Incredibly, the New York Jets have put together a two game winning streak. First they beat the LA Rams and this past Sunday beat the Cleveland Browns. They played themselves out of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes and now Joe Douglas must weigh his quarterback options as the Jets have locked down the second pick of the draft. Do they pick Zack Wilson from BYU or Justin Fields from Ohio State? Maybe sign another veteran like Marcus Mariotta or let Joe Flacco become the starter? Another option is keeping Sam Darnold and try building around him for a year or two. Of the options mentioned, I am 100% against keeping Sam Darnold. This is nothing against him personally and he isn’t totally to blame. Let’s see how we got to where we are, which seems to be a never ending New York Jets merry go round to nowhere.
On St. Patrick’s Day in 2018 the New York Jets made one of their boldest moves in franchise history in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts. General manager Mike Maccagnan traded three second-round picks and swapped first round picks in an effort to move up from the number 6 position in the draft to the number 3 spot. This move assured the Jets of one of the top four rated quarterbacks at the time: Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold. Future MVP Lamar Jackson also went late in the first round that year. When it was the Jets turn to draft, Sam Darnold was sitting there and Maccagnan and most Jet fans could not believe it. It looked like a game changer for the organization as most had Darnold rated as the best of the four. Since then Darnold’s time as Jet quarterback has been less than average. Despite showing glimpses in some games of some brilliance, extending plays and hitting receivers on the move, now Sam Darnold looks to be a shell of what we all expected. What went wrong?
Offensive Line Support From 2015-2019 the Jets drafted only one offensive lineman, Brandon Shell, who is no longer with the team. The issue is not simply the individual talents of the players but also the longevity of the unit as a whole, playing together. The Jets have had such a revolving door that any sense of cohesion could never be developed. Just look at the center position. In 2016 it was Nick Mangold’s last year. In 2017 the center was Wesley Johnson, 2018 it was Spencer Long, 2019 Jonathan Harrison and this year it is Connor McGovern. The line has not helped Sam Darnold by providing him with adequate protection to enable him to develop or even survive.
Coaching Sustainability Sam Darnold’s challenges were not limited to the offensive line inconsistencies as he also had to deal with problems associated with the coaching. When Sam Darnold came to the Jets, Todd Bowles was the head coach and Jeremy Bates the offensive coordinator. When Adam Gase took over in 2019, Dowell Loggains was listed as the offensive coordinator but in name only. Gase called the plays until this year when during the season he turned that responsibility over to Loggains. Now, it depends on the week and who you speak to as to whether it is Loggains or Gase running the offense. It has become a weekly guessing game and the Jets beat writers now focus just as much on the sidelines as on the game itself in trying to determine who is doing what. Once again these inconsistencies are destructive to the process of developing a quarterback.
Sam Darnold’s Health Darnold misses games with regularity. Whether it is a bad foot, mononucleosis or a shoulder, he may be one of those quarterbacks snake bitten every year with the injury bug. But in fairness to Darnold, New York Giant quarterback Phil Simms is an example of a player who overcame injuries early in his career and became a successful quarterback. Time will tell if Darnold is prone to injuries.
Audible Ability Does Adam Gase give Sam Darnold the green light to audible? I’ve heard Adam Gase say he does. But the few times when a quarterback sneak seemed like the logical play on a third or fourth and one, it was said that Sam Darnold does not have the green light to call the quarterback sneak. What? Are you kidding me? Since 2001 Tom Brady has 157 quarterback sneak attempts. That equates to roughly one sneak every other game. Taking this play out of the playbook is unheard in today’s NFL.
Ownership and General Manager Decisions Woody Johnson went off to England to be the U.S. ambassador. Chris Johnson took over. Before he hired Adam Gase, Matt Rhule was offered the job but on the condition he has Greg Williams as his defensive coordinator. Rhule declined and eventually took the Carolina job. Gase wanting the Jets job would have agreed to take you or me as defensive coordinator so he took Williams on his staff. Right after the draft Chris Johnson did not like the way Gase and Maccagnan worked together and got rid of Maccagnan. A power play won by Gase but unfortunately it was after the draft. In retrospect it was an excellent move by Johnson who then brought in Joe Douglas to replace him. Still, when you look at all the moving parts, one has to scratch his head. How important are the Jets to Woody Johnson? Can you ever picture Bob Kraft or Art Rooney taking a leave from their teams? This just doesn’t happen unless you are part of the bizarro Jet world.
Sam Darnold All of these things have contributed to the failure and regression of Sam Darnold. But Sam has to take some accountability himself for the way he is playing. He comes across as one of the best guys around. Someone you want to be successful and are happy rooting for. But the bottom line is Sam Darnold is playing like it’s his third rookie season. He is constantly missing open receivers. He is doing dumb things like running out of bounds for a loss rather then throwing it away. Or losing track of the play clock and taking a delay of game penalty. You can say anything you want to stick up for Sam Darnold but just look at other quarterbacks who are playing with weak players around him. Before he got injured, Joe Burrow of the Bengals was playing great with an offensive line almost as bad as the Jets and he was making players around him look good. And I maintain that once the ball is hiked, Sam Darnold never really looks settled or comfortable in the pocket.
In the Browns victory he missed an open Breshad Perriman cutting over the middle.In all fairness this happens to all quarterbacks. It was other mishaps that were unacceptable. After he played a somewhat stable first half, he looked unsure of himself in the second half. On one play he quickly threw the ball out of bounds almost as soon as it was hiked. He never let the play develop and the receivers had no chance of finishing their routes. It was like “I know the pressure is coming, let me end the play.” On another play Sam ran out of bounds for a loss rather then throwing it away just as I mentioned above. And his most egregious act was the play before the Fickens 4th quarter field goal. On third down as he was flushed out of the pocket he threw the ball away but the play should have been to take a sack and keep the clock running. Mistakes like this are repeated by Darnold over and over again. Many fans will say that he managed the last two games well, not turning the ball over and coming away with victories. This is all well and good but I want my team to have a franchise quarterback that plays his best in the second half when the game is on the line. Sam Darnold is not doing this. Every positive we have seen from Sam Darnold this year is just “fools gold.”
There are many more issues but the combination of all of these problems has put Sam Darnold and the New York Jets earmarked for failure. When the season ends he should definitely get traded. Whether his worth is diminished so much that only a 3rd or 4th round draft pick may be had is still to be determined. Sam Darnold needs a change of scenery for him and the Jets. Let’s hope it gets better in his next stop as many Jet fans will continue to follow him wherever he goes and unfortunately what could have been for Jets fans never came to fruition. The Sam Darnold book is still not finished but his chapter with the New York Jets should be ending this Sunday against the Patriots.
Marty Schupak has been a New York Jets football fan since 1964. His blog and Podcast are both at: www.JetsRewind.com