DANA POINT, Calif. -- Just a hunch, but if I have to choose the next starting quarterback for the New York Jets -- and I assume Jay Cutler is excluded from this conversation -- I'm casting my vote for Brett Ratliff.
That's based on nothing more than what I saw of the guy last summer -- which wasn't much -- and what I know of his new head coach. And what I know of Rex Ryan is that he didn't draft Kellen Clemens to be his future starter -- Eric Mangini did -- and that he'll give Ratliff as much of a shot as he will Clemens to win the job.
|Ratliff has yet to take a regular-season snap. (Getty Images)|
Look, Clemens had three years to convince Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer he should be the starter, and he failed. OK, so maybe last year shouldn't count, but even if Brett Favre hadn't joined the Jets, Clemens wasn't going to beat out Chad Pennington. So that makes him 0 for 3, and that's when I start looking elsewhere.
That's when I start looking to Ratliff.
He is bigger than Clemens, and he has a stronger arm. He can move in the pocket, too, running routes as a wide receiver in 2007 while serving as a practice-squad quarterback. What he hasn't done, of course, is take a regular-season snap, and, yeah, that might be a problem. Only I don't think so, and that is based on nothing more than intuition.
Logic says that with Schottenheimer still around, Clemens has an advantage, but I'm not buying. Schottenheimer knows what he has in the guy, and what he has is a quarterback who last summer failed to meet Pennington's challenge. He knows what he has in Ratliff, too, which is a gifted young unknown who some think -- no, who hope and pray -- could turn out to be the next Matt Cassel. I know that's a reach, but Cassel didn't start in college -- Ratliff did, at the University of Utah, and Schottenheimer thought so much of him after watching videotape the Jets signed him as a free agent.
Clemens is proven commodity, with eight starts to his resume, but the results were mixed, and that's being kind. In Ratliff there is potential waiting to be tapped. It sounds like a toss-up, except at the February scouting combine, Ryan mentioned something about the Jets' headquarters divided in half, with this side of the building in favor of Ratliff and that side supporting Clemens. Well, I'm sorry, but that tells me what I need to know here. If half the building already backs a guy who hasn't taken a regular-season snap, he has the advantage.
"It's not fair to say it's (Clemens') team right now," Ryan said, "because this is going to be a competition. I'm a new coach, and this is a major decision. We have to do what's best for this team, and if that means Brett Ratliff is our guy -- or Eric Ainge -- we owe it to our team to put him out there."
I'll make Ratliff the front-runner, partly because Ryan was able to rattle off his numbers from last summer without looking them up. His passer rating was 122.5, with Ratliff completing 68 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and one interception, and so what if the bulk of his play occurred against scrubs from Cleveland and Washington.
As Ryan said, "That would be good against air. Shoot, if he can do that here he'll probably win the quarterback job."
Ryan said he wants someone who isn't careless with the ball, who can produce in the red zone and who can complete third-down passes. In other words, he wants Tom Brady. He said something about being able to move, too, which Ratliff can do. But he sold me when he spoke of how he plans to make his decision.
"It's going to be a physical thing; not a mental thing," he said. "Let the physical thing take over, and we'll base our evaluations on that."
Translation: The advantage Clemens has in experience just got neutralized. In fact, if it comes down to a measurement of physical qualities, I'll stick with the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Ratliff. He can run. He can throw. And he doesn't have a body of work to correct or half a building to convince. He simply must make an impression on his new head coach.
Plus, keep this in mind: Ryan just came over from a club that went to the AFC championship game with a rookie quarterback who started from Day 1. If it can happen in Baltimore with Joe Flacco, why can't it happen with the Jets and Ratliff?
"We want a guy who's going to lead the league in wins," said Ryan. "We don't care about passing yards or any of this other stuff. It's about the team; I know (the quarterback) is a big part of it, but he has to be just part of the success and part of the solution. He doesn't have to be the solution."
Sounds like a casting call for Brett Ratliff.