The New York Jets have a(nother) quarterback conundrum

Sam Darnold might be here to stay, but, even if the New York Jets are ready to roll with him, their passing questions still persist.

When one analyzes the offseason of a two-win team that’s welcoming in an almost-entirely new coaching regime, it’s hard to truly lament any losses from the prior group. Sure, departures Henry Anderson and Breshad Perriman provided occasional flashes of brilliance, but one look at the 2020 New York Jets would be enough to convince fans that change was coming and should’ve given them ample time to say their goodbyes.

But one of the most recent losses may sting the new edition in unexpected ways.

The Philadelphia Eagles announced on Tuesday that former Jets thrower Joe Flacco will don a new shade of green through a one-year deal. It is widely expected that the Super Bowl XLVII MVP will backup sophomore Jalen Hurts, or at least compete for the role against Nate Sudfeld and Khalil Tate.

On paper, the Flacco departure shouldn’t affect the Jets drastically. The Audubon, NJ native’s lasting metropolitan legacy was likely to appear on endless lists and attempts at Twitter procrastination when fans pejoratively reference a legend of the game’s time in unfamiliar colors (other Jets examples in this phenomenon would include Chris Johnson, Derrick Mason, and Ronnie Lott). Additionally, if incoming receiver Corey Davis is to be believed, Sam Darnold will be the Jets’ starting quarterback come September, eliminating any semblance of a New York quarterback controversy…for now.

Flacco’s departure, however, may be the Jets’ most impactful loss yet.

The importance of a backup quarterback can no longer be denied in the modern NFL. Injuries remain a part of the game and teams have become especially cautious when it comes to high-profile quarterbacks. In each of the last two seasons, for example, only 13 throwers started all 16 of their team’s games. We’ve witnessed backup throwers start…and win…playoff games. The most recent Wild Card Saturday saw John Wolford and Taylor Heinicke line up under center and the football world is only three years removed from watching Nick Foles shock the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Tennessee built a contending squad after a strong safety net, Ryan Tannehill, became their primary option.

Trivial as it seems, this area must be addressed. In New York, the Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went the whole way in 2015. Darnold has yet to start to a full season and the Jets are 0-10 in his absence, with those games being overseen by Flacco, Josh McCown, Trevor Siemian, and Luke Falk.

While Davis appears confident that Darnold is the Jets’ man for the future, his comments don’t clarify over whether he’ll be the official starting quarterback. National mock drafts continue to place a non-Trevor Lawrence thrower next to the Jets’ slot at No. 2. But it’s hard to imagine the Jets, already cursed with social media notoriety, creating controversy and conflict where there doesn’t have to be. They have enough issues, which include working with a new coaching staff. When there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel of perpetual rebuilding, it needs to be approaching as cleanly as possible.

Thus, if Davis’ words are to be taken literally, it appears Darnold is the top man. But the backup situation must be addressed and undoubtedly moved up a few pegs on the team’s active offseason priority list (which already needs blocking, secondary, and kicking questions answered).

The current situation

If the Jets stick with Darnold and he’s lost to another medical absence, uncertainty looms in the bottom half of the depth chart. The primary understudy role would probably be a toss-up between James Morgan and Mike White…who have a combined zero NFL regular season passes between them.

The case of Morgan, a mid-major standout from Florida International, is particularly perplexing. His fourth-round drafting made little sense for a team that wound up filling the backup quarterback hole with Flacco shortly after draft weekend. Even as the Jets’ stakes quickly dwindled, to the point they had literally nothing to lose except the top draft pick, Morgan couldn’t even earn a mere activation. New York instead opted to use White, a fifth-round pick in Dallas in 2018, as Flacco’s backup while Darnold recovered. The situation becomes even more bizarre when one looks at the names passed (pun itentended) to add Morgan instead; among them were instant day three contributors like Gabriel Davis and DeeJay Dallas.

It’s hard to fully blame for the predicament. He hasn’t even had the luxury of throwing a down in Jets game jersey thanks to the cancellation of the 2020 preseason. Morgan could well prove himself worth of NFL time sooner or later, but the Jets must, at the very least, create a competition for the spot, especially if they’re keeping Darnold.

