The Daily News has learned that the Jets are eying Bears quarterback Josh McCown in free agency to provide a viable alternative in case Smith regresses. McCown, coming off an impressive season that included five starts in relief of an injured Jay Cutler, is expected to draw a fair amount of interest when free agency begins on March 11. The Jets, who are expected to release Mark Sanchez next month, believe McCown would be a quality backup.
The Jets’ brain trust never truly viewed David Garrard as a viable option when Smith struggled midway through last season. Matt Simms, the No. 2 signal-caller on the depth chart, was even less experienced than Smith.
Sanchez’s impending departure has fueled speculation about possible replacements. The News has learned that a reunion between Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who worked together for four seasons in Philadelphia, is unlikely.
Texans signal-caller Matt Schaub, who is expected to be released, would be a quality option, but sources told The News that he isn’t interested in being Smith’s backup.
McCown, who will turn 35 this summer, boosted his stock with a 109.0 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and only one interception in 2013. He went 3-2 while Cutler was out with a groin injury. The 6-4, 213-pound veteran has 38 career starts for five teams in 11 seasons.
McCown is expected to draw serious interest from a handful of teams.
McCown, in many ways, makes sense for a team bent on giving Smith every chance to be the Week 1 starter in 2014. With Ryan coaching for his job (given his de facto one-year contract extension last month), the Jets will not hesitate to pull the plug on Smith during the season if the team’s decision-makers believe he isn’t the guy to lead them into the future.
Smith’s improved ball security late in the season – he committed only three of his 25 turnovers in the final five games – has given the organization reason for optimism. The consensus among the team’s decision-makers is that Smith has the ability to take the next step with an improved cast around him on offense. To that end, the Jets will make a push to improve the skill positions in free agency and the draft.
However, they’re going to make sure they have a legitimate veteran quarterback that can be a short-term solution if Smith regresses.
On the surface, Sanchez may actually be the Jets’ best option, but people in the organization don’t believe that general manager John Idzik wants any part of Round 2 of Sanchez vs. Smith. By any objective measure, Sanchez beat out Smith in the preseason competition last summer before the fifth-year quarterback suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second half of the third preseason game.
People in the organization believe that Idzik has little to gain and plenty to lose if Sanchez, who was drafted by Idzik’s predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, outshines his own second-round pick in the preseason again.
“John can’t have Sanchez succeed (as a member of the Jets),” said a team insider.
Sanchez is expected to be released before his $2 million roster bonus is due in late March. The Sanchez camp met with the Jets on Friday at the NFL scouting combine, but the team hasn’t conveyed concrete plans for his future, according to people familiar with the meeting.
Sanchez, four months removed from shoulder surgery, is throwing with “good velocity” during his rehab in Southern California, according to a source. He is scheduled to return to the Jets facility this week to be examined by team trainers.
The organization would like to secure a veteran free agent quarterback before cutting ties with Sanchez, according to sources.
The Jets will have more than $35 million of salary cap space after Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes are released.
Idzik and Co. could draft a quarterback who needs to develop, but adding a proven veteran to protect them in case Smith isn’t the answer will be pivotal.
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