It’s been hard for fans to watch as Sam Darnold has suffered through his time with the New York Jets. It’s been a mixture of misfortune, poor decisions, and most of all a complete lack of support and stability from coaching to the front office. But there are certain elements to becoming the kind of quarterback that can turn a franchise like the Jets into a contender that are worth examining. Let’s go beyond the stats and tape to look at what it’s going to take for anyone to be a franchise quarterback for the New York Jets.
When the Jets drafted Sam Darnold in 2018 he was seen as an answer to decades of Jets fan prayers. The franchise quarterback that was promised. The Jets organization and many experts admired his cool, calm demeanor and ability to stay even no matter what. As Darnold and the Jets now seem to be heading towards a parting of ways, we have to start to focus on what the Jets should learn from this failed marriage. Was it a matter of incompatibility? The Jets are a franchise in constant turmoil due to consistently poor decision making from ownership down to the front office. Was it always going to be an uphill battle for a quarterback like Darnold? How should this affect what they do going forward?Let’s take a look at two traits, exemplified by two young stars in the NFL, that I believe are vital for franchise quarterbacks coming into struggling organizations. For each, we’ll examine afterwards where Darnold stacked up and why the Jets need these traits in their next franchise quarterback.
Hungry for Greatness
So how did Murray elevate expectations so quickly in Arizona in just one season? Much of it was how he performed. Murray’s unique skillset physically is worth an entire separate write up. But mentally and emotionally he put a charge into the franchise that reverberated all the way to the top. In a mini-camp interview before Murray’s rookie season, long-time Cardinals WR and future hall-of-famer Larry Fitzgerald said Kyler Murray was already in complete control of the offense. Kingsbury and others echoed that sentiment. Murray owned the offensive playbook and was directing veterans on the team well before he started a game.
That level of commitment and leadership checks out with a recent account from Deandre Hopkins who admitted he was surprised to find Murray yelling at him to correct his mistakes. He also followed up saying that he understood that was part of the process of becoming great. Holding each other accountable is a huge element.
In the Cardinals last game against the Seahawks you saw Murray’s fire and desire for greatness live while going toe to toe with Russell Wilson. When the Cardinals started off slow, he was seen screaming at the offense to pick it up. You could see him wearing every missed throw on his sleeve. Living and dying with each play. He knew how important that divisional game was and he treated it like everyone else needed to.Murray was also holding his coaches accountable. Kingsbury opted for uncharacteristically conservative approach, kicking a field goal on 2nd down that should’ve won the game in overtime but it was missed. Afterwards, Kyler Murray told Kingsbury to “Never be conservative again. I got you.” Then they got the ball back and won the game.
The Cardinals were a year behind the Jets after drafting Kyler Murray. They were trying to see if this rookie QB was their guy, while the Jets were sure they had theirs. Now, the Cardinals seem to be years ahead. The Jets haven’t had a great deal of any greatness of even the desire for it the past 3 years. Darnold has all the talent in the world but he is stoic by nature and has been slow to come out of his shell. What he does well is leading by example. But is that what the Jets needed? Don’t have me confused, I’m not referring to fake bravado. That type of early Baker Mayfield stuff gets stale quick. That’s not leadership. I’m talking about not giving others a choice but to be great along with you.
The Jets need someone that challenges an entire organization to keep up with their desire to be great. On almost all the most successful teams you need that to be your quarterback. For some reason, Jets fans, and possibly even some in the organization at some point, thought they could rely on Jamal Adams to be that person for them. Heck, Adams himself seemed to want to be that person for a little bit. But at the end of the day, Adams didn’t get the FaceTime from Peyton Manning. NFL teams don’t run decisions by their safeties.
The quarterback is still the most influential player in the building. When they’re not taking the bull by the horns, in a bad organization, it could allow all sorts of failures to manifest and expand. You need someone who refuses to coexist with mediocrity. Like Aaron Rodgers who got Mike McCarthy up out of Green Bay and is now back in a top 10 offense with a 5-1 record. You can see that kind of determination in a player like Kyler Murray. You either keep up or you get gone.
