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New York Jets

McMullen: Jets are the NFL’s ‘bridge to nowhere’

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

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.

Christian Hackenberg

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

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 jmcmullen44@gmail.com 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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. DLCinCT

    Mar 20, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Your argument sounds really convincing, but you don’t have any facts to back up your point that Hackenberg is a bust.

    You say that the “dirty little secret” that Jets GM Mike Maccagnan already realizes that former 2nd Round Hackenberg is a bust is a well known fact, but the Jets organization won’t admit to it.

    My question is simple: How is that a well known fact?

    Hackenberg never saw the field in his rookie year. In fact, he was only active for one game.

    This shouldn’t be surprising. When the Jets chose him, both Maccagnan and Head Coach Todd Bowles said that 2016 would be a red-shirt year for Hackenberg.

    They were true to their word.

    Not only hasn’t Hackenberg played in a game, he has not, to the best of my knowledge, even been in any team practice that has been open to the public. Only people in the Jets organization have even SEEN him practice FIRST HAND.

    Reports that Hackenberg is a bust and that the New York Jets decision makers have given up on him have been numerous. As for the Jets hierarchy, everyone in the organization has said that Hackenberg’s development is proceeding, but they have given no indication that it was proceeding either well or badly.

    I’ve read many stories reporting on Hackenberg’s development, but only two that I’ve seen have actually cited people within the Jets organization as sources.

    The first was a story by a New York Jets beat writer who cited an anonymous Jets teammate of Hackenberg’s who said that the QB looked terrible in practice and that his accuracy was so bad that he couldn’t throw the football into the ocean. This story was picked up by many natonal reporting services, and many of those services cited the beat reporter’s story as their source. Those comments were pretty damning stuff.

    But who was the teammate? If it was someone like Nick Mangold or David Harris, then I’m worried. Those guys have been consummate pros and great teammates who have prudently avoided controversy their entire careers. If either of them, or someone like them, was so disheartened by what they saw of Hackenberg on closed practice fields that he felt compelled to comment about it anonymously, that doesn’t bode too well for the young QB.

    But what if the anonymous source was someone like Geno Smith or Bryce Petty? Obviously, if the unnamed source was a player who stood to gain from Hackenberg’s struggles, then anything he had to say would, and should, be taken with a grain of salt.

    The other story that offered insight into Hackenberg’s development came from a draft analysis site. This site reported that, contrary to popular reports being circulated at the time, the Jets were not high on QB prospect Mitchell Trubisky, and speculation that the Jets would select him with the 6th pick in the First Round, were Trubisky still available when the Jets picked, we’re unfounded. The author cited as his sources highly placed members of the Jets scouting team. They said the Jets hadn’t even done their analysis of the draft’s QB prospects yet. They also said that the early returns on Hackenberg’s development were so good that they weren’t even likely to draft a QB in the 1st Round ubless someone blew them away.

    So what do we believe? In a league that is so closed mouth and where so many things are treated as organizational secrets, the smart thing to do is not to put too much stock into any report that doesn’t come directly from an organizational decision maker. Even those people aren’t very likely to ever say anything that’s too substantive. This has to be even more true around draft and free agent season, when organizations play their cards extra close to their vests to avoid giving other organizations a competitive edge in trades and other personnel maneuvers.

    I don’t know WHAT the Jets are thinking. I’m the first to admit that. But my point is, neither does anybody else that isn’t in the organization. As for things that supposedly come from those people, believe what you want, but don’t bet the farm on it.

    The only way we will know how Hackenberg develops is by his play on the field. When we see that, or when we see the Jets give up on him without putting him on the field because he think so little of him, we’ll know what Christian Hackenberg is. Until then, it’s all unsubstantiated speculation.

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