With a little under two weeks until the start of the 2021 NFL league year, the future of Sam Darnold as the New York Jets starting QB continues to dominate headlines. Although PFN’s Senior Draft Analyst Tony Pauline has reported for more than a month that the Jets aren’t actively shopping Darnold, it would appear they’re willing to take calls. Additionally, many around the league who have spoken with Pauline believe a parting of ways with Darnold is the most sensible thing for Jets GM Joe Douglas.
In this week’s Draft Insiders show, Pauline re-iterated that sentiment saying, “Remember what I said a week ago. A lot of people in the league think it’s in Joe Douglas’s best interest to trade Darnold, move on from Darnold, and use that second selection on a quarterback like Zach Wilson if they can’t trade for Deshaun Watson.”
Why is the Sam Darnold situation so important for Joe Douglas’ tenure?
As noted in a previous article, Joe Douglas did not bring in Sam Darnold. The third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft was already the Jets QB when Joe Douglas arrived. That has always given the Jets GM some leeway, some modicum of excuse, for the lack of success in his tenure so far.
With new head coach Robert Saleh arriving, there is the opportunity for a fresh start. They now have the opportunity to dictate the direction of the franchise. Future success hinges on these decisions. Conversely, a decision that ultimately fails will make or break Joe Douglas as the Jets GM. That is why it’s so important for Douglas in particular.
“If he stays with Darnold, and Darnold is the quarterback for 2021, and Darnold falls flat, and it turns out to be a bad decision, it could be sooner rather than later for Joe Douglas.”
As Pauline has reported previously, the feeling is that if the Jets GM is developing a new QB, then he will have time to fully evaluate the success of that decision. It’s a luxury that he just doesn’t have with Darnold.
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What is the market for Jets QB Sam Darnold?
If the Jets do decide to part ways with their former first-round pick, is there a market for him? According to Pauline, there definitely is. The Jets GM may not be actively shopping his current quarterback. However, the phone is ringing.
“I think the fact that people are calling for Sam Darnold, which should be no surprise, because I reported this back in November when it looked like the Jets were done with Darnold. There are a lot of people in the league that still value him. They still think he’s a good quarterback, he just needs to be coached correctly.”
The latter point is perhaps the most important
It’s easy to point to numbers — only 8,097 passing yards in three seasons, a 39:45 touchdown to interception ratio, and an average completion percentage of under 60 percent — and say the Jets QB has been ineffective. But he has been under the guidance of Adam Gase for two years. For all of Gase’s reputation as a “QB whisperer,” Ryan Tannehill is a prime example of a quarterback flourishing once he departs from his clutches.
Could it be the same way for Sam Darnold?
“He showed a lot of brilliance throughout his rookie career to make you believe that he was the quarterback of the future. The Jets had finally really pulled the trigger and gotten their franchise guy. It’s been dribs and drabs of that the past two years. He had mono two years ago, he had an injury this year, and all throughout — both of those seasons, he’s dealing with Adam Gase, and he never showed any development. The bottom line is this, he’s a tough guy, he’s a resilient guy. I also believe he’s a motivated quarterback. I think there’s a lot of football left in Sam Darnold. It’s just, is that football with the New York Jets?”
What are the Jets’ QB options going forward?
As pointed out during Draft Insiders, at last year’s trade deadline Jets GM Joe Douglas said he was willing to listen to offers on every player. That is except for the Jets franchise quarterback. At the time, he put Sam Darnold in that category. If he’s listening to calls on Sam Darnold now, surely that would indicate that they no longer view him as the Jets franchise QB?
Of course, now they’re in a fantastic position from an NFL Draft perspective. Holding the No. 2 selection in April, they are set to have their pick of any quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence. If popular opinion is to be believed, then it will be either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields.
Alternatively, they’re one of very few teams with the capital to make a play for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. They could use the No. 2 pick — with the potential extra picks from a trade of Sam Darnold –and whatever other capital it may take and secure a proven commodity at the game’s most important position.
That would ultimately carry the least risk of all for Jets GM Joe Douglas. The NFL Draft is the ultimate lottery. In addition, the Jets have already shown that drafting a QB early isn’t a guarantee of success. Either way, both options appear to carry less risk and a higher chance of job security for Joe Douglas than keeping Sam Darnold as the Jets QB.
“It’s a big decision they have to make. And the fact is this — if you keep Darnold, he falls flat, Joe Douglas is in trouble. I think it’s a matter of, Douglas is on a shorter leash if they keep Sam Darnold.”
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.