The Jets may be cautiously optimistic that Geno Smith will make strides in his second season with an upgrade of skill-position talent around him, but the organization is preparing to have a solid contingency plan in place if he falters.

The Daily News has learned that the Jets are eying Bears quarterback Josh McCown in free agency to provide a viable alternative in case Smith regresses. McCown, coming off an impressive season that included five starts in relief of an injured Jay Cutler, is expected to draw a fair amount of interest when free agency begins on March 11. The Jets, who are expected to release Mark Sanchez next month, believe McCown would be a quality backup.

The Jets’ brain trust never truly viewed David Garrard as a viable option when Smith struggled midway through last season. Matt Simms, the No. 2 signal-caller on the depth chart, was even less experienced than Smith.



Sanchez’s impending departure has fueled speculation about possible replacements. The News has learned that a reunion between Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who worked together for four seasons in Philadelphia, is unlikely.

Texans signal-caller Matt Schaub, who is expected to be released, would be a quality option, but sources told The News that he isn’t interested in being Smith’s backup.

McCown, who will turn 35 this summer, boosted his stock with a 109.0 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and only one interception in 2013. He went 3-2 while Cutler was out with a groin injury. The 6-4, 213-pound veteran has 38 career starts for five teams in 11 seasons.

McCown is expected to draw serious interest from a handful of teams.

McCown, in many ways, makes sense for a team bent on giving Smith every chance to be the Week 1 starter in 2014. With Ryan coaching for his job (given his de facto one-year contract extension last month), the Jets will not hesitate to pull the plug on Smith during the season if the team’s decision-makers believe he isn’t the guy to lead them into the future.

Smith’s improved ball security late in the season – he committed only three of his 25 turnovers in the final five games – has given the organization reason for optimism. The consensus among the team’s decision-makers is that Smith has the ability to take the next step with an improved cast around him on offense. To that end, the Jets will make a push to improve the skill positions in free agency and the draft.