Tannehill, Brissett among Jets backup options behind Rodgers

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Friday, February 23, 2024

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- With only 11 words, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson delivered a not-so-subtle message to general manager Joe Douglas.

"[We] need a backup quarterback," Johnson told reporters at the recent NFL Honors in Las Vegas. "We didn't have one last year."

Translation: Get rid of Zach Wilson and bring in a new understudy for Aaron Rodgers.

Half the GMs in the league will be in the QB2 market this offseason, setting the stage for a head-spinning carousel of change. The need outweighs the supply, so it will get expensive, but the Jets -- entrenched in win-now mode -- can't afford to scrimp.

The challenge is finding the right fit. One veteran quarterback told ESPN it will be difficult to convince a top-tier backup to play for the Jets, knowing there's no chance to supplant a healthy Rodgers. The only path to playing time is via injury -- though the injury factor is real considering his age (40) and what happened Sept. 11 whenRodgers suffered a season-ending Achilles injuryin his Jets debut.

With Wilson leading the way, the team won four games in his 11 starts en route to a 7-10 record. Because of salary-cap restraints, the drop off between starter and backup in the NFL is significant. Nevertheless, the Jets would be committing roster-building malpractice if they leave themselves exposed.

"I would say in terms of a veteran backup, that's a high probability," Douglas said.

Who's available? A look at their options:

Free agents (2023 team)

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (2023: 1,616 yards, 64.8% completion rate, 35.1 Total QBR)

Tannehill, 35, is the best option because he's a proven winner (81-70 as a starter) and has a background with Jets passing-game coordinator Todd Downing, formerly the Titans' offensive coordinator. But he might be able to snag a starting job elsewhere. If that falls through, the Jets should be at the front of the line for his services.

Gardner Minshew, Indianapolis Colts (3,305 yards, 62.2% completion rate, 59.7 QBR)

Minshew fell just short of rallying the Colts to a playoff berth afterAnthony Richardson's season-ending injury. Minshew went 7-6, finishing 13th in QBR among qualified passers and making the Pro Bowl as a replacement. He will be coveted by teams looking for a bridge starter or a QB2 that can push the starter. He made only $3.5 million in 2023 but could at least double that. The Jets had their eye on him in the past.

Jacoby Brissett, Washington Commanders (224 yards, 78.3% completion rate, 95.6 QBR)

He made a strong impression on the Jets after coming off the bench and rallying the Commanders to 21 unanswered points on Christmas Eve, briefly taking the lead in a game. Washington ultimately lost, 30-28.

"He did a great job sparking their offense and getting them going," coach Robert Saleh said after the game.

Brissett (18-30 as a starter) is a steady player who protects the ball, but he's not going to generate a lot of big plays. He made $8 million last season, so he won't come cheaply.

Tyrod Taylor, New York Giants (1,341 yards, 64.4% completion, 47.7 QBR)

The well-traveled Taylor, 34, is a "high-level processor that makes quick decisions," Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said ahead of the Giants' game on Oct. 29. Taylor can provide starter-level play in stretches, but his problem is staying healthy. He has dealt with several injuries, including broken ribs last season suffered against the Jets.

Mitch Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers (632 yards, 62.6% completion, 34.6 QBR)

Let's be honest: Trubisky had a rough two years in Pittsburgh, where he was benched multiple times and released Feb. 12. The upside: He's only 29 and went 29-21 with the Chicago Bears, who selected him No. 2 overall in 2017. He can move around in the pocket, which enhances his value a little.

Other free agents who might fit: Marcus Mariota, Philadelphia Eagles; Sam Darnold, San Francisco 49ers; Drew Lock, Seattle Seahawks; Tyler Huntley, Baltimore Ravens.

Potential cap cuts

Jimmy Garoppolo, Las Vegas Raiders (1,205 yards, 65.1% completion, 33.9 QBR)

Garoppolo is expected to be released before March 18, when an $11.3 million roster bonus is due, and he's facing a two-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing substances policy. Playing on a surgically repaired foot, he lost his starting job to rookie Aidan O'Connell last season. Garoppolo's star has dimmed since his 49ers days, but he's an efficient system quarterback with big-game experience. Durability is a concern. Saleh is familiar with him because of their time together in San Francisco, when Saleh was the team's defensive coordinator.

Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys (144 yards, 75% completion, 52.1 QBR)

Rush could shake free because the Cowboys owe fellow backup Trey Lance a $5.3 million guarantee. Rush, 30, hasn't played a lot of football, which makes him risky, but he did go 4-1 as the starter when Dak Prescott went down in 2022. Due to make $2.3 million, Rush is a cost-effective option.

Taylor Heinicke, Atlanta Falcons (890 yards, 54.4% completion rate, 47.7 QBR)

Heinicke, with a $1.3 million roster bonus due March 18, could be the odd-man out if the new coaching staff remakes the quarterback depth chart. Heinicke (13-15-1) can provide a short-term spark, as he did in Washington at times from 2020 to 2022.

Mike White, Miami Dolphins (74 yards, 83.3%, 0.1 QBR)

Chances are, he's not going anywhere, but wouldn't it be interesting if the Dolphins, with major cap issues, cut him free to save $3.5 million? White was a darling among Jets' fans in 2021 and when hereplaced Wilson in 2022, thougha rib injury derailed him. Saleh and Douglas like him a lot. Again, it's a long shot, but never say "never" in the NFL.

Other potential cap cuts: Andy Dalton, Carolina Panthers; Case Keenum, Houston Texans.

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