The New York Jets shook up the NFL draft on Saturday by soaring three spots to No. 3 overall in a stunning swap with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Jets acquired the third pick in a strong sign that they intend to get one of the top quarterbacks available. They sent the Colts their first-rounder — No. 6 overall — along with two second-rounders this year and a second-rounder next year to complete the massive deal.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard said the teams had been discussing a potential trade since early in the week.
“They had an interest to move up to (No.) 3 and kind of went back and forth for the last four or five days,” Ballard said in a video posted on the Colts’ website. “Talked to a couple other teams, but we still wanted to stay in position in that top 10 where we could still get a premium player. We feel like at (No.) 6, we’ll still be able to get a premium player.”
After losing out to Minnesota in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes at the start of free agency, New York re-signed veteran Josh McCown and agreed to terms with Teddy Bridgewater, both on one-year deals. But it was believed the Jets would still focus on finding a quarterback of the future with their first-round pick in next month’s draft.
By moving up to No. 3, New York assures itself of getting one of the top-rated quarterbacks available. USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield are all considered potential top-five selections.
General manager Mike Maccagnan has been zeroing in on the QBs up close, attending the pro days of both Mayfield and Rosen. He also plans to attend the pro days for Darnold and Allen.
The Jets have been very active during the first few days of the NFL’s free agency period , which officially began Wednesday. In addition to the moves with McCown and Bridgewater, New York signed cornerback Trumaine Johnson , running back Isaiah Crowell, kicker Cairo Santos and linebacker Avery Williamson , and agreed to terms with center Spencer Long. The Jets also re-signed cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive lineman Mike Pennel, offensive tackle Ben Ijalana and safety Terrence Brooks.
The flurry of activity comes as the Jets look to improve on two straight 5-11 seasons and try to end a seven-year playoff drought. Getting a quarterback to build around was a priority entering this offseason — familiar territory for a franchise that mostly has struggled to find sustained success under center since the days of Joe Namath. The Jets have had 30 starting quarterbacks since Broadway Joe’s last game for them in 1976. The last time New York took a quarterback with a high first-round pick was 2009, when it drafted Mark Sanchez. After helping lead the Jets to the AFC championship game his first two seasons, Sanchez mostly struggled, and the likes of Greg McElroy, Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and McCown have all started games in the years since.
With this deal, New York has a chance to find its new face of the franchise. But Maccagnan & Co. know there will be big-time pressure on them to make the correct choice at No. 3. The last time the Jets had the third pick was 1981, when they took UCLA running back Freeman McNeil, who made three Pro Bowls during his 12-year NFL career and was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
For the Colts, they now have nine picks overall and appear to be in a rebuilding phase after going 4-12 and missing the playoffs for the third straight year. Getting extra picks from the Jets will surely help, giving Indianapolis four selections in the top 50 in this year’s draft.
Questions still surround the status of quarterback Andrew Luck’s surgically repaired right shoulder, leading rusher Frank Gore is a free agent and Indianapolis still needs to fix a leaky offensive line. The Colts also need improvements on defense after finishing 30th overall and 31st in sacks.
The Colts had done very little in free agency — until Saturday. They signed backup defensive end Denico Autry from Oakland to a three-year deal and already have lost two other key players: receiver Donte Moncrief, an occasional starter, and emerging cornerback Rashaan Melvin.
It is widely believed that the Colts were very interested in N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb with the No. 3 pick. Indianapolis still might be able to land the promising pass rusher at No. 6, especially if three or more quarterbacks are taken in the first five spots. That is, if the Colts don’t do some more wheeling and dealing before the April 26-28 draft with their plethora of picks.
“We’ll still be open if an opportunity — the right opportunity — presents itself at six to move down,” Ballard said. “But right now, we feel pretty good. It would have to be a pretty attractive offer for us to move away from six because of the player we think we’re going to get.”