The Cleveland Browns, unfazed by a systemic inability to identify and develop a quarterback that has condemned them to the longest playoff drought in the N.F.L., will choose one with the first pick of the draft on Thursday night.
Up next, the Giants will have 10 minutes to make a selection that will reshape both the franchise, signaling new general manager Dave Gettleman’s perception of the roster, and the remainder of the first round. In that spot, Gettleman has manifold options: keep the pick or trade down, draft quarterback Eli Manning’s successor or an elite prospect at another position.
No team is more curious about his intentions than the Giants’ co-tenants at MetLife Stadium.
Which quarterback the Jets choose at No. 3 — and, yes, after surrendering a bounty of picks last month to move up three spots, they are taking a quarterback — depends directly on the Giants’ strategy. General Manager Mike Maccagnan on Thursday night will doubtless tout the Jets’ new quarterback — be it Josh Allen of Wyoming or Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, Josh Rosen of U.C.L.A. or Sam Darnold of Southern California — as their top choice all along. But he will be happiest if the Giants take a player at a different position, perhaps the elusive running back Saquon Barkley from Penn State, thus giving Maccagnan more options.
The N.F.L. Draft Is Here. Let’s Talk About Explosive Hips.
The scouting of football players has given rise to a new language. It’s barely intelligible.
No matter how the Giants and Jets proceed, their decisions will be inexorably linked, subject to endless second-guessing, from the moment they turn in their cards.
The Jets’ ongoing rebuild hinges on Maccagnan’s ability to pick the right quarterback. At stake: his job, and that of Coach Todd Bowles. Across their four years together, they have yet to lead the Jets into the postseason.
The Giants, after bungling their quarterback situation, fired Coach Ben McAdoo and General Manager Jerry Reese with a month left in a 3-13 fiasco of a season. They hired Gettleman before the season ended so he could fire Marc Ross, who ran the team’s college scouting department, and have extra time to prepare for what is the Giants’ most critical draft since they traded for Manning in 2004.
“When you’re picking this high, if you make a mistake, you’re done,” Gettleman said last week at a pre-draft news conference. “We talk that when you miss on a quarterback, you really hurt the franchise for probably five years. It’s a five-year mistake.”
In the Jets’ case, it’s been two years since they drafted in the second round a quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) who has neither taken a snap in a game for them nor demonstrated why he should. It has been five years since they selected in the second round a quarterback (Geno Smith) remembered less for his turnover-prone tenure than for being cold-cocked in the locker room by a teammate. It has been nine years since they traded up in the first round to take a quarterback (Mark Sanchez) whose swift ascension preceded a spectacular flameout that consigned the team to this cyclical abyss.
“We may actually take a safety this year,” Maccagnan said at a news conference Monday, though no one actually believes that.
With the Texans, where he spent 15 years before joining the Jets after the 2014 season, Maccagnan was part of a front office that selected only one quarterback in the first round: David Carr, at No. 1, in 2002. He took Hackenberg two years ago, and Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015, but Maccagnan stressed that he feels no extra pressure to nail this pick.
The teams selecting early savor this opportunity for one reason only: the players chosen, they hope, will prevent them from drafting that high again. Of the Jets’ four previous top-three picks since 1967, two (Blair Thomas and Johnny “Lam” Jones) flamed out, and another, Keyshawn Johnson, lasted four productive but turbulent seasons before being traded.
The outlier is running back Freeman McNeil, whom the Jets took in 1981, the only other year two New York-area teams in any sport held top-three picks in the same draft.
McNeil rushed for more yards than anyone in team history until Curtis Martin came along, but just the Jets’ luck, the players bookending that pick are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: safety Kenny Easley, drafted fourth by Seattle, and linebacker Lawrence Taylor, taken second by Giants, who would become one of the best defensive players ever and win two Super Bowls.
McNeil’s career might pale in comparison to Taylor’s, but McNeil embodies the baseline expectation for a player taken in the top three: a long-term starter, a foundational talent. Those expectations swell to unhealthy levels for quarterbacks, who take longer to progress. The Jets’ new quarterback, whoever he is, will be entrusted to dethrone New England in the A.F.C. East, win a Super Bowl, preserve the jobs of Maccagnan and Bowles, and sell scads of tickets, jerseys and hope.
As such, what tends to drive drafts is teams’ desperation to find the next quarterback. When need supersedes all, a first round unfolds as it did in 2011, when Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder — who’ve combined to go 34-69-1 — went eighth, 10th and 12th. Among those bypassed are two of the best players at their respective positions: Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith (No. 9) and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (No. 11).
In every draft since, with the exception of 2012, at least one quarterback has gone in the top three. And of those eight quarterbacks, only Jameis Winston of Tampa Bay (2015) and Mitch Trubisky, who as a rookie started Chicago’s final 12 games last season, have failed to guide the team that drafted them to the playoffs.
The clearest path to perennial contending doubles as the best value in the league: a great quarterback on a rookie contract, with its slotted salary and modest cap charge. The financial flexibility allows teams to allocate the saved money toward fortifying their rosters. It’s how the Philadelphia Eagles, with Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick in 2016, assembled a Super Bowl champion roster, and how the Los Angeles Rams, with Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in 2016, are trying to overtake them.
It’s also how the Jets intend to return to prominence. Even after this off-season’s free-agent splurge, which included cornerback Trumaine Johnson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets could have more than $100 million in cap space for 2019, according to overthecap.com, that they can spend to aid their new quarterback.
The potential pitfall, for Maccagnan and Gettleman, is that while this year’s quarterback class is loaded with potential, there is no consensus favorite, no certain future star — no one quite like Wentz or Andrew Luck, whom the NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock in a recent conference call called his two easiest quarterback evaluations over the last decade. It’s conceivable that the first quarterback chosen will be the top quarterback on his team’s board and fourth — or lower — on others’.
Gettleman called the notion of feeling obligated to take a quarterback “hogwash,” and yet he may not get a better chance to draft Manning’s eventual replacement. He must evaluate how close the Giants are to contending this season, whether the team is talented enough to help a player like Barkley emulate Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas and Leonard Fournette of Jacksonville, two running backs who went fourth and thrived as rookies.
The mystery will end Thursday night, when the Giants and the Jets choose players, most likely one right after the other, who will share a media market, a stadium and, perhaps, a position. And if the Giants do not take a quarterback before the Jets do, the longtime personnel executive Phil Savage said, they must be convinced that their choice will be an exceptional player.
“Because,” said Savage, now the executive director of the Senior Bowl and a SiriusXM analyst, in a telephone interview, “that’s going to be the comparison for at least a decade.”
Published at Tue, 24 Apr 2018 22:32:08 +0000