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Free-agent mission for Jets: Find a starting quarterback

With free agency approaching (March 9), we're analyzing the biggest needs on the New York Jets' roster and examining possible upgrades:

Position: Quarterback

2017 cap hits of top returnees:

Pending free agents: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith.

Key stat: Among the 39 quarterbacks with at least 125 pass attempts, Petty finished last in passer rating (60.0) and last in Total QBR (19.4). Fitzpatrick wasn't much better — 35th and 32nd, respectively.

Money matters: This will come as a shock to no one, but the Jets have the lowest quarterback cap total in the league — $1.8 million. Actually, Fitzpatrick's ghost is counting nearly three times more than Petty and Hackenberg. That's because there's a $5 million "dead" charge for Fitzpatrick.

Would veteran quarterback Tony Romo want to play for a rebuilding team? AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

Big picture: Let's be blunt: The quarterback situation hasn't been this unsettled since early 2009 — the three-month window between Brett Favre's departure and Mark Sanchez's arrival in the draft. The big story this offseason will be Hackenberg, who didn't see the field as a rookie. He's a bigger question mark now than when he was picked in the second round. The organization hasn't given up on him, but he needs to show marked improvement. It would be a major upset if Hackenberg or Petty emerges as the opening day starter.

Free-agent market watch: Kirk Cousins, Mike Glennon, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, Matt Schaub, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum, EJ Manuel, Matt Barkley.

Also could become available: Tony Romo, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, AJ McCarron, Robert Griffin III.

The game plan: The Jets need to come out of this offseason with a starter. Ideally, they'd get him as a free agent, not a trade. This team needs to preserve its draft picks. Finding a match for John Morton's offense (likely a form of the West Coast system) is important. Not counting Cousins, who probably won't hit the open market, the best of the bunch is Romo. He probably will be released, but he's not an ideal fit for the Jets. He's too old (37 in April) and too risky because of durability issues. Bottom line: I can't imagine Romo wanting to play for a rebuilding team.

Kaepernick is familiar with Morton from their days with the 49ers, but he'd bring a distraction the Jets don't need. The Jets are expected to have interest in Glennon, but anything more than a one-year guarantee would be too risky for a player with his limited track record. See: Brock Osweiler. Taylor is a dynamic athlete who protects the ball, but he's not natural in the pocket and doesn't have the passing skill to thrive in a West Coast system, which is predicated on accuracy and timing. If the Jets settle for a low-cost, bridge quarterback, the answer could be Hoyer, who is serviceable when healthy.

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