But there’s one thing we know: at least someone in the Jets organization really liked him. That person, presumably, is general manager Mike Maccagnan, although it’s likely that head coach Todd Bowles and now-retired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey (and perhaps owner Woody Johnson) had positive thoughts about Hackenberg, too. We know this because the Jets drafted Hackenberg with the 51st pick in the 2016 Draft, so obviously New York wanted him on the team.
Hackenberg was stuck behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, and Bryce Petty as a rookie. He was the fourth string quarterback for much of the year, so even once Smith and Petty were hurt, Hackenberg never had enough reps to make him prepared to take the field over Fitzpatrick even in the season finale.
So where do the Jets (which I am using as a stand in for Maccagnan, or a combination of Maccagnan and Bowles) stand on Hackenberg now? There are a few possibilities:
- Option 1: The Jets loved Hackenberg in April, but after having him in house for the year, they’ve cooled on him considerably. The evidence of this would be a bad game against the Eagles in the preseason finale, when he averaged 1.7 yards per attempt on 31 passes, and an anonymous coach who said he couldn’t hit the ocean.
- Option 2: The Jets thought Hackenberg was a future superstar QB, and the plan all along was to redshirt Hackenberg for two years. The thinking would be Hackenberg was a great physical talent, but what he really needed was to have his mechanics fixed, which could take two years. This means he never had any chance of playing in 2016, and we can ignore all of that evidence. The issue here? Redshirting a QB for 2 years is really hard to justify: the only way that makes sense is if the player turns into a superstar. You lose two of the four years on the rookie, cost-controlled contract, and there is a significant time value cost. You’re essentially trading the 51st pick in 2016 with a 4-year, cheap contract for the X pick in 2018, on a 2-year contract. How high would that pick have to be? Probably top 5, based on what we know about trading future first round picks and the value of salary cap dollars.
- Option 3: The Jets were high on Hackenberg in April, and the team plans on starting him in 2017. This scenario seems pretty plausible to me: given how many questions there were about Hackenberg, it’s hard for me to imagine the Jets thought he was such a good prospect that they could put him in carbonite for two years. And I don’t know how much a player can hurt his stock with the team by not playing (or, perhaps more importantly, I don’t know how we on the outside can notice this). The assumption here is that Hackenberg would sit behind Fitzpatrick for a year, while he was “coached up” and then given the job in 2017. The test here will be to see what the Jets do when it comes to adding quarterbacks: if no notable addition is made, then I think we are squarely in this camp.
- Option 3a: A swing and a miss. Implied in Option 3 is that the Jets thought Hackenberg had a good chance to be the quarterback of the future, and they were going to build the team around him. This is a slightly different take on it: Maybe the Jets didn’t view Hackenberg as a future franchise quarterback, but thought he had the potential to be one, and were willing to roll the dice on him with a 2nd round pick. Many 2nd round picks flame out, so if the organization thought there was even a 30% chance he could be a star QB, it was worth it. But so far, the team is uimpressed with his development.
- Option 4: The Jets thought Hackenberg was just the best player available when they took him at 51, and he has failed to impress the team so far. While unlikely, it’s possible that the Jets thought Hackenberg was a great prospect, and took him because he “fell” to them at 51. Then, in training camp and practice, he failed to impress. This option would make the most sense if the Jets go after a high-profile veteran QB, or spend a first round pick on a quarterback.
- Option 5: The Jets always thought Hackenberg stunk, drafted him anyway, and therefore — since he stinks — there’s no way he’s in the team’s future plans. This option doesn’t make any sense, of course, but seems to be the way many in the media talk about him. As long as Maccagnan and Bowles (and heck, Johnson) are still with the Jets, someone in power was a big fan of Hackenberg 8 months ago, enough to “overdraft him” by most standards, because presumably the Jets were too worried they would lose him. How much that has changed is open to speculation, but there is almost no evidence to indicate why the team has soured on him.
What do you guys think? I’m in the camp of option 3 or 3a, with 3a probably being the most likely. The reason I fall there is you don’t see the organization talking about him like he’s the quarterback of the future: if it was pure option 3, the Jets would, I think, be more vocal about it, and also would give him all the reps this year in minicamp and training camp (TBD, of course, but that doesn’t sound like the plan so far…. and if it was truly an option 3 situation, it’s fair to wonder why he wasn’t given more reps in 2016, too).
Where do you fall, or is there another option I’m missing?