<
>

Jets stuck between tank and a hard place, with top college QBs at stake

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If the NFL draft were held today, the New York Jets would pick 11th, which means they currently reside in the region known as No Man’s Land. They’re as far away from the No. 1 overall pick as they are a playoff spot, hardly the ideal place for a franchise that covets a young quarterback with the ability to start for, oh, 10 to 15 years.

When the Jets look up, they can see the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen in the wild green yonder. When they look down, they can spot the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The Jets are the ultimate middle men.

This predicament sets up a fascinating dilemma for the Jets as they reset during the bye week and prepare for the final six games of a season that almost certainly won’t result in a wild-card berth.

Do they play for the future (i.e. a high-draft pick) or do they keep grinding, hoping to steal a few more wins?

Come on, you know exactly how Todd Bowles will approach it.

The Jets' coach, fighting for his job, isn’t about to turn the page to 2018, which would entail benching Josh McCown. A quarterback switch would be the only “tanking” move of any significance; Bowles already is playing his young players on both sides of the ball, in case you haven’t noticed. A call to the bullpen would be akin to a wave of the white flag.

Not happening, as Bowles indicated Monday. Asked if he could envision a scenario where he pulls McCown in favor of a late-season audition for Bryce Petty and/or Christian Hackenberg, he said, "I'm not coming up with a scenario right now."

So there you go.

You wonder how this will play in the Jets’ second-floor offices, where general manager Mike Maccagnan is plotting ways to find a quarterback and would love to have a top pick. The way the organization's power is divided, he doesn’t have control over the lineup -- Bowles does -- so he can only sit back and wait for the games to be played and the draft order finalized.

"That stuff will play itself out," Maccagnan said last week, commenting on whether quarterback will be a draft priority. "We’re preparing as we normally do with the college draft process and eventually with the pro free agency. We’ll sort of sit down and analyze everything at the end of the season and figure out where we want to go with that."

At 4-6, the Jets already have won too many games to land a top-3 pick. The Cleveland Browns (0-9), San Francisco 49ers (1-9) and New York Giants (1-8) are comfortably “ahead” of the Jets. They probably could lose their way into the top five or six, which could put them in play for a quarterback. If it's not Rosen or Darnold, who may stay in school, it could be Josh Allen or a late riser.

Therein lies the dilemma: Is it more important to win and feel good about yourself now or lose and build hope for the future? It's one of the great questions in sports. It's almost impossible to have both; you can't have your tank and eat it, too.

Chances are, the only way to get into the top three is to trade up, and that will be costly. In 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles gave up five draft picks, including their 2016 and 2017 first-rounders, to move up six spots to take Carson Wentz at No. 2. It was a great move, obviously, but will there be a Wentz or Jared Goff in the '18 draft?

For the Jets, the final six games will be weird. Each win will weaken their draft position and raise the cost of trading up. It all seemed so simple in early September, but they complicated it by winning three in a row. Such nerve.

Me? I'm with Bowles: You win now and worry about the future in the future.