By Brad Carroll
As the low-level quarterbacks continue to be crossed off the board during the "legal tampering" portion of NFL free agency, everyone is still looking for the New York Jets to make their move. Whether it be a marquee name like Tony Romo or Jay Cutler, or a retread in Geno Smith (seriously, it could happen), everyone is excepting the Jets to make some kind of splash, whether big or small.
But the best option for the Jets isn't on the market right now, he's actually currently under contract with the team.
That's right, the best option at quarterback for the Jets is a guy who has made no impact in the NFL. A guy that some project to be nothing more than a career backup, if he's lucky. A guy who would have no business starting for any other team in the league.
And, no, it's not Bryce Petty, who picked up some fans along the way last season during an uneven campaign in which he took over for Ryan Fitzpatrick at times. Petty showed nothing during his short stint on the field to convince anyone he is the long-term answer at quarterback. And that's exactly what the Jets need - a long-term answer.
That's why the best choice to lead the Jets at quarterback next year is Christian Hackenberg, who played not one snap last year as a rookie out of Penn State.
Make no mistake, I don't have a crystal ball, and I'm not crowning Hackenberg the answer to the Jets' long nightmare of not having a franchise quarterback. But I am more than willing to give him a shot to prove he can be.
Even the most optimistic Jets fan would admit next season is going to be a tough one. The Jets have already jettisoned most of their high-priced, high-profile players, including Brandon Marshall, who signed with the rival New York Giants because he wants to play for a playoff contender. That's a bad sign for the Jets' prospects, although it's not like Marshall knows for sure what his former team will turn out to be.
But the moves by general manager Mike Maccagnan does show this is the start of a rebuild for the Jets, and rebuilds take time.
So, in a transition year, why not give a quarterback with a potential future the chance to prove himself on the field? Why not see what Hackenberg has, by playing a whole season, before coming to the conclusion the Jets still need a quarterback next year?
The best case scenario heading into free agency and the draft would be the Jets add quality, young players, especially on the offensive line, and use the draft to add the best available player, sure, but more a playmaker (LSU RB Leonard Fournette would be the perfect choice at No. 6, as things stand currently) to help out Hackenberg as well.
With a solid offensive line, a strong running back platoon, young wide receivers, and hopefully a rookie tight end in what is a very strong and deep class, Hackenberg will be more than protected to prove himself on a level playing field.
If he succeeds, at the end of the season the Jets might actually have an answer to their franchise quarterback void. And what a success that would be.
If he fails, nothing is lost except for a season that likely wasn't going anywhere in the first place. A bad season by Hackenberg and the Jets could also put the team in position to draft USC quarterback Sam Darnold, who may or may not still be a top prospect next year, or even an option at all, as he could stay with the Trojans. But a terrible season will put the Jets in position to draft a potential franchise quarterback.
Success or failure doesn't matter. The Jets will be in better position because of it.
It's not easy for anyone to hand the team over to an unproven player with more detractors than supporters. It's not the most popular opinion, especially since Jets fans have a soft spot for Petty, for reasons I can not pin-point. But when it comes to handing over the keys to the offense next year, it has to be Christian Hackenberg taking the driver's seat. Then, it's fully up to him to prove he's the guy or not.
The Jets will be set up for future success either way.