The Darnold Decision

The season from hell has come to an end and the man responsible, Adam Gase, was finally relieved of his duties no more than 20 minutes after his return from New England. The most pressing thing that this franchise had to accomplish is done, and they have rid themselves of the biggest problem since Rich Kotite. Now the Jets embark on what is really the “most important offseason” in franchise history… as if we haven’t heard that one before.

As they approach yet another crucial offseason, the Jets face two critical decisions. The first: Who will they hire as Head Coach? And the second: What will they do with Sam Darnold?

Allow me to dive in on the latter and answer one of the more polarizing questions out there for Jets fans. Realistically speaking, there are five determining factors that would go into this decision.  Let’s take a closer look at each one.

The New Head Coach. Douglas admittedly, as he seems to be with everything, will be thorough in his search and look for someone who embodies the mindset and characteristics that he deems valuable to run this franchise along with him. Douglas will be in collaboration with him from day one. They will, together, answer the Darnold question and figure out what the best next step is for this franchise. So, why would they both choose to hitch their wagon to Sam Darnold as opposed to a rookie QB they can each grow with and build around? Neither of these guys drafted Darnold, he is coming into year 4 and would need to show that he is a complete anomaly compared to the mean, and trying to erase the three years of history to start fresh with Darnold as opposed to drafting a rookie just seems to be too complicated. A fresh start across the board seems like the logical, and prudent, decision.

Salary Cap Implications. Since the rookie wage scale was implemented, it has been a proven path to success in the NFL to push all your chips to the middle and build around a talented, young quarterback who is on a rookie deal that allows you to allocate your resources elsewhere. Under this line of thinking, the advantage would be in resetting the clock on a rookie QB on his new deal as opposed to paying Darnold $9.7 million in 2021 and have to be on the hook with a pending extension in 2022.  Sure, you could certainly let Darnold walk after the 2021 season should it not work out, but would the Jets be a the top of the draft again in a QB rich draft?  Doubtful.  The Jets, for whatever reason and despite losing out on Lawrence, still find themselves in a fortunate situation here.  They need to take advantage.

Darnold vs. the Field(s). See what I did there? Forget the grades coming out of college. I don’t care how Darnold graded before the 2018 draft compared to how Fields or Wilson grades now… that doesn’t mean anything. We, and more importantly, Douglas and the new HC now have 38 NFL games to judge Darnold on. And, despite our wants and historical blind faith in Darnold being the next Joe Namath, our eyes and the numbers tell a bleak story. Darnold has not been impressive on the whole. He has been underwhelming more often than not, and while he has shown flashes at times, the proof shows that he is a bottom 5 quarterback in this league. The depressing reality is that many Jets fans cling to a 10-quarter spurt from the end of 2018 and want to sweep the rest under the rug and label it “bad coaching.” Believe me, I want to do that too. However, the fact is that right now, either Fields or Wilson would most likely step into 2021 and offer the Jets a better chance to compete.

Draft Capital. Here is one thing that we can all agree on. Whether the Jets decide to keep Darnold or move on, they will almost certainly obtain more draft capital in doing so that will enable them to build around whoever they choose. While the range of potential draft picks Darnold could yield in return is wide open, the most popular consensus seems to be a 2 and a 5… pretty good! Should the Jets decide to keep Darnold, I am almost positive that Douglas would try to move back in round one with a quarterback needy team (like Atlanta) and accumulate more picks. The latter would certainly bring in more (and more valuable) draft capital. However, either move enables Douglas to take more swings to improve the team and the overall offense around your quarterback.

The Timeline. This, in my opinion, is the most important piece to the whole puzzle. The Jets organization made a grave mistake aftert the 2012 season by keeping Rex Ryan and forcing him onto the next GM. It completely limited their candidate pool and also caused the franchise to be out of sync since. When you couple that with awful drafting, you get 8 subsequent years of incompetence and no playoffs. The Johnsons have spent the time since Rex trying to course correct, but have only made half attempts and have doubled down on those with bad choices (Adam Gase). Well, now is a chance to reset the clock. You have a well-regarded GM in year 2 of his 6-year deal who is looking for HIS coach, why not align everything you can and add the rookie quarterback to that mix? It only makes sense. This would be the first time in a long time that each level of the organization has a chance to be in lockstep with each other – I don’t believe they should waste it.

The bottom line here is that I feel the same way that most Jets fans feel – bad for Sam Darnold. He’s a great kid with a ton of talent that’s easy to root for, and we all want him to succeed. The reality is that the pragmatic thing to do, on every level, is to move on from Sam Darnold and start anew with a rookie quarterback on a rookie deal and align your entire organization around the same timeline and structure. This franchise is in the midst of an overhaul and every single factor that you would examine for this decision suggests the same path: draft Fields or Wilson at #2 and move on from Sam Darnold.

By running it back with Darnold the Jets are hoping that the new coach can erase 3 years of Adam Gase and Jeremy Bates, leading Darnold to become an outlier akin to Alex Smith or Ryan Tannehill.  That would be failing to see that the more likely outcome would be that Darnold continues down the path that he is on and shows flashes of what we all hope he could be, but still makes the bonehead plays that drive us all nuts and maxes out at a middle-of-the-road quarterback.     

It’s painful to say, but it’s the cold, hard truth. The Jets should have a new rookie QB under center for the 2021 season.