From a political perspective, the term “bridge to nowhere” is often used to describe a structure designed to serve low-population areas at a hefty cost, a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Washington.
The bridge quarterback is a popular term in the NFL in that sometimes you need to swallow hard and move forward with a less-than-desirable option while searching for the long-term answer.
The New York Jets, however, are quickly finding out that Ryan Fitzpatrick turned out to be the league’s version of the “bridge to nowhere” as they talk turkey with 37-year-old journeyman Josh McCown.
It’s not like the Jets haven’t tried to formulate a destination for that bridge with Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg drafted in recent seasons, but Smith was a bust as the team’s supposed future after being selected as the 39th overall pick in the 2013 draft and has now changed locker rooms at MetLife Stadium, trading in “Gang Green” for “Big Blue” as Eli Manning’s backup with the Giants.
Petty, a fourth-round selection in 2015, and Hackenberg, a second-rounder last year, are so ill-prepared to take over the reins that the Jets are talking numbers with McCown, who will turn 38 in July, and are also considering bringing in the enigmatic Jay Cutler, not exactly the kind of leader you want mentoring prized prospects.
But the dirty little secret here is that Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan already understands Petty and Hackenberg aren’t the answers and has already moved on from a mental perspective.
In the case of Petty, that’s really not that big of a deal because fourth-round picks not named Dak Prescott don’t exactly have a long and storied history of developing into competent NFL starters. Meanwhile, Petty was already really behind the eight-ball after playing his college ball in Baylor’s spread offense, having to learn NFL-level protections and progressions at the professional level with less-than-ideal arm strength.
The real faux pas, however, was Hackenberg, a player many believed Maccagnan threw out his back reaching for with the 51st overall pick last April. The Penn State product is straight out of central casting for an NFL QB at 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds but reports out of North Jersey were anything but good last season as the Jets’ season fizzled.
Despite Fitzpatrick coming off the rails and Smith getting injured, Jets coach Todd Bowles went to Petty to finish things out and never even considered Hackenberg despite that the fact the coach’s job was on the line.
Typically, that does mean going with the guy who gives you the best chance to win on any given Sunday, and that’s the strategy Bowles employed. However, if you have a young quarterback who you really believe is going to be the starter at some point, inserting him can actually buy a coach some time with the critics.
Bowles never considered Hackenberg and now the guy tied to drafting him, Maccagnan, is also on the clock when it comes to his employment, and he is flashing little interest in showing the courage of his convictions with Hackenberg.
When evaluating an NFL front office, never concern yourself with what they say, watch what they do and everything New York has done, from its interest in Tyrod Taylor and Mike Glennon to its contract discussions with McCown and keeping Cutler on speed dial, screams that they have no confidence in Hackenberg.
And that means the Jets are about to break ground on their next bridge to nowhere.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRag Sports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season on ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, CBS Baltimore, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.