What the Jets need in a backup

  • Mentorship: What Darnold needs at this point in time of his NFL career is stability and guidance. The closest he’s looked to having his NFL act together came at the end of his rookie season, when he put up a 99.1 passer rating (64 percent completion rate, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception). Darnold credited the surge in production to “watching Josh (McCown)” while he was injured. Having a de facto coach who also wears a jersey could be big for Darnold as he enters the all-important fourth year on an NFL roster.

 

  • Experience: Abstaining from drafting another quarterback if Darnold is kept would limit potentially negative attention. But if the Jets want someone to keep them afloat if Darnold is lost once again, they would be much better trusting someone used to the weight of NFL starterhood rather than entrusting an emergency situation to a day three choice. Several ex-starters who would probably be better suited for backup duties remain on the free agent market, including Blaine Gabbert from the Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay and San Francisco passer Nick Mullens, who has worked with incoming coaches Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur.

 

  • That Championship Feeling: The Jets would be wise to seek someone whose has experienced the passing highs the NFL has had to offer. For example, Blake Bortles, most recently a member of the Los Angeles Rams, was starting in an AFC title game three seasons ago. Enough can’t be written about Alex Smith’s inspiring NFL journey. These throwers, amongst others, can provide the Jets some assurance and security in case the unthinkable happens to Darnold yet again, while providing him some off-the-field skills to learn as well.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants may choose between Colt McCoy and Alex Smith for 2021’s backup

Backup quarterbacks don’t stay in the limelight for long most of the time, but the New York Giants found out last season why they can be so important. Daniel Jones struggled with injury in the later season and the Giants had their playoff hopes dashed in part because they were forced to rely on Colt McCoy when Jones was unavailable. While Jones is expected to be healthy this season, it’s unclear if the Giants plan to strengthen the backup spot just in case.

This offseason, of course, the Giants are trying to cut costs – and in all likelihood, that’s part of why they’re content with McCoy over bringing in an outsider for more money.

Based on reports from Jordan Raanan, it seems like the Giants are leaning towards keeping McCoy around.

“Good mentor,” one source said to describe part of what McCoy brings to the table…

By all accounts, the Giants were happy with McCoy’s performance in the backup role and he enjoyed his time in their program. And there seems to be no doubt McCoy wants to continue playing.

McCoy isn’t the only option

On the other hand, the Giants have an intriguing option to consider in Washington quarterback Alex Smith. Smith is set to be 37 years old but his performance last season proved that he’s still in the backup quarterback conversation around the league.

Washington released him following his success in bringing them the division title after the starting job once again ended up in his lap. In the event that something happens to Daniel Jones again, a lot of fans would feel safer with Smith as the starter instead of McCoy.

However, the Giants may not be able to pick up Smith for as cheaply as they would want because there appears to be interest from other teams thanks to Smith’s accomplishments last season. The Chicago Bears, notably, are coached by Matt Nagy – who worked with Smith in Kansas City and may provide a more attractive destination for the free agent.

With the Giants needing to get their salaries down this offseason, it seems like the addition of a better backup like Smith may be hard. However, there is at least one big option on the market and last season proved why the Giants could use a better backup in the first place.

New York Jets: The case for (and against) Alex Smith

The inspiring story of Alex Smith won’t continue in Washington. Should its next chapters be written with the New York Jets?

The roller-coaster story of Alex Smith has written its final burgundy chapter.

Per Ian Rapoport and Kim Jones of NFL Network, Smith will be released by the Washington Football Team and become a free agent. The former top overall pick returned to the NFL this season after suffering a devastating leg injury in 2018 and played a role in guiding Washington to the NFC East division title, though another injury prevented him from partaking in their subsequent playoff game against Tampa Bay. Per Rapoport, Smith, set to turn 37 in May, has no plans to retire.

It’s likely Smith won’t have much trouble finding a new destination. His release unto the market comes at a time where many teams are at a crossroads in their quarterback situation, both in the starter and reliable backup roles.

Should the New York Jets be in the running? ESM makes a case for, and against, the concept…

For: He’s a reliable, veteran backup

No matter what sort of legacy Smith leaves behind…and it’s going to be one that’s talked about for a long time…one can never deny his resiliency, strength, and competitiveness. Even before the harrowing injury, the NFL had thrown a lot at Smith. His early days in San Francisco were trapped in a perpetual rebuild and a revolving door of coaches. A teammate’s knee served as a roadblock to the Super Bowl before a concussion saw him lose his franchise quarterback job to Colin Kaepernick the following season. It felt like he found a place to flourish in Kansas City, but the same situation befell him: despite playing an effective, yet relatively boring, brand of football, he was supplanted by an electrifying youngster, Patrick Mahomes in this latter case. At the end of the day, however, Smith has built a length NFL career through resilience and perseverance, finding ways to make the game work for him.

Simply put, there might never be a better mentor in NFL history.

Whether it’s Sam Darnold, Deshaun Watson, or a rookie-to-be, the Jets’ quarterback can benefit from having the mind of Smith mentoring their young franchise man. Additionally, backup quarterback has been one of the most underrated positions in all of professional sports. The Jets had the right idea with the role last season, as Joe Flacco was relatively effective in four starts for Darnold. But the Jets have not won a game with a backup starting since Bryce Petty home an overtime decision in December 2016 against San Francisco. Even if Smith posted some subpar numbers while shaking the rust off in Washington last season (his 78.5 passer rating was his worst in over a decade), there would be far worse options in case of an emergency.

Against: Is this the end?

No matter what role Smith’s team wants him to fill, there will be lingering questions of not only his effectiveness at 37, but how durable he will be in that role. Judging a player for injuries is a concept that deserves a deeper conversation, but it’s an unfortunate reality in today’s NFL. It’s ultimately Smith’s decision to make…and there is every indication that he wants to continue his NFL career…but the bad medical luck he’s had over the past few seasons may be something teams would like to avoid.

One look at Smith’s contract history may cause potential suitors to wonder whether he’s worth the risk. He’s coming off a four-year, $94 million deal with Washington, and while the Jets have the fund through their much-discussed cap situation, but they’re a team with many, many holes to fill. They’re not in a position to splurge on a quarterback that likely has retirement on his scope.

For: Perhaps a stopgap? 

Back in December, we investigated whether a stopgap quarterback would be a good idea for the Jets. The concept has become increasingly popular over recent years. Smith became such an option in Washington once it became clear the Dwayne Haskins experiment wasn’t going to pan out. Elsewhere, the Colts had Phillip Rivers take over for a single season and it led to a playoff berth in the third year of the post-Andrew Luck era.

There are no indications that they’re going that route, but it’s something that could at least be discussed. For the record, it’s completely understandable and makes complete sense that the Jets would find their man for the present and future on their roster. If they temporarily fill in the gap for Smith, they can spend this season taking care of their other needs. Under such a system, a, say, revamped offensive line In the off-chance they were willing to go that route, Smith would be a strong candidate to roll with.

Against: Is he too accomplished?

The Jets are in a position where they’re trying to make their own comeback, one where they would probably prefer to start fresh, roll with younger, maybe even homegrown, talent. Adding a 37-year-old quarterback to the mix in a major role seems like the wrong way to steer a rebuild project, especially one planted with so much youth.

Additionally, the Jets don’t do so well when it comes to guys who have done famous things in another jersey. For this process to work, namely that of the maturation and grooming of a potential new franchise quarterback, they need to have as little distraction as possible. Bringing in one of the NFL’s most-talked-about stories wouldn’t benefit either party in that regard.

The Verdict

If the Jets were looking to go the stopgap option, Smith would, again, probably be among the best option. But there’s no indication that they’re willing to enter the single-year quarterback process, and will instead try to find their long-term man. Perhaps if they were the proverbial “one move away” from contending for a championship, but 2020 proved that they’re many transactions away from merely contending for one of the wild card slots, even with extra real estate.

The Jets are already in a position where, for better or worse, every move they make is viewed with an extra layer of notoriety. Through no fault of Smith’s his prescience in green would be a distraction. Between that and a potentially inflated price tag, the Jets would probably be better off looking elsewhere for their backup quarterback.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags