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  • After some surprising success this season, and a miss on Kirk Cousins in free agency, the Jets turned to a scenario they’d been planning on for months: the aggressive move to trade up for the third pick in April’s draft
By Albert Breer
March 17, 2018

The Jets suffered a big loss this week when Kirk Cousins signed with the Vikings. But the good news? They’d been preparing to take this blow since January.

It played out this week, first with a slew of free-agent signings, then with the big bang on Saturday: an aggressive swing by GM Mike Maccagnan to send the Colts the sixth, 37th, and 49th picks in this year’s draft, plus the Jets’ 2019 second-rounder, for the third overall pick, which will be spent on the team’s next franchise quarterback.

So Saturday was a significant day in franchise history, and an era-defining one for both Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles. If they get the right quarterback, there’s a good chance they’ll be in East Rutherford for a long time. If they get the wrong one, it’s likely both guys will be fired. Here’s what’s clear: This offseason was always going to be about finding the quarterback for the Jets. Period.

With that backdrop, the team’s brass was taking no chances. Plan A, back in May and June, was to be in position to pluck from a ballyhooed group of college quarterbacks, and owner Woody Johnson made it clear, before leaving for his ambassadorship in the summer, that he was all-in on the idea.

• NFL DRAFT BIG BOARD, VOL. 2: After the combine, four quarterbacks ranked in the top eight.

As such, at ownership’s directive, the Jets live-scouted just about every UCLA (Josh Rosen), USC (Sam Darnold), Wyoming (Josh Allen), Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield), Louisville (Lamar Jackson) and Washington State (Luke Falk) game last fall, and put resources and bodies into doing background on each quarterback.

But as that was happening, a feisty young defense sparked a three-game winning streak early in the year, and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates gained credibility in the building. Instead of landing at the top of the draft the Jets wound up with the sixth pick, Bates got promoted, and an ideal quarterback for his offense, Cousins, was out there to be signed. So what had been Plan A became Plan B.

Once Cousins was off the board, it was on to Plan B (which originally had been Plan A), and that wasn’t just about trading up for the third pick.

It was first about stocking the quarterback room with character, intelligence and competition, which the team feels like it accomplished by bringing back Josh McCown and adding Teddy Bridgewater, to create the right environment for the incoming rookie. Then, it was about giving that defense pieces with the money that would’ve gone to Cousins, and that happened with ex-Titans linebacker Avery Williamson and ex-Rams corner Trumaine Johnson signed.

• FREE AGENCY RANKINGS: The best players who were available, and the best players left in this free-agent class.

Because the Jets were picking sixth, the step that came Saturday—the trade up—was necessary. And the Jets had planned for that going back to January. Exploratory talks on moving up into the Top 4 began at the Senior Bowl, I’m told, and so New York wasn’t starting from zero when it was spurned by Cousins earlier in the week.

Additionally, my understanding is that the team is comfortable with the top four quarterbacks in this year’s class—Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield and Allen. And with the Bills, Cardinals and Broncos looking at the idea of moving up, being aggressive became vital.

Why do it now? Because as the spring moves forward, teams will have a better idea of which quarterbacks they like—or don’t like—and bidding could push the price tag up. Since the Jets have already spent endless resources on studying the top quarterbacks, they felt like they could move forward now with conviction and use their head start to their advantage.

Will it work? It’s hard to say right now, of course. The last time three quarterbacks went at the top of the draft, two of them were Tim Couch and Akili Smith. What we do know, though, is that the really big decision here is the one that’ll be made on April 26.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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