Contractually, coach Todd Bowles has no control over the 53-man roster and personnel moves — that’s the general manager’s domain — but he’s in charge of the lineup every week. He will play the players who give him the best chance to win because that’s what coaches do, especially coaches coming off a 5-11 season. For Week 1, that probably means Josh McCown at quarterback.
The question is, is that what the higher-ups want?
The New York Jets have a potential storm developing at quarterback; you can see it forming on the horizon.
Clearly, owner Woody Johnson is already focused on 2018 — what, is there a ’17 season? — and part of that long-term view means evaluating QB Christian Hackenberg and determining whether he’s the future of the franchise.
Based on the David Harris and Eric Decker bombshells, Johnson is prepared to go with the kids even if it means losing big, with the hope that it leads to a brighter future. One school of thought suggests the Jets should start the season with Hackenberg, because why not? After all, what’s the difference between 2-14 and 4-12, right?
That would be the wrong approach, and if Johnson forces his coach to go with Hackenberg before he’s ready … well, he’d return the Jets to their dysfunctional days. Hackenberg shouldn’t be the opening-day starter unless he earns the job in the preseason. There should be no freebies, not even in a rebuilding year, because it sends a bad message to the rest of the locker room.
“I know what I can do and I know what my coaching staff feels I can do,” Hackenberg said Tuesday, adding, “I’m confident I can play at this level and play at a high level. When I get the opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Love the attitude — a quarterback needs that kind of moxie — but he still has to show it on the field. Until he does that, or until McCown hits the inevitable wall, Hackenberg should remain on the sideline. Relax, it’s a long season. He’ll still start at least 10 games, count on it.
This is bigger than just the quarterback position. The Jets are installing a new offense with young receivers and young tight ends, and they need someone who can manage the game and allow the skill-position talent to develop. That’s McCown’s job; he’s the classic bridge quarterback. He’ll get the offense to a certain point, and then it will be time to turn it over to Hackenberg.
Speaking to season-ticket holders last week at a town hall, Bowles suggested he has a pretty good idea of how the quarterback competition will turn out, noting that Hackenberg and Bryce Petty are fighting an uphill battle because they lack experience in a West Coast-style system. It’s not hard to connect the dots. Bowles expects McCown to emerge, probably to the chagrin of the fan base.
How general manager Mike Maccagnan figures into this equation is unclear. Publicly, he is always deferential to Bowles when it comes to lineups and playing time, but what if Maccagnan starts getting pressure from Johnson to play Hackenberg? Look, I don’t want to predict a season of palace intrigue, because I think we’re talking about three genuine people who want the franchise to succeed, but things get sticky in corporate America when jobs are on the line.
Maccagnan said he signed McCown because he’s “a veteran presence in there. I think he’s good for those two young players. That will play itself out over time, and Todd will make that determination of who’s going to start and who’s going to play. There’s a lot of football left to be played before we get to that determination of who’s going to actually start.”
It sounds good now, but there are conflicting agendas within the organization, and that could lead to tension down the road.