Teddy Bridgewater's promising start could alter Jets' QB dynamic

After an impressive first week of OTAs, it's fair to put Teddy Bridgewater squarely in the mix with Josh McCown and Sam Darnold as a candidate to be the starting QB. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Three-way battle: It's still early -- very early -- but one player in particular has generated a legitimate buzz at One Jets Drive -- quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The organization couldn't be happier with Bridgewater, one of the bright spots in Week 1 of OTA practices. Not only did he perform well in the first practice, open to the media, but he maintained it throughout the week. While it's too soon to wage a "Teddy-should-be-starting" campaign -- his surgically repaired knee won't be truly tested until he gets hit in a preseason game -- it creates some interesting options for the Jets.

When they made a one-year, low-cost investment in Bridgewater, they did so with the belief that he could be flipped for a draft pick under the right circumstances. That's still on the table; his trade value is trending upward. Or they could decide to keep him because, if he stays healthy, he might be the best quarterback on the team in 2018.

After trading Christian Hackenberg, the Jets are down to three quarterbacks. In a perfect world, Sam Darnold would have a lights-out preseason and be the opening-day starter, but that's not realistic. If it happens, they should try to trade Bridgewater or Josh McCown because it wouldn't make sense to have $16 million (the combined salaries of McCown and Bridgewater) sitting on the bench.

Failing a Darnold takeover, the Jets could decide to keep all three, but that situation would have its pros and cons. It's too early to go through the various scenarios. The point is, they have options and they're in a better place than a year ago, when the organization was hoping Hackenberg or Bryce Petty would overtake McCown. As it turned out, both Hackenberg and Petty played their way out of the team's future.

Count on this: Coach Todd Bowles, who needs to win some games, will play the best quarterback. There will be no freebies. He's a big believer in Bridgewater and was thrilled when the Jets were able to sign him as a free agent.

Behind the scenes, the former Minnesota Vikings starter has impressed his new teammates with his football acumen and mental toughness -- specifically, the manner in which he's fighting back from a horrific knee injury that jeopardized his career in 2016.

"For him to keep his optimism and continue to battle, I respect the s--- out of that," wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. "Can't have nothing but respect for that."

For the first time in a long time, the Jets believe they have short- and long-term answers at quarterback. I'm really curious to see how Bowles divides the preseason game reps, because we all know it's really hard to conduct a three-way competition while preparing the offense for the regular season. It will be quite a juggling act.

2. Last months of the marriage: Hackenberg's relationship with the team wasn't all that peachy in recent months. In particular, there was friction with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, I'm told.

Speaking to reporters before the trade, Hackenberg indicated his desire to shorten his throwing motion was met with skepticism when he mentioned the idea to Bates after the season. A lot of quarterback experts believe it takes at least 8,000 reps to alter muscle memory and change a throwing motion, and Bates evidently didn't believe there was enough time to get it done in one offseason. Hackenberg's frustration was obvious as he recounted the episode.

Looking for help, Hackenberg and his agent, Rich Rosa, started to check out options, seeking guidance. He contacted former longtime NFL quarterbacks coach David Lee (a former Jets assistant under Rex Ryan), who recommended Chicago-based instructor Jeff Christensen. To Hackenberg's credit, he wasted no time, diving into the arduous challenge of overhauling his delivery.

They noticed an elongated motion in which he tended to flip his right hand backward at the top of the delivery, causing accuracy issues on close-range passes. Through countless reps and drills (60-plus sessions with Christensen), Hackenberg made his motion more compact. The changes improved his release and velocity, according to people who have seen him. Videos were sent to people in the Jets organization so they could be apprised of his progress during the dark period of the offseason, although Bowles apparently wasn't on the email chain. He said he didn't learn of it until just recently.

I'd like to say I saw Hackenberg 2.0 in Tuesday's open practice, his final day as a Jet, but he was a virtual spectator, held out of drills as the trade was being finalized. It will be interesting to see if he develops under Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden. He's a respected offensive coach, but so is Bates, who failed to make something out of the hunk of clay he inherited.

3. Terrible twos: General manager Mike Maccagnan will be forgiven for the Hackenberg flop if Darnold fulfills his potential, but let's not be naive and pretend the failure didn't cause serious damage. In essence, it cost the Jets four second-round picks.

They got nothing out of Hackenberg, a second-round choice in 2016. That factored into the decision to trade up in this year's draft -- and the price was three second-round picks. They would've been happy to stand pat if Hackenberg had demonstrated the ability to be a starting-caliber quarterback, but they felt compelled -- wisely so -- to move on and make an aggressive play for a top prospect.

4. Hackenberg's legacy: I wouldn't put him in the group with Dee Milliner, Vernon Gholston and others as the biggest draft busts in team history -- those guys were high picks -- but he certainly was a historic miss. We're talking about the first quarterback in 37 years drafted in the first two rounds who rode an NFL bench in his first two seasons, not taking a single snap. If that's not historic, what is?

5. Trivia question: Before Hackenberg, can you name the last second-round pick who didn't play for the Jets? Answer below.

6. QB eras that weren't: The Jets are known for importing quarterbacks via trade (namely Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tim Tebow and Brett Favre), but it's rare for them to actually trade away a quarterback. Before the Hackenberg trade, it hadn't occurred since 2012, when they sent Drew Stanton to the Indianapolis Colts. In 2009, they dealt Brett Ratliff to the Cleveland Browns.

What do Hackenberg, Stanton and Ratliff have in common? They never played a single down for the Jets.

You already know the Hackenberg story. The Stanton situation was bizarre. The Jets signed him as a free agent, then traded for Tebow, prompting Stanton to request a trade. The team obliged, sending him off mere days after giving him a $500,000 signing bonus. Ratliff, who carried the clipboard for a year as the third-stringer, was part of the package that allowed the Jets to trade up for Mark Sanchez.

7. OTA stars: It's still early, but some of the players who stood out in the first week of practice were cornerback Trumaine Johnson and wide receiver Chad Hansen, along with a couple of rookies -- tight end Chris Herndon and cornerback Parry Nickerson. Hansen, in particular, jumped out to me. He's playing faster than a year ago. If he keeps it up, the Jets will have a deep receiving corps.

8. Anthem fallout: CEO Christopher Johnson made national headlines with his pro-player stance on the NFL's new national anthem policy, begging the question: If he has issues with it, why did he vote in favor of it? From a distance, it looks like he's playing to both sides. My sense is he warmed to the policy as the discussion evolved among owners, finally getting to the point where he felt comfortable that it included enough flexibility for individual teams to act as they see fit.

This will be a polarizing issue for the league in 2018, but I'd be surprised if it sparks any controversy with the Jets. Johnson has a good relationship with the player leadership group, and they will be discussing the matter in the coming days. Based on my Twitter timeline, I'd say a segment of the fan base doesn't agree with Johnson's approach. This is a tough spot for any owner.

9. Trivia answer: Wide receiver Reggie Rembert, the Jets' second-round pick in 1990. Before that season, he was traded for Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Joe Kelly. We hardly knew ye, Reggie.

10. Never forget: Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend, and let's not forget the true meaning of the holiday.