Three Jets QBs under contract? Hackenberg, Petty and Stave

Signing prospective free agent Kirk Cousins is surely the top priority this offseason for the Jets, who are long overdue for having stability at quarterback. Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire

With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the New York Jets:

2018 cap hits of top returnees:

Christian Hackenberg -- $1.3 million

Bryce Petty -- $843,000

Joel Stave -- $480,000

Pending free agents: Josh McCown.

Key stat: The Jets have thrown a league-high 127 interceptions since 2011. Not coincidentally, they have failed to make the playoffs in that seven-year span.

Money matters: Year after year, the Jets take a Band-Aid approach at the quarterback position. The last time they signed a veteran to a multiyear contract was 2012, when Mark Sanchez received a three-year, $40 million extension. That didn't turn out so well, as he played poorly in 2012, missed 2013 because of an injury and was released. Since then, their biggest splurge came in 2016, when they gave Ryan Fitzpatrick $12 million for one year. That, too, was a bust. The year-to-year trend will end if they sign prospective free agent Kirk Cousins.

Big picture: Since the Joe Namath era ended in 1976, the Jets have started 30 different quarterbacks. Only five have a winning record (minimum: 16 starts) -- Vinny Testaverde (35-26), Sanchez (33-29), Chad Pennington (32-29), Pat Ryan (11-8) and Brett Favre (9-7). Testaverde, Sanchez and Pennington are the only ones with playoff wins. Get the picture? The Jets have been playing a sad song of musical quarterbacks and they're long overdue for a sustained run of excellence.

The game plan: The No. 1 priority will be to sign Cousins, who the Jets believe can stabilize the position. They will be aggressive during the bidding process, but they will receive stiff competition from the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos. Cousins will take one or more free-agent visits, Pro Football Talk reported. That means he might not sign on March 14, the first day of the league year. If the Jets don't sign Cousins, they could end up with McCown and a rookie heir apparent. Neither Petty nor Hackenberg is guaranteed a roster spot, although it's possible they could keep Hackenberg as the No. 3. The front office has been reluctant to admit it goofed by using a second-round pick on Hackenberg.