By Brad Carroll
It's no secret the New York Jets need a franchise quarterback. With Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick as possible starting passers for next season, the Jets are short on talent, excitement and possibility.
In just about six weeks, the Jets will be drafting No. 6 overall during the NFL Draft and two potential franchise quarterbacks will be available at the top. One, former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, is likely to go first overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The other, former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, has been and will continue to be linked to any number of teams before his name is read by commissioner Roger Goodell on April 30.
Despite all the question marks surrounding Mariota and his ability to transform from running a college-based offense to a professional style, a big jump, he still should be atop the Jets' draft board. Mariota is the only one with the chance to become a franchise quarterback, and the Jets must take that chance.
Of course, Mariota might not be available at No. 6 if a host of other franchises ruin the Jets' night. There are six teams that could swoop in and steal Mariota from the Jets. Here are those biggest challengers to the Jets' never-ending quest to find a franchise quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At No. 1 overall, the Bucs are fully expected to take Winston. If they switch in the days leading up to the draft and take Mariota instead, Winston automatically goes to the top of the Jets' wish list. Now, that would be something. It's not likely to happen, however.
Tennessee Titans: At No. 2 overall, the Titans are the most likely team to ruin the Jets' chances at Mariota. Currently, the Titans have Zach Mettenberger penciled in as their starting quarterback. Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick last year, threw for just over 1,400 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games. Do you really believe the Titans are ready to anoit Mettenberger their quarterback of the now and future? I didn't think so. As much as Jets fans would want to discount Tennessee's interest in Mariota, there is a great chance the former Duck will become a Titan on draft day. There is also the very real chance the Titans trade out of the pick to a team willing to pay a big price to move up and grab Mariota. When the Titans are on the clock, the 15 minutes will seem like a lifetime for the Jets and their fans.
Washington Redskins: At No. 5 overall, the Redskins could draft Mariota and have him compete with Robert Griffin III. But it would be extremely difficult for the Redskins to pass on another position of need (and they have many), all the while giving up on RG3, who became a quick star and folk hero during his rookie season, only to flounder the past two years. If Washington determines before the draft it doesn't want Griffin to start again, Mariota becomes a great possibility. There is also the chance the Redskins trade the pick to a team looking to jump the Jets and take Mariota. If Mariota is still on the board, Jets fans might not be able to handle the anticipation.
Cleveland Browns: At No. 12 and No. 19, the Browns have the ammunition to trade up (maybe even with the Jets) to take Mariota. The Browns have Johnny Manziel, a first-round draft pick last year, and signed Josh McCown in free agency, so it wouldn't make much sense to invest more in the position.
New Orleans Saints: At No. 13 and No. 31, the Saints are another possible team who could trade up. Drew Brees is nearing the end of his career, and Mariota could be groomed as his replacement, but it would be a shocker if the Saints did make the move.
Philadelphia Eagles: With the 20th overall pick and quarterback Sam Bradford as possible trade pieces, the Eagles could put together a package to move up and take Mariota, who has long been rumored to be a favorite of head coach Chip Kelly. We'll all have to wait and see if the rumored Eagles' interest in Mariota is real or simply talk-show fodder.
San Diego Chargers: Could the Chargers be prepared to move on from Philip Rivers? It might happen after the quarterback said he's prepared to play out the final year of his contract, which could make him a free agent. The Chargers could trade Rivers, instead of possibly losing him for nothing a year from now, to a team high enough where they could take Mariota. If Mariota is on the board at No. 6, and the Chargers make a phone call, things could get real interesting for the Jets and their fans. Mariota or Rivers? For the Jets, it's a no-brainer to take Rivers. But this scenario is too good to ever happen to a team with extreme bad luck when it comes to finding franchise quarterbacks.