In his original life as a New York Jet, while preparing to make his first of two runs to the AFC Championship Game, Darrelle Revis stopped in a hallway outside his locker room to consider his long-term goals. Well, at least his long-term goals that didn't involve an all-out blitz on Woody Johnson's checkbook.
"I'd love to win a bunch of championships," Revis said that early January day in 2010, before losing himself in a pregnant pause. "But you know what," he finally continued, "that starts with Mark Sanchez."
As much as he has always chased after quarterback money, Revis understands that the quarterback, not the cornerback, determines whether a team is good enough to win the Super Bowl. Sanchez wasn't up to the challenge. Tom Brady? Hey, that's a different story.
Revis won his championship ring with Brady in New England, returned to the Jets on a full Woody Johnson scholarship and now runs straight into that same quarterback-or-bust reality he'd confronted five years back. Only this proposition is more forbidding than that one. Sanchez beat Brady and Peyton Manning on the road in the playoffs and has four postseason victories to his name, or four more than have been claimed by the Jets' current quarterbacks, Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was just acquired from the Houston Texans for a few tackling dummies and two rows of drill cones.
Fitzpatrick and Smith have a combined record of 44-73-1 with 148 touchdown passes, 135 interceptions and no playoff appearances. Fitzpatrick has made 89 NFL starts and has yet to manage a winning record in any season. You could point out that Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey had him in Buffalo, and Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan had him in Houston, and that both must have liked at least a little bit of what they saw. But you would also need to point out that Fitzpatrick lost his job in Houston to Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, not exactly the Ruth and Gehrig of their craft.
Mediocre and injured quarterbacks are the ones available this time of year for a sound reason: If you have a good and healthy quarterback, you keep him and you pay him. In other words, the only way the Jets will find their first franchise player since Joe Namath capable of winning it all is to draft and develop him.
So that brings us to the sixth pick in the draft, the pick the Jets won't be trading to Philadelphia so Chip Kelly can land his former star at Oregon, Marcus Mariota. That's if Kelly was telling the truth Wednesday when he called all the noise about him trading up for Mariota "crazy" and added the following:
"I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft. We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to get somebody like that, because we have too many other holes we have to take care of. We're not mortgaging our future for any particular player."
Of course, it's in Kelly's interest to convince the rest of the league he would rather bleed every second off the play clock between snaps than make a dramatic jump up the draft board to grab the quarterback of his spread offense dreams. Why would he telegraph his true desires when that would only drive up the price to pay in a trade?
But assuming Kelly wouldn't surrender the necessary assets to move from No. 20 to No. 6, and assuming that Jameis Winston goes to Tampa Bay at No. 1 and that Mariota makes it past Tennessee (at No. 2) and Washington (at No. 5), the Jets would be foolish to take a prospect other than Mariota, the Heisman winner who outplayed Winston in the College Football Playoff semifinals. At 6-foot-4, Mariota has the required pocket-passer size and arm strength to go along with wide-receiver athleticism and speed. He was good for 57 touchdowns last season at Oregon (42 passing), and he threw for 4,454 yards while giving up a mere four interceptions.
Mariota has no Winston-like issues to answer for on the character front, and Kelly and his other college coaches go on and on about his NFL readiness. You might think they're just campaigning for their guy, but Jets fans should remember something about the last quarterback their team drafted early in the first round, Sanchez. His college coach, Pete Carroll, didn't think he was ready for the pros and wasn't afraid to say so.
But in Gailey the Jets have a coordinator with experience running the spread, and in Mariota they have a potential 10- to 15-year starter who appears to have the physical skill, competitive desire, intelligence and accuracy to succeed in whatever system his NFL employer throws at him.
Let's face it: These quarterback prospects are always something of a gamble, unless the prospects are named Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. Sometimes the combine results and scouting reports and psychological evaluations mean nothing at all. If you dropped every player in NFL history into one draft tomorrow night, Tom Brady might be the first overall pick. The same Tom Brady who went 199th in 2000.
So it's possible Mariota will turn out to be an average NFL starter. The greater possibility is that he'll end up as a top-10 player at his position, which is precisely what the Jets need. Some doubters wonder if Mariota is too nice of a guy to command a team and succeed in a market in which Leo Durocher once said nice guys wouldn't finish first.
Truth is, a lot of pleasant athletes have made it big in the big city. Bernie Williams, once the genteel center fielder of the Yankees, used to say people shouldn't confuse his kindness for weakness. Williams had a personality that seemed similar to Mariota's, and things worked out just fine for him.
In the end, maybe Tennessee or Washington will make this moot by selecting Mariota at No. 2 or No. 5. But if the Jets get their shot at the Heisman winner at No. 6, or even if they find a way to trade up to get him, they should act as decisively as they did in acquiring Brandon Marshall and Revis.
In a best-case scenario, Marcus Mariota will develop into a Super Bowl MVP. In a worst-case scenario, Marcus Mariota will be a better quarterback than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.