Optimism comes at no extra charge for every NFL team at the start of training camp.
Regardless of how poorly a team finished the season before, how many years it has been since it last made the playoffs or how many years it has been since it last reached a Super Bowl, Pollyanna always rules at this time of year.
Optimism is a rite of passage for all NFL teams and their fans before they have played so much as a preseason game, because everyone is undefeated.
The Jets, however, challenge that summer tradition.
Even at the one time of year when everyone believes, based on some of the moves they have made this offseason (see the curiously timed releases of linebacker David Harris and receiver Eric Decker), the Jets have challenged even the most stubbornly positive fan to believe 2017 will be a good season.
As the Jets gathered for the start of training camp Friday at their Florham Park compound, if there’s one symbol standing out like a beacon of light amid the low expectations that cling to them like an undersized offensive-lineman jersey, it is Josh McCown.
Does any self-respecting, reality-checking Jets fan expect the journeyman quarterback to lead the team anywhere further than the transition of Route 24 to Route 78 en route to Newark Airport?
The Jets, after all, are the eighth team in 15 NFL seasons for McCown, who owns a dismal 18-42 career win-loss record and is 2-20 in the past three seasons.
Most Jets fans — raise your hand if you’re not one of them — not only expect, but hope that McCown ends up being nothing more than veteran insurance behind second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Christian HackenbergBill Kostroun
The development of Hackenberg, the 2016 second-round pick, seems to be the Jets’ only hope of making something productive out of this season, which almost certainly is going to be a losing one.
But before you start hating on McCown, you should understand his role as a mentor to Hackenberg could be critical if the raw youngster is going to develop into an NFL starter.
The 38-year-old McCown, who signed with the Jets this offseason with the idea of becoming the starter, also has embraced the role as mentor to the team’s two young quarterbacks, Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.
If you listen to those in the know inside the Jets’ building, it sounds like McCown is 10 times the generous mentor to the young quarterbacks that the departed Ryan Fitzpatrick was. McCown, even for his poor won-loss record, might turn out to be a blessing for the Jets even without winning a lot of games in 2017.
“Josh is probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had in the locker room as far as his character and his morals and his standards and values,’’ said Jets linebacker Demario Davis, who played with McCown last season in Cleveland. “He’s probably one of the most legit human beings I’ve ever met. I’d always seen him from a distance, but never met him until last year.
“He’s a great character guy — and that’s the type of guys you want to have in your locker room, those who lead not just on the field, but off the field, too. I wouldn’t want anybody in the locker room on that side of the ball more than I want him.’’
Bryce PettyBill Kostroun
Jets guard Brian Winters, now the longest-tenured starter on the offensive line, has taken notice of what McCown has done with Hackenberg and Petty since he arrived, saying he is “not only a player, but he’s a teacher, too.’’
McCown embraces that. He sounds like he genuinely wants for Hackenberg and Petty what he never has had in his career: some continuity and a long-term home.
“Would I have wanted to be with one team and had one of those types of careers? Sure,’’ McCown said. “I want other guys to be able to have that opportunity. When I lay down at night, that’s what gives me the most peace: knowing that I was able to share and help somebody along that ride.’’
McCown is a smart guy. He doesn’t walk around wearing blinders and earplugs. He knows what his NFL record is, and he owns it. He knows exactly who he is. He knows, too, how grim the outside expectations are for the Jets.
“The standard and belief that we have within those walls is high, and that’s what we’re chasing,’’ McCown said. “Everyone else is entitled to their opinions about things. Ours is the only one that matters to us.’’