The New York Jets are coming off of one of the worst seasons in franchise history. However, there’s a growing sense that the organization as a whole is finally heading in the right direction. With Joe Douglas, a well respected figure in league circles, as General Manager, the Jets were able to recruit one of the most sought after Head Coaching candidates in this cycle. New Jets Head coach Robert Saleh has an immense amount of charisma, belief and positivity around his vision of what he wants his New York Jets team to look like. Coming from the defensive side of the ball, it has been refreshing to hear Coach Saleh talk about his expectations for the offense and what he believes that unit can accomplish during his stint as the leader of this organization. After assembling an impressive coaching staff to expedite the process of his vision becoming a reality, Robert Saleh must now lock arms with Joe Douglas and the Johnson family to discuss what is hands down the most important decision he will ever make as a head coach. That would be the decision on who will be the Jets starting quarterback in 2021 and beyond.
Should the Jets pursue Deshaun Watson at all costs? Would Douglas and Saleh be wise to draft their own quarterback with the number two overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft? Do they still believe in Sam Darnold and think he can thrive under a new coaching staff and offensive system? While the fan base is admittedly split on who they believe should command the offense for the foreseeable future, there are positives to all potential outcomes.
It’s an extremely rare occurrence that a fringe top-five quarterback becomes available for trade in the NFL. That is what appears to be happening with three-time Pro Bowler and 2020 passing yards leader Deshaun Watson. Watson has expressed his displeasure with his current franchise, the Houston Texans. As reports of his unhappiness leaked out to sports media, rumors of his preferred trade destinations started swirling. The New York Jets are supposedly at the top of his wishlist, due to the hiring of Robert Saleh as head coach. Saleh was viewed as a strong candidate throughout the league and one that Watson hoped the Texans would be interested in interviewing for their coaching vacancy. Naturally over the next few weeks, Jets fans and even New York media started to entertain the thought of Deshaun Watson being the quarterback of the future for gang green. Now that Watson has formally requested a trade that thought can soon become a reality, as a deal appears to be in the best interest of both parties. Acquiring Deshaun Watson from Houston would be significant in more ways than one. The New York Football Jets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010. That is currently the longest active streak in the National Football League. Trading for a 25-year old quarterback, who’s just scratching the surface of his prime would immediately make the Jets a playoff caliber team.
While there are still positions that need to be addressed throughout the rest of the roster, taking care of the most important position in football would be a great start to the Robert Saleh era. Deshaun Watson would easily be the best possible upgrade available to the Jets at quarterback. In regards to adding talent around Watson and placing him in prime position to compete for a Super Bowl in the near future, that doesn’t appear to be a problem. Players have begun to entertain the idea of joining forces with the star quarterback in New York. The most notable athlete to let it be known publicly is wide receiver Allen Robinson, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Jets have a slew of resources at their disposal that will allow them to continue surrounding Watson with talent beyond Robinson. Currently armed with the third-most cap space and an ample amount of draft picks, no GM is better equipped to acquire Watson and build a winner around him than Joe Douglas. Despite these facts, there are still fans who feel it would be premature to trade for an elite quarterback on a big contract. The beauty of Deshaun Watson’s deal is how low the cap hit is for the 2021 season. Watson’s contract would only account for $10.5 million of the Jets cap space which is projected to be north of $65 million. This doesn’t take into consideration potential cuts of players on crippling contracts that were handed out by the last front office regime. This benefits the Jets greatly, as it gives management a reasonable timetable to manipulate the cap space in preparation for Watson’s contract in the future. A move of this magnitude changes the perception of the New York Jets for good. Pairing an elite young quarterback like Deshaun Watson with the likes of Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh, the Jets can build a perennial Super Bowl contender for a decade. While this appears to be the best course of action for the franchise, it is not the only logical recipe for success.
If there was ever a silver lining at the end of such an abysmal 2020 season for Jets fans, it would be the shiny new toy referred to as the second overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Jets hold possession of a valuable asset in this year’s draft class. All options are on the table with this pick. Three highly regarded quarterback prospects will be available to them. BYU QB Zach Wilson, NDSU QB Trey Lance and Ohio State QB Justin Fields. The Jets will do their due diligence on all three of these players and can potentially find themselves falling in love with one of them as April approaches. Who they choose remains a mystery, but the benefits of drafting one of these aforementioned quarterbacks would be the same. If Douglas and Saleh elect to draft their own quarterback, it can offer the Jets some financial relief.
When you have a quarterback on a team-friendly rookie contract, it enables the front office to spend money on premium positions that would be vital to the betterment of the team. Another important layer to this is the Sam Darnold situation. Darnold is currently heading into the fourth year of his rookie contract, which means the Jets have to make a decision on his fifth-year option by May 3rd, 2021. If the Jets were to pick up that option, Darnold would be owed $25 million in 2022. Rather than committing to Darnold long-term, the Jets can opt to find a trade partner for the former third overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. This would allow the Jets to collect compensation from another team that they can then use to continually build around the rookie quarterback they would draft. With a new head coach and quarterback in unison, One Jets Drive could be rejuvenated heading into the 2021-2022 season. An underlying factor to starting fresh with a rookie at quarterback would be the reality that this move would buy Joe Douglas more time as general manager of the New York Jets. If the Jets failed to see dramatic improvement next season with Sam Darnold under center, it could be a cause of concern to those in the front office. Joe Douglas has without question been the best GM the Jets have had for the better part of a decade. It would be unfortunate if ownership felt the need to move on from Douglas due to the inability to get the absolute best out of Darnold.
While the majority of New York’s fan base would welcome a Deshaun Watson trade or selecting a new quarterback in the draft, sticking with Sam Darnold appears to be more likely than originally perceived. Despite how unenthused some may feel towards this option there are still a decent amount of positives that come with it. In this scenario it would be safe to assume that the Jets would decline Darnold’s fifth-year option. This would give the team no concrete commitment to the quarterback beyond this upcoming season, which would be the best course of action should this attempt to salvage Darnold fail. Halted by poor coaching and even worse offensive talent for the first three seasons of his professional career, Sam Darnold has been a below average starter in the NFL. However, many executives in the league believe if placed in a system that is quarterback friendly and surrounded by actual starting caliber players on offense, he can find success. Well, new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is believed to be putting an offense in place that would make Darnold’s life considerably easier.
We’ve already discussed the freedom that having $65 million in cap space provides. Add to that the maximized value of the luxurious number two overall selection in the draft and now you can seriously provide Darnold with elite weaponry to take the field with on a weekly basis. If the Jets were to trade this pick, they would in all likelihood receive a king’s ransom. The team currently has five picks in the top-100 of the draft and nine picks overall. Trading out of the number two spot could net them around four additional draft picks, potentially including three this year. I strongly believe if given twelve picks in a single draft class, Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh would hit the majority of their selections out of the park. At best, Sam Darnold elevates his game and the Jets now have a solidified quarterback of the future. At worst, the Jets have a well-rounded roster absolutely flooded with talent and can devise a plan on how to approach the position in the 2022 offseason. It may be a leap of faith the New York Jets’ brass is willing to take.
In essence, our beloved Jets appear to be changing the narrative that has clouded this organization for nearly a decade. Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have restored faith in the fan base and respectability throughout the league. While there will still be debates in regards to which quarterback options seem to be more appealing than others, the important fact to remember is there’s no wrong answer. In all three scenarios the New York Jets become a more complete football team. We can return to cheering for wins again, rather than root for losses in early October. Regardless of the outcome, Jets fans should remain positive and have the utmost confidence in our leaders to make decisions that will swiftly translate to success.