The Jets are hoping that their most prominent addition this off-season — a former most valuable player of the Super Bowl — never takes a snap for them. Such is the plight of a backup quarterback, and that is the new role for the veteran Joe Flacco, who agreed to a one-year deal on Friday as he recovers from neck surgery.
If having a reliable understudy at football’s most important job can preserve a season — just ask New Orleans, which won all five games last year behind Teddy Bridgewater after Drew Brees’s injury, or Philadelphia, which won a championship with Nick Foles — then undervaluing that position can derail it.
The Jets endured this reality last season, when they lost all three games while their starter, Sam Darnold, was out with mononucleosis, and fell to 0-4. They then resolved to acquire a credible backup and considered the former Cincinnati starter Andy Dalton — he eventually signed with Dallas — before focusing on Flacco, the longtime Baltimore Raven who played eight games last season for Denver until sustaining a season-ending neck injury.
His agent, Joe Linta, said on Saturday that Flacco’s rehabilitation from neck surgery in April is going well and that if he continues recovering at his current rate, Flacco can expect to join the team for training camp in early August and should be cleared for contact no later than mid-September. Linta said that Flacco has already been examined by a Jets orthopedist.
“He can do everything except hit somebody or go surfing,” Linta said in a telephone interview.
The financial terms of the deal — $1.5 million, with about another $3 million in incentives, Linta said — are a pittance relative to Flacco’s potential value. They evoke the contract signed by Jameis Winston, who, unable to find a starting job, joined New Orleans for $1.1 million, in an effort to revive his career after leading the league in interceptions. Unlike Winston, who at 26 might be able to parlay this sojourn into abiding stability, Flacco, 35, is confronting the possibility that he won’t enter a season as a starter again. Lamar Jackson’s emergence in the second half of the Ravens’ 2018 season, after Flacco sustained a season-ending hip injury, made him expendable, and Baltimore traded him to Denver in March 2019.
Flacco adds immediate cachet and credibility to an inexperienced position group that, beyond Darnold, has three quarterbacks — Mike White, David Fales and the unsigned fourth-round pick James Morgan — who have combined to throw 48 N.F.L. passes, all by Fales. Staying close to home appealed to Flacco, a native of Audubon, N.J., as did the opportunity to reunite with Jets General Manager Joe Douglas, who was a Ravens scout in 2008 when Baltimore drafted Flacco with the 18th overall pick.
Those Ravens teams were powered by stingy defenses and strong running games, and Flacco, stabilizing a position long unmoored in Baltimore, steered the Ravens to playoff berths in his first five seasons, including three trips to the A.F.C. championship game. But in the playoffs after the 2012 season, Baltimore blasted through the A.F.C. bracket on the strength of Flacco’s arm en route to winning Super Bowl 47 against San Francisco. Flacco threw 11 touchdowns without an interception in the Ravens’ stirring playoff run.
Though Flacco has played in but two playoff games since that Super Bowl victory, that is still two more than the Jets have over that span. Their inability to identify, and develop, franchise quarterbacks has contributed to their malaise, but the Jets believe they have a long-term starter in Darnold. Still, it is perhaps inevitable that he will get hurt. Darnold has missed six games in two seasons, and the Jets have lost all six. But he is hardly the exception: Last season, according to Pro Football Reference, 19 of the N.F.L.’s 32 teams started a backup at quarterback in at least one game.
The Jets, after years of mismanagement, are again seeking to build a contender, a task that seems more doable now that Tom Brady, their longtime nemesis, has left the A.F.C. East. Douglas overhauled the offensive line and receiving corps, signing Breshad Perriman and drafting Denzel Mims in the second round. Those moves figure to help whomever is playing quarterback for them this season — be it Darnold, as planned, or Flacco, who provides a comforting presence, whether he ever takes a snap or not.