Though Rookie Darnold Is Future Of Franchise, Ex-Viking Already Pushing McCown For Temporary Starting Nod

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Teddy Bridgewater, New York Jets starting quarterback?

It could very well happen.

With most of the attention understandably on Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and to a lesser degree Josh McCown, a fan favorite and ultimate team guy, Bridgewater has been treated by many as a bit of an afterthought.

Only, he shouldn’t be. The guy can flat-out play, as he showed Tuesday during the first practice of the Jets’ organized team activities.

“I’m just focused on the now and what’s ahead of me,” Bridgewater said. “I’m happy to be here. We have a great team, a group of young guys who are anxious to continue to make noise in this league. That’s very exciting to be a part of.”

Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater, then of the Minnesota Vikings, warms up before the game against the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 28, 2016, in Minneapolis. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Bridgewater, a first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings back in 2014, is simply happy to be on the field after missing most of the past two seasons due to a gruesome, career-threatening injury that he suffered in August 2016. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and dislocated the knee joint on a non-contact play that had many wondering if he’d ever play again.

His comeback took a positive turn late last season, when he threw two passes — one was intercepted — in a game for the Vikings. But Minnesota moved on from the former Louisville star after the season and allowed him to become a free agent.

Never envisioning having a shot at Darnold in the draft, the Jets went into the offseason with a plan to solve their long-running problem at quarterback. They hoped to acquire two veterans and then draft a quarterback, presumably someone outside of the elite talents, Darnold and Josh Rosen. In addition, it had become readily obvious that the signal-callers under contract, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, had no future with the organization. They have since been jettisoned — Petty released and Hackenberg traded to Oakland for a conditional seventh-round pick.

The Jets got things started by re-signing veteran McCown, who was enjoying his best season before a broken hand against Denver in mid-December sidelined him for the rest of 2017, to a one-year, $10 million contract. Not long after, they signed Bridgewater to a one-year, $6 million deal.

Then, inexplicably, USC star Darnold fell in their laps at the draft.

MOREJets’ Darnold Goes High-Tech, Employs Training That Could Help All Quarterbacks

McCown was considered the odds-on favorite to start the 2018 season, due in part to his success last season and also to allow highly touted Darnold time to ease into what many believe will be a franchise-defining role with the Jets for at least the next decade.

Bridgewater, on the other hand, was just kind of … there.

Well, he’s got everyone’s attention now. He passed his first test this week with the Jets in a big way. His throws were mostly sharp, and he scrambled around the field several times — showing some flashes of the playmaking ability that made him a Pro Bowl selection in his second season in 2015.

“It feels great,” Bridgewater said of his knee on Tuesday.

It was uncertain as to how much Bridgewater would be able to do at the start of OTAs, but the quarterback wasn’t limited at all despite having his left knee wrapped. It was an encouraging performance as he worked behind incumbent McCown with the first-team offense in team drills.

“I’ve been working with the training staff,” Bridgewater said. “We’ve been making some great progress. The goal is to get better each day. That’s our primary focus right now. That’s my focus as an individual goal, and we’re going to continue to just make those strides.”

Working in Bridgewater’s favor is the fact that McCown, who will turn 39 on July 4, is clearly not in the Jets’ long-term plans. Bridgewater, however, is still just 25 and could give both McCown and Darnold a run for the starting job. Or, perhaps play well enough this summer to be a trade chip for New York.

“Control what you can control,” Bridgewater said. “My primary focus is to be the best teammate I can be, be the best-caliber player I can be to help the New York Jets win football games. We’re going to continue to push each other in that room, motivate each other and it’s going to trickle down the line with everyone in this locker room.”

This round of OTAs ends Thursday. The Jets will be back on the field next Tuesday through Thursday and again from June 4-7 before mandatory minicamp begins on June 12.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)