Forty-five years ago, Jets believed they had their next franchise quarterback

By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/

Back in early  April of 1976, the Jets believed they had the full-proof plan to draft their next franchise quarterback.

By this time, Joe Namath had run up plenty of mileage on two bad knees and a hamstring. New head coach and college whiz Lou Holtz spoke about running the option, and Namath requested a trade.

The writing was on the wall for a new franchise quarterback.  

On April 9, the Jets assured themselves that their worries were over when they selected Alabama quarterback Richard Todd with the sixth overall pick in the 1976 draft. Todd had his dream come true, as he would be on the same team as his boyhood idol.

Here was a big, strong-armed Bear Bryant protegee who seemingly could run any offense. It was the perfect transition, and a can’t miss, no-brainer.

The torch would be passed.

Namath got his wish and finished his career with the Rams, a fitting end for Broadway Joe.

Todd began his career along the same lines as Namath being able to get the ball down field, but he also had the propensity for the interception. That happened his first five years as a Jet when his interceptions outnumbered his touchdowns.

In 1981, Todd finally seemed to emerge as the quarterback messiah as he led the Jets to a 10-5-1 mark and a Wildcard playoff appearance. He threw 25 touchdowns and had 13 interceptions over his 3,231 yards. However, he threw four interceptions and had two touchdown passes.

Despite what appeared to be a breakthrough season, Todd’s status still was greeted with many self doubts.

In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Todd silenced his critics when he took the Jets to the AFC Championship game against Miami after he engineered road playoff wins over the Bengals and Raiders.

Yet, Todd’s success would be a brief memory. He never achieved the comfort level with the Jets’ front office, and his relationship was a prickly one.

He threw five interceptions and the Jets managed just 139 yards in what is recognized in the Jets annals as the “Mud Bowl”, a 14-0, rain-drenched loss in Miami.

Instead of laying claim to the team’s next franchise quarterback, Todd’s season would be his penultimate in New York.

The following year. Todd didn’t regain his status as he tossed 26 interceptions amid 18 touchdowns, and the Jets sputtered to a 7-9 record.

In February of 1984, the Jets dealt Todd  to New Orleans for a No. 1 draft choice, and ironically he would be with an aging Ken Stabler, another Alabama standout.

Todd never reached his presumed status in eight seasons, but his 110 touchdown passes rank him third in team records.

Thursday evening, the Jets again will draft a quarterback named Zack Wilson, who is presumably the team’s next Namath heir.

They have tried with Todd, Ken O’Brien, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Darnold as No. 1 picks.

They will try with Wilson, another big armed quarterback along with a  reputation.

Like Tood and the others that followed, another torch will be passed or kept lit.

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