What if the geniuses ready to kick the poor kid to the curb were wrong? What if our need for instant gratification has clouded a promising future?
What if the answer to the Jets search at the game’s most important position has been right in front of them all along?
What if Christian Hackenberg can be their quarterback of the future after all?
Although coaches have made it abundantly clear in recent weeks that the team’s 2016 second-round pick isn’t ready to be the starter now, don’t rule out the possibility that he could be in the mix next season.
Make no mistake: There are differing strong opinions in the organization on Hackenberg, but circumstance might dictate that he remains a part of the equation in 2018.
The book on Hackenberg evidently isn’t shut. There are some people in the building, who believe that the second-year signal caller can fulfill his potential given more time to develop.
“In order to grow and learn, you need to get hit in your mouth,” Hackenberg told the Daily News in a candid conversation about his present and future. “You need to fail. Then you grow from that. There’s really no intimidation. I got to experience things. I felt like I experienced a lot of really good things this preseason and some things I need to learn from. That’s all part of the process. If you don’t experience both ends of the spectrum, you’re not getting everything out of the adventure.”
Although Todd Bowles declared that Josh McCown will be his starting quarterback for the final month and offensive coordinator John Morton left little doubt that he wants the veteran back next season, the organization hasn’t given up on Hackenberg. (The 22-year-old quarterback, frankly, hasn’t earned the right to play this season over McCown or Bryce Petty in Bowles’ meritocracy).
There’s a sentiment that Hackenberg could get another chance to prove himself in 2018 because A) he possesses franchise quarterback traits like physical skills, high football I.Q., work ethic, leadership and B) the team’s unexpected success will make it potentially pricey to land one of the coveted signal callers in the upcoming draft.
Hackenberg, meanwhile, will become only the third quarterback drafted in the first two rounds since the AFL-NFL merger not to take a single snap in a regular-season game in his first two seasons.
“You can’t throw a temper tantrum, because then you’re a bad locker room guy,” Hackenberg said of staying patient. “So, you keep your composure. You keep your head down and keep just trying to get better. And when it comes, you just let it fly, man. I’m a firm believer of just keep putting time in and putting hours in. It’s going to come back to you eventuallywhether it’s now, two years from now, three years from now, in New York, in Houston, anywhere. That’s just how I’m wired.”
Some people in the organization want Hackenberg to get another fair shot next year, but it’s fair to wonder whether they would have been more amenable to moving on from him if the Jets were positioned for a higher draft pick (to land USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen or Wyoming’s Josh Allen).
The Jets would have the No. 10/11 pick if the season ended today, so it would cost a small fortune to trade up for one of the prized signal callers. (General manager Mike Maccagnan has tried to trade up for a quarterback in the past without any luck, in case you were wondering).
The Jets could go all-in for a free-agent quarterback (see: Kirk Cousins) too.
There are plenty of variables at play, but should Hackenberg be a part of the mix next year?
Regardless of Hackenberg’s preseason stats (56 percent completion rate, two TDs, 2 pick-sixes, 23 points on 36 drives) in his first year in Morton’s offense, he made important improvements.
The debate inside the building is whether that rate of progress is fast enough. It’s also unclear how quickly Hackenberg can grow with respected quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates given a second offseason together. Some believe it can be significant. Others aren’t so sure.
“All I can do is just watch the scout team and see, ‘Oh wow, that was a nice throw,'” Morton said Thursday on if there’s enough time during the season to properly gauge Hackenberg and Petty’s development. “That’s the only thing that I can go by, so it’s hard. You have to judge a quarterback or any player when they get in the game. That’s the real judgement of that play there.”
Hackenberg, who’s been inactive for 27 of 28 career games, isn’t lobbying for playing time, but there are obvious benefits for any organization to make a true commitment to a young signal caller.
“You need to be able to be in a situation where everyone is saying, ‘We’re going to let him grow,'” the 22-year-old Hackenberg said. “I think that’s any young quarterback. You see it with Dak (Prescott) right now. He’s going through some ups and downs, but they’re behind him. He’s learning. He’s growing from it. There’s so many different variables.”
McCown’s career year is one of those variables that have helped keep Hackenberg on ice. The simple truth is that the guy needs regular-season reps if he’s going to truly take the next step.
“You just have to do it over and over again,” Hackenberg said. “In a way, it was my first opportunity to get a ton of reps (this preseason). It’s not always going to be peaches and cream.”
Will the Jets give him more time?