Off the fieldWhen the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson at the end of the first round they surely couldn’t have realized how incredibly fortunate they were at the time. The fact that Darnold and Jackson’s projections were so far apart is a discussion for another day….well maybe a discussion for every day. But for Jackson, part of what makes him great is that mental fortitude he displays on and off the field.
What Jackson had to deal with leading up to his emergence and MVP campaign in 2019 should never be forgotten. He showed that he wasn’t easily bogged down by outside opinions. Most importantly, though, Jackson also showed that he’s not afraid to do things his way. Jackson blew right past all the talk about him switching positions to play in the NFL. He refused to do drills with the wide receivers at the combine , he barely gave any energy to that talk in interviews, and he didn’t even run the 40-yard dash at the combine or at his pro day.
An even better example of his mental fortitude off the field was with his decision represent himself and have his mom as his manager. It was a decision that was highly criticized throughout the media. Of course, most of those who criticized are of course represented by agencies themselves. But regardless, Jackson was under pressure again but he stood firm. All sorts of rumors came out about him not responding to teams on time, giving the sense that he was disrespecting the process. He stayed steady through all of that. In the end, he didn’t pay anyone else a cut, and he still earned a first round contract.
On the field
This fortitude shows on the field as well. Like Murray, Jackson doesn’t hide his emotions. He agonizes with every play. But that passion is contagious and you can tell it rubbed off on John Harbaugh too. In the 2019, the famous 4th down decision against the Seahawks. Lamar Jackson goes to the sideline clearly upset with having to settle on the drive without a touchdown. Harbaugh reads the body language and asks Jackson if he wants to go for it. Jackson says “Hell yeah, coach, let’s go for it!” Then makes sure the rest of the offense and offensive staff is with him. It’s a moment you can just watch over and over because you can feel how much he wanted it in that moment and in that game. The result was nice too.
Jackson never shies away from challenges. Many experts thought he would physically wear down in the NFL because of his frame and tendency to make plays with his feet. Such experts were big mad during his 2019 MVP season hanging on to their take for dear life. “It’S NoT SUsSTaInAbLE!!!! YoU’LL sEe!” …right. For comparison, Sam Darnold has missed at least 2 starts due to injury in each of his first 3 seasons. Jackson missed back-to-back practices for the first time in his NFL career this month. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Jackson didn’t miss time in college battling against some of the best and most physical teams in college football in the ACC.
Jackson was fortunate to end up with a strong organization like the Ravens but he didn’t have the best situation at Louisville. Unlike Kyler Murray, Jackson didn’t end up with a coach like Lincoln Riley, who is a certified king maker for quarterbacks. He had to deal with a subpar coaching staff that was completely cleared out shortly after Jackson’s departure. It cannot be overstated how much Lamar Jackson elevated everything around him at Louisville. His mindset is why it’s no surprise that he meshed so well with the Ravens culture of excellence.
The Jets need a quarterback that is both mentally and physically battle tested. Someone that can adapt in difficult or even unfair circumstances. The entire organization dealt Sam Darnold a terrible hand. They completely failed him. But, as I’ve explained, he’s not the only quarterback that had to overcome unfair situations.
Going forward they need a quarterback that doesn’t need a great deal of surrounding structure to thrive because we know now there’s no way to guarantee that will ever be in place as long as the Johnsons are making football decisions. They need a player who’s not easily swayed by talk or surrounding noise. Someone who thinks for themselves and can spot phoniness from a mile away.
Being a successful quarterback in the NFL is more than just potential and physical ability. It’s about consistency, determination, and mental make up. Is it the quarterback’s responsibility to fix ages of organizational ineptitude? No. But the right quarterback largely influence a franchise towards competence. Without Kyler Murray there’s a good chance Steve Keim would be gone. Without Lamar Jackson there’s a good chance John Harbaugh would’ve been fired. Finding the right quarterback can fix way more than your offense. The Jets really need to take these traits into consideration going into next offseason. Saving the Jets is not a job for just anyone.