When Bryce Petty broke the football internet on Monday by pointing to his improving Madden prowess as proof of the on-field leap he’s poised to make in his second season, it reminded everyone that the Jets appear to be heading toward the worst quarterback competition in recent memory. It’s all fun and games — until the Jets actually have to start one of these guys.
Petty, Geno Smith, and Christian Hackenberg are the three passers currently on the Jets roster. The team is still in talks to re-sign free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it’s hard to view him as an ideal solution when he’s barely above average. It also speaks to how dire things really are: The guy who cost the Jets a playoff spot by throwing three fourth-quarter picks against the Bills in Week 17 last season is now the only thing standing in the way of a catastrophic offensive situation in 2016. And of course, even if the sides agree to terms, the current stalemate guarantees that Fitzpatrick will miss at least a chunk of offseason workouts and practices.
Few things that seem destined to be disasters actually wind up being as bad as we all imagined they’d be. The Adam Sandler Netflix movies are one exception; the Jets’ current quarterback situation is another. The core of the problem is that, against all odds, the Jets are actually a very good team: Changes to the front office and coaching staff have obscured the fact this group is largely positioned to win now. But the Jets aren’t acting like it.
Owner Woody Johnson said last week that there isn’t “any real urgency” to finalize a deal with Fitzpatrick. Here’s the urgency: By failing to secure a better passer, the Jets are wasting an otherwise incredibly strong roster in a weak year for the division. On the surface, the stars seem to be aligning for the Jets in the AFC East: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may be suspended for the first four games of the season; Buffalo’s 2016 first-round pick, Shaq Lawson, needs shoulder surgery, while star receiver Sammy Watkins has a broken foot; and the Dolphins are the Dolphins. The Jets should be challenging for the division title this season, but they’ll struggle to do so without a better QB.
All 31 other teams have a better plan: Even the 49ers are pumping up Blaine Freaking Gabbert. No other team is trying to sign Fitzpatrick, because no other team is that devoid of options under center; even the franchises that aren’t positioned to contend have better options.
They didn’t make a serious push for a first-round QB like Paxton Lynch, who wound up going to the Broncos near the end of Round 1, and they didn’t appear to aggressively pursue a proven backup like Cincinnati’s AJ McCarron. The kid they reached for in the second round, Hackenberg, struggled mightily in his sophomore and junior seasons in college and was one of the most divisive prospects in the draft.
Star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who’s playing on the franchise tag, is probably in his final season with the team. Darrelle Revis, who will be 31 when the season starts, has few prime years left. Brandon Marshall is still one of the best receivers in the game and Eric Decker is one of the best no. 2 receivers any team has. Lineman Sheldon Richardson is still on the rookie contract that pays him $3.2 million this season. The Jets should be peaking this season.
And that’s the tragedy of their plan, or lack thereof. Most awful quarterback competitions take place when the wider roster is also a dumpster fire. Brodie Croyle, Trent Green, and Damon Huard once battled for the starting Kansas City job, which was incredibly appropriate for the 2007 Chiefs. But the 2016 Jets are not the 2007 Chiefs. They have a great defense and a generally good roster, and they’re going to risk it all by allowing the worst quarterback competition in a decade to actually take place.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 19, 2016.