FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – For two years, the New York Jets enjoyed the (for them) unusual luxury of not having to worry about the quarterback position. Sam Darnold was her husband, and there was every reason to believe that he would remain so for a long time to come.
Then came the 2020 NFL season. Darnold didn’t play well. He’s hurt. The team sucks. The coach is fired. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, Jets officials refuse to commit to Darnold as their starter for 2021. We still love you, Sam, but…
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Giving them that answer now would not be fair, Jets coach Robert Saleh said at his opening press conference. It takes a lot of consultation with Joe [Douglas] and his team.
Douglas, the CEO, has three months to solve the company’s most frustrating problem. In a vacuum, Darnold’s decision would be difficult enough, but it’s complicated by perhaps the wildest offseason in recent history for the quarterback movement.
A number of stars, including Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, could be changing addresses. Uncertainty is more or less present with Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. The advantage for the Jets is that they can be a buyers market. The downside is that they can also be sellers; they might not get as much for Darnold if they decide to move on.
The Jets would be making an organizational misstep if they didn’t seriously consider an alternative to Darnold, who threw nine touchdown passes (12 games) in a season with the most touchdown passes in league history (871 games). New York can’t just blame former coach Adam Gase and reunite him with Darnold without scouting the landscape.
A breakdown of the most viable options for the Jets quarterback, based on our preferences:
Mike Greenberg sees signs that Deshaun Watson wants to move to the Jets, and Dan Graziano wonders if he could be traded.
1. Deshaun Watson, Texas
Current Status : Desired trade
To: This is a rare opportunity to have a legitimate quarterback in the prime of his life; he is 25 years old and was selected to three Pro Bowls. He fits in perfectly with the Jets’ new offense, a west coast system that emphasizes the ability to throw in the game. His presence alone would give the organization hope, and that’s hard to bring up. Do that trade, and the Jets have their most promising coach-quarterback tandem in a long time.
Delays: The compensation will be enormous. According to folk wisdom, it would take three or more turns. In 2009, the Chicago Bears gave up two picks in the first round – the third and quarterback Kyle Orton – and Cutler was not as good as Watson. One thing to remember: The Jets’ first pick (#2) is worth two and a half times as much as, say, pick #16, according to a widely used commercial value table. By leaving the fort for Watson, the Jets will be at a disadvantage if they try to build around him.
Hats off to you: Watson signed a contract through 2025 that provides a salary between $10.5 million (2021) and $37 million (2023). Given the market, it’s not an excessive contract. I’m told the Jets are not his number one choice, as a recent report from South Florida indicates, but there’s always the possibility he’ll put them on his list of favorite teams. Watson’s non-trading clause allows him to determine where he ends up if the Texans decide to move him.
Keep your eyes open: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Watson ranks third in success rate (70.2) despite averaging 9.0 yards per attempt (fourth).
Can the Jets count on Zach Wilson, who had a phenomenal season for the Cougars, throwing 33 touchdowns and missing only three? George Frey/USA TODAY Sports
Current Status : Authority to collect
To: After an outstanding junior season, Wilson has grown so much that many talented evaluators now consider him the best quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence. Wilson is a very agile passer with a fantastic swing and great ball accuracy. He moves very well and shows the ability to make unforced plays from the pocket. It would also fit perfectly into the Jets project. Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur could get a fresh start with their own quarterback. As for the ceilings, they can start over with an entry-level contract, which gives them a certain value until 2024.
Delays: The concern is with his injury history and the level of competition. After his first season, Wilson underwent surgery on his abandoned shoulder to repair his labrum. In his second year (2019), he ran out of time after undergoing surgery on his throwing arm. Some wonder if his smaller body (6 feet, 90 pounds) can withstand the weekly NFL penalty. He had some impressive stats at BYU, but his numbers against ranked teams were pretty bad – a record of 2-4 with 1,569 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
Hats off to you: Since the NFL has a slot system for rookies, his contract will be similar to that of No. 2 Chase Young of the Washington football team last year – four years, $34.6 million. This is cost-effective and provides flexibility in compiling other parts of the register.
