prescott are just some of the more current QBs passed over during Round 1.
McCown is getting perilously close to 40 years old and surely doesn’t have more than a season or two left. But that’s not a reason to get careless and shovel away cash or draft picks for the quick, myopic fix.
You can toss a dart at the Jets’ roster and find serious needs — just about anywhere on the team except defensive line and Jamal Adams. That’s all the more reason to keep Bowles and McCown, who may have done more with less than any coach-QB duo in the NFL.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel