Premature mock drafts have Trevor Lawrence donning New York Jets green. But subjecting the college legend to this wouldn’t benefit anyone.
The New York Jets previously stunk for Sam. Now, the early stages of the 2020 season have them going on an endeavor for Trevor.
Fans and analysts alike have begun to turn on Darnold after a dismal start to the new decade. Through two weeks, Darnold ranks 28th amongst quarterbacks in yardage (394), 24th in completion rate (62.7 percent), and 26th in passer rating (82.6). Those numbers are bad enough from an established veteran thrower, where the modern struggles on the bottom of today’s quarterback ledger boil down to two cases: either the player is clearly past their prime (Tom Brady, Drew Brees) or is kept safe by a massive contract that makes them immovable (Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford). Those are issues that keep you solidified in the present, with the team around the thrower talented enough to keep modern affairs afloat.
But Darnold’s struggles have the Jets tensely monitoring the past, present, and future.
There’s no use in worrying about the past; Scott Lang isn’t coming to the gate at One Jets Drive with the secrets to time travel. The Jets can only take care of the present and the future. While the Jets (0-2) are already fading from a crowded AFC playoff picture, the next 15 weeks will be crucial for players and coaches seeking to earn spots and longevity, and to at least make a lost season look respectable.
As for what’s to come, plenty of prognosticators, amateur and professional alike, have opted to play general manager.
One of the greatest marketing moves the NFL ever made was evolving its from from a single spring weekend a year-long affair. The early stages of the regular season are no exception, as mock drafts for 2021 are already hitting the internet after the first two weeks of the season. Such premature projections have the Jets in the top spot after the brutality displayed in their first couple (though draft order haven Tankathon currently has the Jets picking 11th, with Carolina getting the top choice).
The name in that slot is none other than Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson legend in the midst of what’s confirmed to be his final collegiate campaign. Lawrence’s on-field prowess was already well-known, but the lead-up to a most unusual kickoff exposed his strong leadership qualities through his involement in both the push to play the 2020 season and the social issues gripping the country. Uncertainty peppers the future American landscape, but one of the strongest certainties seems to be that Lawrence will be the No. 1 pick next spring.
Clamoring for the consensus top choice is common and understandable amongst fans; it’s cheaper than therapy and a good hashtag earns valuable social media currency of likes and shares. But it’s not just the fans who envision Lawrence exchanging orange for green.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports has the Jets picking second, but with his top choosers in Cincinnati set with Joe Burrow, the Jets get a different kind of Tiger in Lawrence. Cory Kinnan of Fansided’s NFL Draft site had the Jets taking Lawrence as the first name outright. Noted stats and data site Pro Football Focus went so far as to give fans a visual aid, digitally placing Lawrence in Jets equipment.
Trevor Lawrence looks good in green pic.twitter.com/wi0ynzdrOZ
— PFF (@PFF) September 20, 2020
If Mike Tannenbaum was still the Jets’ general manager, Lawrence’s surname might already be stitched into replica jerseys. Tannenbaum certainly knows about the trials and tribulations of franchise quarterback hunting in New York. His seven-year tenure (2006-12) oversaw the high-profile acquisitions of Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez.
“Trevor Lawrence is very similar to Andrew Luck. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent. And I don’t know how any team with the first pick wouldn’t take him,” Tannenbaum said on ESPN Radio’s Keyshawn, JWill, & Zubin. “Now you get into this discussion of ‘What could you get for Sam Darnold?'”
For all the athletic silliness New York sports fans have had to deal with, their patience has been rewarded by so-called “once-in-a-generation” talents through premium draft picks. Just ask New York Liberty fans about the all-too-brief Sabrina Ionescu experience this summer. The New York Rangers are projected to go through the same process after the branded ping-pong ball bounced their way, with Alexis Lafreniere expected to don Broadway blue at next month’s draft.
But, at this moment, a Lawrence-Jets merger would do neither side any good.
When one looks at the Jets’ offense, a unit that ranks in the depths of most, if not all, major stat categories, one would wonder exactly what exactly is the selling point. The 2020 offense is a culmination of modern and throwback negligence, one that finally may have found a cornerstone blocker in Mekhi Becton at the expense of generally disregarding the skilled weaponry. Would-be saviors Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims have dealt with injuries, as has reliable slot veteran Jamison Crowder. Tight end Chris Herndon has struggled to recapture the spark of his rookie season. Pricy rusher Le’Veon Bell has likewise dealt with injuries and the potential cap savings stemming from a hypothetical release ($5.5 million) may be too tempting to pass up next offseason.
It’s not like Darnold’s time in New York has been a total loss. Even with relatively little help, Darnold has managed to churn out the occasional masterpiece. A visual silver lining of Darnold’s escape from the San Francisco 49ers’ pass rush turning into a scoring strike to Braxton Berrios has made the rounds on social media this week, for example. It’s certainly possible for Jets fans to both call out Adam Gase and his coaching staff and hold the fan-favorite Darnold accountable for his own mistakes.
But with management, namely team CEO and chief decisionmaker Christopher Johnson, seemingly sticking to the “brilliant” Adam Gase, subbing Darnold for Lawrence would make the offense only marginally better and perhaps end a promising career before it truly begins…perhaps emulating the current, scary process Darnold is working through now. Lawrence’s ideal destination is a team that’s the proverbial “quarterback away” from truly contending. The Jets are many, many, many moves away from being a quarterback away. Subjecting Lawrence to this perpetual rebuild, especially one mored in a particularly scary brand of football, seems like cruel and unusual punishment.
Obviously, there’s plenty of time to make moves to further accommodate Lawrence, if the Jets find themselves in the Tiger sweepstakes. The team is blessed with one of the better cap situations in the league (set to work with just over $72 million at the onset of the 2021 offseason) and granting Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy a long-awaited, long-deserved head coaching opportunity would be a point of interest for outside help.
But, as Tannenbaum noted, the Jets arranged Darnold’s development years to be overseen by Gase, the alleged quarterback guru. While it’s possible one of them could survive a potential purge, it’s looking more likely at least one of them could be exchanged by 2021.
“The whole decision-making process was the Jets saying Adam Gase and Sam Darnold are going to be tied to the hip,” Tannenbaum noted on the ESPN podcast. “That’s our franchise for the next 10 years.”
That’s what makes the final 14 games so important for Darnold, who may be playing for his grip on the franchise quarterback role. He needs to make sure the Jets don’t even consider drafting someone like Lawrence. The Jets are blessed with an extra first-round pick over the next two seasons thanks to the Jamal Adams bartering with Seattle, but it would a major victory if they didn’t have to spend any of those premiere selections on yet another franchise quarterback. Granted, the Jets have dealt with so many calamities that one more would be relatively easy to deal with. But the very last thing a rebuilding team needs…other than a sense of hesitation that has been far too common over the first two games…is a franchise quarterback controversy.
The Jets already have enough to deal with, having dug themselves into an extensive hole as is. It wouldn’t be fair to drag Lawrence down with them.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags