By Brad Carroll
The New York Jets haven't had a true franchise quarterback since the days of Ken O'Brien, and there are many, many fans of the team who will say the void at the most important position in all of football goes all the way back to Joe Namath. So, here we are in 2015, and the Jets still have no immediate answer at quarterback going into the offseason.
Incredibly, for the fourth straight year, the Jets are forced to look outside the organization for a potential answer at the position. The previous three resulted in two incumbents keeping their jobs (Mark Sanchez, after the Jets flirted with Peyton Manning, and Geno Smith, who beat out Michael Vick last year) and a rookie (Smith) winning the spot after getting drafted in the second round.
For the fourth straight year, we're here, again, to break down the possible starting quarterbacks from the current roster, the draft, trade options and free agency to solve the never-ending problem.
Maybe this will be the year the Jets find their franchise quarterback. Maybe we'll be here a year from now looking at more potential saviors. For the right now, here are the players who could be starting at quarterback for the Jets next season.
Geno Smith: Nobody wants Smith to return as the starting quarterback for what would be his third straight season. Smith doesn't have the talent to be a starting quarterback in the league, let alone a franchise passer. The Jets need a franchise quarterback in the worst way, so there's no reason to waste any more time developing Smith into a player he'll never be. But Smith is likely the favorite to be the Jets starting quarterback next year. Why? Because it's not easy to find a quarterback in this league. Unlike the three previous seasons of doing this quarterback hunt, having the incumbent remain the starter could be a season-killer before a game is even played.
Matt Simms: He's not Phil Simms. He's not even Geno Smith.
Jay Cutler: The current Chicago Bears starting quarterback is far and away the best talent on this entire list. He'd be an incredible upgrade over Smith. But we all know the problems that come with having Cutler as your starting quarterback. He doesn't appear to be interested at all in winning games, and that attitude, which is most likely completely incorrect, wouldn't fly in the media capital of the world. The media would eat him alive. The fans would do the same. The moment Cutler dropped his head after a game-ending interception or is caught laughing on the sideline with the Jets losing and it's over for him in New York. He'd likely crash and burn rather quickly. So, talent-wise, Cutler is the perfect quarterback for the Jets to trade for. But all things considered, including compensation, and Cutler to the Jets isn't a possibility.
Mike Glennon: The Tampa Bay quarterback could be the most realistic option on this list to start for the Jets next season. It will likely take a mid-round draft pick to get him, but Glennon would be an interesting player for the Jets to add. He's heading into his third season out of NC State and has two years left on his contract. He started 13 games in 2013 and passed for 2,608 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He started five games last year, passing for 1,417 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Glennon's isn't likely to become a franchise quarterback, but he could be a nice stop-gap until the Jets finally find one, if they ever do. The Jets could wait until after the draft, if they come away empty-handed on Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, and trade for Glennon then. Glennon isn't going to start for the Buccaneers, so he could be had at any point.
Jameis Winston: Unless the Buccaneers get cold feet, or find out some new information between now and the draft, Winston will be taken with the No. 1 overall pick. So, there should be no chance Winston falls to the Jets at No. 6. If Winston somehow does fall, and Mariota is gone, the Jets should take about three seconds to hand in their card with the Florida State quarterback's name on it.
Marcus Mariota: Just two months ago, it was thought to be impossible for the Jets to be able to draft Mariota with the sixth overall pick. The Oregon product was thought to be the clear No. 1 overall selection of the Buccaneers, but a lot has changed since then. After a sub-par performance in the national championship game against Ohio State and questions about Mariota's talents parlaying successfully from college to the pros have seen him drop behind Winston on draft boards. While Winston has emerged as a prototypical franchise quarterback type player, Mariota has suddenly been tagged with the "system quarterback" label. If that is enough to have Mariota fall into the Jets' lap at No. 6, there should be no second-thoughts about picking him and plugging him into the starting lineup. Mariota is everything a starting quarterback should be off the field, and has the talent to match that on the field. Of course, drafting quarterbacks in the first round is a giant crap-shoot. But the Jets have to take every opportunity they have to strike gold. Mariota might be a bust, but he could also become what the Jets have been missing for what seems like forever now, a franchise quarterback.
[Read our New York Jets seven-round mock draft, with video highlights of each player, here]
The Free Agents
Mark Sanchez: Um, there is no way a reunion happens with the Jets, although the case easily can be made he's the best of a questionable group.
Brian Hoyer: Johnny Football took his job late in the year. That doesn't say much about Hoyer's ability as a true starting quarterback in the league.
Matt Moore: Pedestrian quarterback at best who lost his job to David Garrard in the preseason three years ago and then rookie Ryan Tannehill soon after. The year prior, he threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns in 12 starts. He's better than Smith, but then again, who isn't?
Jake Locker: The eighth overall pick of the Titans in the 2011 draft, Locker is just like Sanchez and Smith, a bust of a draft pick. The Jets new hierarchy could take a chance on him and hope he can play up to what an eighth-overall pick in the draft should and could be. But we've all likely seen enough to know Locker isn't a franchise quarterback.
Who Will Start?
If you've read our Jets' seven-round mock draft, you already know who we believe will at least have a tremendous shot at starting at quarterback next year - it's Marcus Mariota. If the Jets get shut out on a quarterback in the draft, which could happen if the Titans change course and draft one or the Eagles trade up one spot ahead of the Jets to grab Mariota, the most likely starter next year is Geno Smith. It will be a big draft and offseason for the Jets, one that could determine if they will finally take a giant step forward both at quarterback and in their quest to make the postseason or suffer more of the same with Smith under center resulting in another non-playoff year.