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After two QB mistakes, Jets GM has chance to right his legacy

Mike Maccagnan is a cool customer. For a guy who drinks 10 cups of coffee a day (no exaggeration), he never seems jittery or rattled. It takes a lot to get a rise out of him, which is why it's noteworthy he displayed a hint of defiance last week when questioned about his sketchy history of drafting quarterbacks -- a hot-button issue in the current landscape.

The New York Jets general manager defended himself by reminding reporters that Bryce Petty was a fourth-round pick (2015) and Christian Hackenberg was a "late" second-rounder (2016). It was his way of saying, "Hey, guys, gimme a break, it's not like I blew a first-round pick." No, he didn't, but Hackenberg was such a colossal miss -- he still hasn't played in a game -- that some folks are wondering if Maccagnan will get it right on April 26.

"It doesn’t faze me," Maccagnan said of the criticism. "It’s the college draft. [There are] guys you'll hit on and guys who don’t pan out. That’s part of the process. We feel pretty confident with this year’s group and where we're situated."

The Jets are picking third and, barring the draft upset of the decade, they will select a quarterback from the group of Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen. It'll be a franchise-altering decision for the Jets and a legacy-defining choice for Maccagnan, a college economics major-turned-scout who found the big chair in 2015. He will attempt to solve The Quarterback Riddle, which has flummoxed this star-crossed franchise for decades.

They've tried everything.

They've rummaged through the recycle bin (Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick), they've tried their luck in the second round (Hackenberg and Geno Smith) and they've rented a hired gun (Brett Favre). Their last first-round pick was Mark Sanchez in 2009, and that was working for a couple of years -- until it wasn't.

After failing to secure the only quick fix in the 2018 market -- Kirk Cousins said no -- Maccagnan went back to his days as an economics student. He took some of his best assets (three second-round picks, including one in 2019) and sold them off for a chance to score with a potential high-yield investment -- easily the boldest move of his tenure.

The blockbuster trade with the Indianapolis Colts, which allowed the Jets to climb three spots in the draft order, carries considerable risk. It's an all-in move that will leave Maccagnan out of a job in a couple of years if it backfires.

"I don’t like necessarily giving up the picks, per se, to move up," said Maccagnan, adding he did it because it's a chance to "potentially help yourself in the bigger scheme of things."

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called it "a hefty price to pay," saying the Jets essentially gave up three potential starters -- the draft picks that went to the Colts -- to select perhaps the third-best quarterback. In that context, yeah, it doesn't look like a sound move, but no one will remember the compensation if the quarterback develops into a long-term solution.

It's a calculated gamble, but you know what? You can't sit back, passively, and wait for the next Tom Brady in the sixth round. You can't win a Lombardi Trophy by playing it by the book. To quote Tom Cruise in "Risky Business," sometimes you just have to say ... well, you know.

"We do think there are some very good quarterback prospects in this class," Maccagnan said. "They all have different strengths and maybe some different areas of concern or weakness. That’s one of the reasons why I've been to all these pro days, because there are some real viable guys there that you think may be good additions if they fall to us in the right spot."

The question is, can Maccagnan learn from his past quarterback mistakes?

With Hackenberg, Maccagnan relied too much on projection. The GM saw the big arm and projected what Hackenberg could be, not what he was -- an inaccurate passer with questionable instincts.

Will that effect the way he evaluates Allen, who has a tremendous amount of raw, physical talent but is considered boom or bust?

With Petty, Maccagnan bet on a player from a spread system, figuring he'd need a year or two to make the transition to a pro-style offense. It hasn't happened for Petty, who is 1-6 as a starter.

Will Maccagnan downgrade Mayfield because he played in a spread at Oklahoma?

Hey, no one said this will be an easy decision. History says two of the top four quarterbacks will be NFL disappointments. Maccagnan put himself in the batter's box and gets another swing. Maybe the third time will be the charm.