Keep your eyes open: Wilson launched three interceptions out of 336 attempts in 2020, and one of the interceptions was on a Hail Mary.
Sam Darnold didn’t live up to expectations – 13-24 as a starter – which fueled speculation that the Jets would trade him and pick him as their second pick for the 2021 NFL draft. Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire
3. Sam Darnold,Jets
Current Status : Entrance
To: He’s still young (he turns 24 in June) and doesn’t yet have the benefit of playing with a strong support. In three seasons, Darnold has barely had a game. Saleh praised Darnold, and that is no idle word. He believes that there is untapped potential that can be exploited through better leadership and program change. Darnold integrates well with LaFleur’s quarterback system, which uses action play, redirection and pocket movement.
Delays: Darnold still can’t read the defense; he gets into trouble because sometimes he can’t see past his number one and first defender. Certainly there is room for improvement, but recent history shows that quarterbacks rarely leapfrog after three or four years in the league. Darnold was the lowest smother in 2020 (72.7). Let’s say he improves in the 15-20 range. Can the Jets live with that? Is it worth renewing his long-term contract after season 21? There is also the problem of sustainability: He has missed 10 games in three years due to injury and illness.
Hats off to you: He has one year left on his junior contract ($9.8 million). The Jets have until early May to exercise the five-year option for 2022 (about $25 million, fully guaranteed). It doesn’t make sense to make such a commitment based on performance, so we’re probably talking about a one-year trial in 2021. If he stutters, he’ll likely leave as a free agent, and the Jets will have to pack their two picks from the 2022 first round to find a replacement. If Darnold succeeds, it’s a new case.
Keep your eyes open: According to NFL next-generation statistics, Darnold recorded the fifth-highest completion percentage (92.3) when he didn’t apply pressure and threw to wide-open receivers (at least 3 yards away). We call these optimal conditions.
Mel Kiper Jr. describes who could be the second quarterback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft and how it will affect the Falcons’ Matt Ryan QB.
Current Status : Authority to collect
To: There is no doubt about the talent of his arm, and that was evident in his performance against Clemson in the semifinals of the college football qualifiers. Fields is also a quick and elusive runner who adds an extra dimension to the attack. Summary: He’s a playmaker. In two seasons at Ohio State, he threw for 84 touchdowns – 69 assists, 15 runs. It would be a dynamic option for the quarterback position that the Jets don’t have…. maybe never will.
Delays: Fields doesn’t look natural going through his streams in the pocket. When his #1 is covered, he tends to cling to the ball instead of moving quickly to #2. He got away with it in college because his primary wide receivers were usually open, but that won’t happen in the NFL. That’s why it may take longer than Wilson to develop. He fought Indiana, the Northwest and Alabama, so what happens to the defense that Bill Belichick defended?
Hats off to you: You’ll see Wilson’s entrance, since it’s the same one.
Keep your eyes open: According to statistics and data from ESPN, Fields ranks third in percentage of completion (61.3) among Power 5 quarterbacks for emissions of at least 20 yards from the air. Wilson finished second (62.3%) behind Davis Mills (64.7%) of Stanford.
Jeremy Fowler predicts several teams could be interested in quarterback Matthew Stafford, including the Colts at the top and Washington as a sleeper.
Current Status : He’s not expected to return…
To: He’s not as good as Watson, and he’s seven years older than the Houston star, but Stafford is good enough to lead the team to the playoffs. He has played on bad Detroit teams and is averaging 25 touchdown passes and 10 steals over the last three seasons. He would be a huge improvement over Darnold.
Delays: He’ll be the 7th. February 33, so the Jets don’t fit him. You have to think long-term, not forever…. and Stafford is a win-win quarterback. Lions will at least try to get a first round pick. The Jets have the pick of the number 23, but it doesn’t make sense to give this compensation away for a quarterback who is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
Hats off to you: Stafford has two years left on his $43 million contract, none of which is guaranteed. (The $10 million bounty is due March 21.) He’ll likely get a new contract from the team that trades him.
Keep your eyes open: According to NFL Next Gen statistics, he scored the seventh highest score (100.2) for attempted success with a 25-50% chance of success (difficulty of passing).