The quarterback-challenged New York Jets (7-8) face a difficult decision in the upcoming offseason about whom to dub the main signal-caller for the 2014 season.
General manager John Idzik is about to undergo the second phase of his long-term rebuilding plan, which could include adding a new head coach. The Jets have now endured three consecutive seasons without a winning record while consistently boasting an offense that struggles to score points.
The quarterback position is the biggest part of success on offense. In 2013, the Jets average a stagnant total of 18 points per game under rookie QB Geno Smith, which ranks third-to-last in the NFL.
Idzik and Co. need to carefully examine the Jets' QB depth chart and assess whether Smith or former main signal-caller Mark Sanchez is capable of igniting the offense toward success next season.
Salary-cap numbers will play a huge role in dictating what the Jets opt to do at quarterback over the spring and summer, but it's highly possible for New York to explore opportunities via draft, trade and free agency.
The following slideshow examines five realistic starting quarterback options for the Jets in 2014.
Rookie signal-caller Geno Smith is the most obvious choice to earn the starting nod next season, especially considering the lack of talent around him.
The Jets' first order of business this offseason needs to be acquiring a legitimate difference-maker at wide receiver. New York features some of the worst receivers in the NFL, fueling Smith's inconsistent play.
Still, the former West Virginia standout has been mostly abysmal throughout his rookie season.
It's apparent that Smith did not have the football IQ or pocket skills necessary to succeed immediately upon entering the NFL.
Smith has completed an inefficient 55.3 percent of his pass attempts while tossing just 12 touchdowns in comparison to 21 interceptions. His total QBR ranks among the worst in the league at 31.16. The Jets simply need better efficiency from under center than Smith has given them this season.
The rookie QB has flashed some signs of promise, leading the Jets to five game-winning touchdown drives to lead the NFL. Smith has also demonstrated a fierce competitive spirit despite succumbing to enormous struggles.
The Jets invested a second-round pick on Smith, making it unlikely for front office personnel to quickly dismiss the possibility of him becoming a legitimate long-term solution at quarterback.
It's practically assured that Smith will earn a roster spot in 2014, although it remains uncertain whether he'll be atop the depth chart.
Washington Redskins backup QB Kirk Cousins will likely surface in trade talks this offseason.
The former fourth-round pick is under contract until the conclusion of the 2015 season, but he boasts substantial trade value given an expected lack of talent on the open market.
Cousins has played sparingly in two seasons as a pro, posting a 61.7 completion percentage with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. His total QBR is 80.3 in seven games of action.
Cousins features stellar arm strength and is able to throw the deep ball accurately. He averages 7.5 yards per attempt on 154 throws in his career.
The Jets could inquire about Cousins during the draft in May. The 25-year-old QB could net the Redskins a mid-round draft pick, although he may be seen by Washington as more valuable than that.
Significant injury issues have plagued second-year QB Robert Griffin III, giving Cousins added value. The Jets have several key needs in the upcoming draft, which could ultimately prevent them from targeting a player of Cousins' caliber via trade.
It's still possible for Idzik to at least phone Redskins GM Bruce Allen to find out what it would take to land Cousins in New York.
Chicago Bears starting QB Jay Cutler will be the biggest name available in free agency if he doesn't receive the franchise tag. The Bears seemingly remain reluctant to grant Cutler a long-term extension, despite the 30-year-old signal-caller consistently recording solid numbers.
Cutler has completed 61 percent of his pass attempts in eight seasons while averaging over 19 touchdown passes per year. He's also thrown for over 3,000 yards in five seasons.
His vulnerability to injury is a concern though.
Cutler has played in all 16 games in just three seasons. He's also missed significant time due to injury twice in the past three years.
The Bears feature a formidable cast of playmakers on offense, fueling Cutler's success. In comparison, the Jets offense sustains marginal capability of big-play potential, making it unlikely for New York to effectively entice Cutler if he becomes available.
According to Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports, Bears GM Phil Emery hasn't ruled out the possibility of using the franchise tag on Cutler, which would cost roughly $16.2 million.
It's debatable whether Cutler is worth that big of a contract on an annual basis. It also seems unlikely for Idzik to allocate a monstrous chunk of team payroll to a quarterback when other pressing needs reign prominent.
The Jets have a history of making headlines in the offseason, which means it wouldn't be surprising to see them make a play for Cutler if he's not franchised.
San Jose State senior QB David Fales is a solid draft option who could climb toward the first or second round of the draft board after postseason play and the combine.
Fales recently accepted an invitation to participate in the annual Senior Bowl, according to Jimmy Durkin of the Contra Costa Times.
A strong performance could earn him interest from several NFL teams. The Jets should be one of them.
Fales had an outstanding college career, completing 68.1 percent of his pass attempts with 66 touchdown passes in two seasons. He led the FBS with a 72.5 completion percentage in 2012. He's also thrown for nearly 4,200 yards in consecutive seasons.
According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Fales figures to be drafted late in the second round or early in the third round. He has room to improve and likely won't be able to start on an immediate basis upon being selected, although he features excellent fundamentals in the pocket and has the intangibles necessary to develop into a seasoned pro-style QB.
Fales demonstrates strong awareness in the pocket. He's able to read through his progressions before making a throwing decision, which will likely make him successful in the NFL.
The Jets offense has been burdened by Smith's below-average vision in the pocket this season, which is a defining flaw of a second-rate quarterback. Fales doesn't appear destined to fall into that trap, making him an attractive selection from a draft standpoint.
The Jets' former main signal-caller has become a favorable afterthought in New York, but it's not entirely impossible for Mark Sanchez to remain in green and white in 2014.
Sanchez has missed the entire 2013 campaign with a torn labrum, which he suffered in a meaningless preseason game against the New York Giants back in August.
The Jets' defunct "franchise" QB could be released before his offseason training bonuses kick in during March. But the uncertainty that New York faces at quarterback could prompt Idzik to allow Sanchez to return.
Sanchez owns a 55.1 career completion percentage in four full seasons. He's thrown more interceptions (69) than touchdown passes (68), contributing to a marginal 71.7 rating.
The Jets won't be ready to compete for a championship next season, despite potentially boasting the best defense in the NFL. Sanchez isn't part of the solution for the Jets, especially considering his 2014 salary-cap number.
The former fifth overall pick is due to make a $9 million base salary plus incentives next season. His cap number is a ridiculous $13.1 million.
The Jets could save an estimated $8.3 million by granting Sanchez his outright release in March, enabling them to become more competitive in free-agent negotiations.
It would only be logical for the Jets to keep Sanchez if the front office brass decides he's capable of outperforming Smith, which isn't impossible. Smith has committed more turnovers in 15 starts this season (27) than Sanchez did in 2012 (26).
The Jets' ongoing mess at quarterback never seems to end.