By moving up to No. 3, New York assures itself of getting one of the top-rated quarterbacks available. Southern California’s Sam Darnold, U.C.L.A.’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 quarterbacks 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 N.F.L.’s free-agency period, which officially began on 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 off-season — 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 Namath’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 A.F.C. 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 U.C.L.A. running back Freeman McNeil, who made three Pro Bowls during his 12-year N.F.L. career and was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
For the Colts, they now have nine picks over all 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, the 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 over all and 31st in sacks.
The Colts had done very little in free agency — until Saturday. They signed the backup defensive end Denico Autry from Oakland to a three-year deal and have lost two other key players: receiver Donte Moncrief, an occasional starter, and the emerging cornerback Rashaan Melvin.
It is widely believed that the Colts were very interested in North Carolina 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 to 28 draft with their plethora of picks.
“We’ll still be open if an opportunity — the right opportunity — presents itself at 6 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 6 because of the player we think we’re going to get.”