By Ernie Palladino
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The Jets should feel free to draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota now. They have their placekeeper.
As important as signing Darrelle Revis for his monster $70 million contract was to a defense that suffered at cornerback, Mike Maccagnan's trade for Texas quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will prove just as important to the offense.
That move may never gain Maccagnan the same acclaim as his returning Revis Island to its rightful place in the Jets' secondary. It actually got kind of lost in the pandemonium over the best shutdown cornerback in the league. But in the world of the NFL offseason, the smaller moves that get relegated to side stories, notebooks, and blog entries can affect a team just as profoundly as the glitzy ones that adorn the home pages.
The Fitzpatrick move is one of those. By shipping the Texans a conditional seventh-round pick in 2016, the Jets potentially crawled out from under the looming, destructive shadow of Geno Smith and opened an avenue toward drafting a franchise quarterback in Mariota. It was a good, strategic, short-term move that could not only bring a brighter future a year or two down the road, but a few more wins this year providing Todd Bowles and his staff handle things right.
Basically, they should be prepared to hand Fitzpatrick the starting job. Let him hold the fort, so to speak. None of this phony quarterback competition nonsense of last year's camp, when what should have been another veteran stopgap in Michael Vick had zero chance of overtaking Smith. At the beginning of John Idzik's and Rex Ryan's final act, they needed to ascertain the exact extent of their kid quarterback's abilities to lead and win in his second year.
Smith cleared up that issue all right. Unless Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey possess a similar offensive acumen as Ryan, heaven forbid, they realize Smith has no such talent. So acquiring the 32-year-old journeyman for a tiny piece of the Jets' future provided a lifeline of sorts for the season.
Fitzpatrick can start, and Smith can sit there and stay out of the way, preferably as a third-string emergency measure.
That becomes contingent on getting Mariota, which now seems both possible and necessary. Fitzpatrick won't add a lot of excitement, certainly not the kind Mariota has the potential to produce. Fitzpatrick won't make many plays with his legs. He's not flashy, though he did complete 63 percent of his throws for 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions in Houston, where Maccagnan directed the college scouting department. The numbers were good enough to make him the league's ninth-rated passer, a notch higher than the Super Bowl loser's Russell Wilson.
Gailey knows him from Buffalo, where Fitzpatrick started for him from 2010-12.
He's smart, which is what one would expect from a Harvard graduate, and he doesn't take a lot of chances.
That's worlds better than Smith, as long as one accepts Fitzpatrick is not going to set those galaxies afire. But if he gets the Jets to 9-7, mission accomplished.
So Bowles can do away with any pretense of a summertime competition. He has his starter.
That's the first part of the equation.
The second is actually getting Mariota. Jameis Winston figures to go to Tampa Bay at No. 1, so Mariota should land in the vicinity of the Jets' pick at No. 6. Maccagnan might have to trade with No. 5 Washington, since the Redskins could think quarterback now that they've soured on Robert Griffin III. But they should do it, and then sit Mariota squarely behind Fitzpatrick for a season as he makes the conversion from running college quarterback to pro-style thrower.
Whatever they do, they should not fall into Chip Kelly's trap. It is no accident the Eagles coach dangled the nugget Wednesday that someone, presumably the 12th-seated Browns, has already offered the Eagles a No. 1 for his new but perennially injured quarterback Sam Bradford.
Regardless of Kelly's rather dubious level of veracity, the Jets should not even contemplate such a thing.
They're good with Fitzpatrick.
He's not as sexy as Revis, for sure. But sometimes the smaller offseason moves can affect a unit as profoundly as the big ones.
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