By Jason Keidel
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The Jets have a geriatric at quarterback, who turns 39 on July 4. Their backup, Bryce Petty, has no future as a starter. Their other backup, Christian Heckenberg, is so inept he once got removed from a practice for improperly breaking a huddle.
Even with all their woes at quarterback, dating back to when they parted ways with Joe Namath, the Jets should not court Kirk Cousins, the soon-to-be free agent who was so popular in Washington his boss once called him “Kurt Cousins.” Who, despite being in his prime and passing for an average of 4,400 yards over the last three years, was given his walking papers when the Redskins traded for Chiefs QB — and eternal bridesmaid — Alex Smith.
Some see Smith as Cousins Lite. Others see Smith as a slight upgrade, a more mobile version. Either way, Smith is little more than Cousins 2.0, which says something about Cousins or at least what Washington thinks about him. They traded for a 33-year-old veteran with a reputation for shrinking in big games rather than keep their 29-year-old supposed franchise QB, who has only started one playoff game. Cousins’ career record of 26-30-1 is a model of mediocrity.
If Cousins really were a franchise quarterback worth franchise money, would the club have grabbed his building key so quickly, with so little effort to re-sign him? No doubt he’s exponentially better than anyone the Jets have now, but that’s not a good reason for breaking the bank for a middle-of-the-road quarterback. Indeed, let’s compare Cousins to McCown in 2017. Cousins went 7-9, threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 64.3 percent of his passes. With a much weaker roster, McCown went 5-8, threw for 2,926 yards, 18 TDs and nine interceptions while completing 67.3 percent of his passes. The Jets paid McCown $6 million for similar production as Cousins, who will command at least $25 million yearly.
There’s little, if any, history to suggest signing another team’s leftovers, especially at quarterback, helps you win Super Bowls. Jim Plunkett was one. He led the Raiders to two Super Bowls when no one else pined for his services. Joe Gibbs squeezed a Super Bowl ring out of Doug Williams. The Rams backed into a Hall of Famer when grocery-bagger-turned-NFL-MVP Kurt Warner stepped in for Trent Green. (Peyton Manning doesn’t count. He was only a free agent because the Colts hit the gridiron jackpot by drafting Andrew Luck.) Nine times out of 10, you draft, nurture and develop your franchise QB, not bring a free agent a suitcase bulging with cash.
The more preferable way to build a football team is using the Seattle Seahawks template. Draft a Russell Wilson, pay him rookie wage for four years, spend the extra cash on the players around him, then be set when it’s time to crack open the vault for your franchise QB. Sounds quite facile, for sure, and coaches and GMs are fired yearly for failing to do exactly that.
But the answer to your eyesore of a quarterback is not to spend at least $125 million — surely the price Cousins will eventually be paid — with at least $80 million guaranteed, for someone dumped by the team that needed him and knew him best. While Gang Green has ample cap space (roughly $80 million under the tax threshold), they need help everywhere except defensive line and at strong safety, where Jamal Adams looks like an All-Pro for the next decade. Even if you can afford Cousins, why spend all that loot for essentially the same production you got from your current starter? At one-fourth the cost?
If the Jets make it rain on Cousins, where will the money come to sign other players, to fill the myriad holes in the roster? Gang Green needs help everywhere except defensive line and at strong safety, where Jamal Adams looks like an All-Pro for the next decade.
For all the talk that you must have a top-three pick in this year’s draft to bag a franchise quarterback, a mock draft from CBSSports.com has the Jets grabbing USC QB Sam Darnold at No. 6. The same mock draft has the Cleveland Browns taking UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, the Giants selecting Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown, the Colts picking up Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, the Browns taking Texas offensive tackle Connor Nelson with their second first-round pick and the Broncos scooping up SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton. The only real variable there is the Jets roommates at MetLife Stadium, the Giants, taking a tackle instead of a QB. The Colts and Browns won’t need a QB if Cleveland indeed takes Rosen. And Denver is considered a real suitor for Cousins.
If Darnold lasts until the sixth pick, the Jets’ quarterback problem is solved and prayers answered. Keep McCown one more year and let Darnold learn the NFL from the sideline for 16 games. Let the Broncos get Cousins. Denver is much closer to contention than the Jets, and Broncos icon and team president, John Elway, one of the five greatest QBs in history, knows how to lure and mentor his own.
The Jets aren’t the Yankees. They don’t have a glorious history of poaching other teams’ players. Even if they signed Cousins, to whom would he throw the ball? Robby Anderson, who just got arrested on a litany of charges during a rather dangerous joyride? Who will block for Cousins? Who will run the ball? The mummified Matt Forte?
There’s no shortcut to building a roster. Not in the NFL. The Jets may have bombed at high draft picks before. But that’s no reason to stop trying. Because if they get it right, especially this year, and at this position, they can actually turn this tanker around faster than ever.
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