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Pushing back on a growing argument: Why do you need a great quarterback to let a rookie QB sit?

If you think a rookie quarterback isn’t ready, should that change depending on the quality of the starting quarterback?

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

This season began with dreams of grandeur for the New York Jets: future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going to buoy a previously struggling offense and pair with a great defense to propel the Jets straight to the Super Bowl.

And then? Well, that dream died after all of four snaps.

Since then, the Jets have all but been eliminated from the playoffs... and it is not even Week 13 yet. In fact, the Jets are in such a freefall that they still have a chance to pick first overall even though they started the season 4-3.

With that shift in hope from “We’re going to be the #1 team” to “Maybe we’ll have one of the first picks,” it is natural for fans to begin considering the quarterbacks in the draft. The argument in favor really isn’t tough to make: “Quarterbacks are really important so if you’re in the position to get a good one then you should do it.”

That argument has been made by Jets fans for what feels like every one of the last 10 years. It isn’t new. This year’s argument has an added wrinkle though: “The Jets should draft a quarterback because the presence of a great veteran quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) will allow the rookie to sit, learn the offense, and be brought along slowly in order to maximize their odds of developing.” Here is a quality argument from Michael Nania of JetsXFactor that lays out that exact train of thought.

So I want to be really clear here. I don’t disagree with Nania’s larger point about slowly developing a quarterback. In fact, I actually think the “let the quarterback sit” argument makes some sense from a few angles. First, there likely is value in seeing how a veteran quarterback goes about preparing to face an NFL defense that is of a higher quality then an incoming rookie would have ever seen at the NCAA level. Two, usually when teams are taking a quarterback high it is because their roster is bad enough to pick high, which usually means the offensive supporting cast isn’t too great. This second point is particularly relevant to the current version of the New York Jets, who might have the worst offense that I’ve ever had the misfortune of watching play NFL football.

I get the argument in favor of sitting a rookie quarterback. Heck, I might even be in favor of it.

Where I would push back on the argument that Nania (and many others) are making is on the importance of the particular veteran that holds the starter job in the interim. I don’t think that should matter. If a team thinks that a rookie is best suited to sit then that player should sit. The long-term development of a key player should be prioritized over the short-term gains to a roster.

To that point, if the Jets did bring in a rookie to play behind Rodgers and Rodgers got hurt then the plan to develop the player slowly shouldn’t go out the window if it was thought to previously make sense. If that’s the case, then why is a quality veteran quarterback required for the plan to be implemented at all? If it makes sense to slowly develop a quarterback, then it makes sense to slowly develop a quarterback regardless of who the current starter is.

In reality, it is because we all know that the plan likely would go out the window in that hypothetical scenario. Case in point? The Jets had planned to do this exact thing with third year quarterback Zach Wilson and that plan lasted until the exact moment that Rodgers got hurt.

So why does that happen? Why do teams acknowledge the benefits of patience and then discard it at the first sign of adversity? Well, for a few reasons.

First, teams want to win. They don’t want to leave a talented player on the bench as that can cost the team wins and a lack of winning puts the Head Coach, the General Manager, and the players on the potential chopping block.

Second, fan voices can get really loud. Fans don’t want a highly touted prospect watching a bad quarterback play, so a guy like Rodgers makes it more palatable. But is the palatability of a good plan really the thing we should care about, or should we care about the quality of the plan? A lot of kids don’t like eating vegetables, but their parents make them eat them anyway, right? Why? Because it is the right decision long-term.

I get the feasibility aspect of the “use Rodgers as a bridge” argument, and I get why it’s being made in practice. I just don’t think it’s coming from the right place. It’s coming from allowing a short-term focus to trump a long-term one. I don’t think the solution is to get a great quarterback just to placate the fans and keep job security high while the franchise quarterback sits for 17 games. I think the solution is to find a coach with the wherewithal to stick to a good plan even in the face of external pressure and to create an environment where that coach feels safe doing so. The plan doesn’t hinge on the QB1. It hinges on the head coach and the team owner. Thus far, we have no reason to believe that either one is the type to be able to stay steadfast for the Jets in that decision.