Will Jets Jettison Darnold?
Evaluating young quarterbacks has as much to do with the moving parts around him as it does with the numbers yielded at the end of the season. Case in point, Sam Darnold of the woeful New York Jets. Darnold came highly touted after a stellar redshirt sophomore season in which he led USC to nine consecutive wins over the 2017 season and a victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. That culminated in him being selected as the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
But after being tapped as New York’s starting quarterback, and the youngest ever since the AFL/NFL merger, things have been far from rosy for both the young gunslinger and his new team. The Jets went 4-12 in Darnold’s inaugural season but improved to 7-9 last year. However, their 0-9 start to the 2020 campaign has many questioning Darnold’s longevity especially after a series of injuries has already hampered his erratic, albeit brief, career. And of course, there’s a very attractive consolation prize on the horizon if the Jets continue their losing ways…Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
However, before we deem Darnold a bust, we should take a look at whether he ever had a chance with the talent, or lack thereof, around him. Provided with a shaky offensive line, that has been somewhat remedied by Mekhi Becton, the avalanche of a man New York selected as their first-round pick in April to be Darnold’s personal bodyguard on the offensive line, and a lack of receiving weapons, the young quarterback has struggled.
But how would Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson have fared under the same conditions? It’s easy to say they would have flourished based on their success thus far, but quarterbacking for the Chiefs and Ravens is a different animal entirely than trying to make a go of it with the motley crew the Jet’s brass has assembled.
As of this writing, Darnold is out with a shoulder injury that has caused him to miss three games this season. And now that New York has already been removed from playoff consideration, the game plan has shifted from rushing Darnold back to letting him heal at his own pace. Certainly, a strategy that has much more to do with losing games and winning the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes than it does out of concern for their young quarterback who was considered the team’s new messiah not long ago.
There is no doubt the Jets would snatch Lawrence in a heartbeat if they wind up with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Every online sportsbook has Lawrence as the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 including the odds at Bovada (check their review), and New York would not be trading down to stick with Darnold as the face of its franchise.
But then what? Where does Darnold go and would the Jets give him away if he didn’t fetch a decent asking price? According to one NFL GM, who spoke to ESPN a month ago when asked what the Jets could expect in return, he stated, “The high-water mark would be a [second-round pick] for him. I think they could get a [fourth-round pick] for him, but if he finished positive for him, they might get a two for him.”
Let’s split the difference and call it a third-round pick for the former golden boy. If New York decides that’s the best they can do, what happens next? Does New York toss Lawrence into the same cauldron that boiled Darnold whole? Perhaps a season roaming the sidelines, clipboard in hand, and learning the game at the next level would bear optimal results for Lawrence’s future. And if that is the route they intend to go, would they force Darnold to be the interim QB at the ripe old age of 24?
Lastly, what if the Jets don’t end the season with the league’s worst record? How about if the Jaguars get the first overall pick? Trevor Lawrence would land in Jacksonville while the Jets would have the option, assuming they own the No. 2 overall pick, of landing Ohio State’s Justin Fields. That would seem to be a move they would have to make as well.
But whatever you think about Sam Darnold, the kid is impossible not to like. He’s maintained a positive attitude, publicly at least, amidst all of his early adversity and when asked if he was aware of his team’s potential interest in selecting Lawrence, Darnold didn’t blink when he said, “Yeah, you know, I mean, I have social media. I’ve seen some of the things, but … Yeah, we’ve got a game to win this week and that’s all we’re worried about.”