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Lichtenstein: Jets Would Be Foolish To Trade Bridgewater

Steve Lichtenstein
August 13, 2018 - 12:02 pm
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It seemed every time rookie quarterback Sam Darnold did something well—and he did plenty well in the Jets’ 17-0 home victory over Atlanta on Friday in the preseason opener—the TV cameras panned to an applauding Josh McCown.

With a $10 million contract, McCown, 39, looked like the NFL’s highest-paid cheerleader/assistant QB coach.

Or at least he should be.

The New York dailies went quite a bit overboard on the Darnold hype considering the circumstances—nothing accomplished in the preseason ever translates to regular season success—but the Falcons game told me two things:  Darnold is not a “project” in the Christian Hackenberg mold who needs the equivalent of a redshirt season to learn the basics of playing the position, and Teddy Bridgewater sure looked like he is healthy enough to be the “bridge” to Darnold.

Either way, there is no reason for McCown, a journeyman with a 23-50 career record after starting every game last season until a Week 14 injury in Denver, to be behind center when the 2018 campaign commences in Detroit on September 10.

But this is the Jets, so anything is possible.

Bridgewater, 25, severely injured his knee at Minnesota’s 2016 training camp and hasn’t taken a meaningful snap since.  Against the Falcons, he took over for McCown on the Jets’ second series and led them to 10 points in his two possessions.  He displayed a strong arm and, more importantly, good mobility.

Again, it's preseason, so let’s not get too carried away.

The same applies to Darnold, who looked terrific while engineering a touchdown drive in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half.  Up 17, Jets coach Todd Bowles took the air out of the ball in a scoreless second half.

Those, like WFAN's Mike Francesa, who want to anoint Darnold as the Jets starter right now because of his performance in one meaningless game against backups are ridiculously premature.  Bowles is correct to take the next few weeks to make sure he gets this right.  The Jets are in the midst of a three-day joint practice in Virginia with Washington before facing them in the second preseason game on Thursday and then host the Giants on August 24.  Let the situation play itself out.

The larger point here is that there is a pretty good chance that Bridgewater will prove to be the best of this bunch.  If that’s the case—and I personally don’t see how he won’t be barring further injury —then all this chatter about him getting traded should cease.  Before Friday’s performance, several media outlets reported that Bridgewater was “available” for the right price, presumably a mid-round draft choice.

When Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan signed Bridgewater in March for one year at $6 million (with an additional $9 million in incentives, but only $500,000 guaranteed), it was hailed as a savvy insurance move.  The low guarantee protected the Jets if Bridgewater wasn’t yet physically ready to resuscitate his career and it also would provide Maccagnan a valuable asset if he was.

It sure sounded like a well-thought-out plan. 

Except if Bridgewater clearly outperforms his competition, then the Jets have a thorny issue.  They have the cap space to allocate $30.5 million (assuming that Bridgewater would reach all his playing time, passing yards and touchdowns incentives) this season on the position, but do they want to?  They could save $5 million by cutting McCown prior to Week 1, but does anyone believe that will happen given the platitudes bestowed upon him for his role as a mentor?

More likely is a scenario where the Jets use the grooming of Darnold as an excuse to make Bridgewater appear expendable like he’s in Darnold’s way.  They seemed to be laying the groundwork by reportedly giving Darnold the vast majority of the first-team reps at Sunday’s truncated (by torrential rain) practice, which has been interpreted by the media as a likely indication that he will start on Thursday. 

Trading Bridgewater, who I believe would emerge as their most qualified quarterback if given the opportunity, should be unfathomable.  So why does it feel inevitable? 

Because this is the Jets.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.