New York Jets’ lack of on-field progress disfigures offseason work

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

Trading off the faces of the franchise is working to the New York Jets’ benefit, but the on-field yields have made them impossible to enjoy.

The New York Jets’ most fruitful endeavors of the 2021 season came in Week 6. By perhaps no coincidence, that week of action marked the Jets’ annual bye week.

The 2021-22 NFL playoff bracket was never going to be the primary criteria for judging the Jets’ season. This year’s AFC environment was already packed to the brim with established division favorites: the Jets’ own East division is set to be dominated by a Western New York overlord for the foreseeable future. Tennessee has taken over the South as expected while pleasant surprises have emerged in Cincinnati and Las Vegas.

The wild card picture features expected contenders like the Ravens, Chargers, Browns, and Steelers. In Kansas City, the two-time defending conference champion Chiefs are shockingly fighting for their lives. Asking a two-win team to launch themselves into that conversation, no matter how much they changed during the offseason, was always a very tall ask, one not even worth asking. Appearing in the “in the hunt” column on the postseason charts NFL broadcasters break out around the holidays was probably going to be the best-case scenario for the team.

Nonetheless, there was much to gain in year one of the shared Robert Saleh/Zach Wilson era, the official start of Joe Douglas’ general manager tenture after he installed his own head coach and quarterback. Progress was the name of the game and it would’ve been hard to take steps backward from the final years of the Adam Gase era. The Jets were left in such dire straits from Gase’s two-year watch that there was no way for them to fully fill all the boxes on their offseason checklist, but Douglas did a solid job nonetheless.

But the biggest moves of Douglas’ offseason were done not in the name of the present, but the future. Douglas officially left his mark on the organization through the trade of previous franchise quarterback Sam Darnold, paving the way for Wilson’s arrival. In return for a quarterback with a career 78.6 passer rating and an unforunate injury history, Douglas was able to secure a second and fourth-round pick from the Carolina Panthers. Darnold’s departure came nearly nine months after fellow franchise face Jamal Adams was shipped off to Seattle for each of the Seahawks’ first-round picks over the next two drafts.

Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For the time being, Douglas’ deals look like the finest New York-based robbery since Clive Owen and Co.’s heist in Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Adams may have earned his desired big contract but has failed to stop Seattle’s Russell Wilson-free descent. His first playoff experience was a Wild Card disappointment that failed to stop an injured Los Angeles Rams passing tandem of Jared Goff and John Wolford. Seattle’s ugly Monday night loss to New Orleans currently positions the Jets in the eighth slot of the current 2022 draft board, one of the two appearances within the first octology.

Meanwhile, Darnold became instant comedic fuel for those seeking a cheap laugh at the Jets’ expense: as his Panthers started 3-0 (wins coming against the Jets, Saints, and Texans), many were ready to put him in Canton for his services of making Gang Green look even more inept. Carolina has since dropped four in a row, the latest loss being a listless 25-3 defeat at the hands of the lowly Giants. Darnold was benched for de facto XFL MVP P.J. Walker in defeat and the Panthers reportedly remain interested in the services of the burdened Deshaun Watson, a sweepstakes Douglas smartly reclused himself from.

Per Tankathon, the Jets are slated to visit the podium four times over the first 45 selections if the current pace continues. That alone should make the team smile and emerge from the 2021 campaign with good feelings.

Alas, what’s happening on the field makes it absolutely impossible to appreciate the yields off of it.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Jets (1-5) are somehow finding rockier bottoms than those reached under Gase, much like how Gase “accomplished” dubious distinctions Rick Kotite’s doomed groups managed to avoid. New York’s new futility was best personified through their most recent defeat, a 54-13 shellacking at the hands of the New England Patriots.

Few remnants of the New England dynasty linger since Tom Brady flew south, but their monopoly over the Jets is a troubling leftover: of the Patriots’ ten wins earned in the post-Brady era, four have come against the hapless Jets. East Rutherford’ portion of the 2021 meetings was equally ugly, as the Jets failed to visit the end zone in a 25-6 defeat. A week later, they were on the wrong end of a shutout in Denver, the tenth scoreboard blank in the NFL since 2019. Of those no-shows, the Jets have been responsible for three of them.

In further Sunday struggles, the 54 points were the most scored by a Jets opponent since the team let up 56 to those same Patriots in 1979. It was also the eighth time in franchise history that the Jets let up at least 550 yards in a game since opening weekend of the 1998 season. Unlike that overtime thriller in San Francisco, no divisional title/AFC title game appearance awaits at the end.

What New England did on Sunday is what, frankly, the Jets should be doing. Nobody is expecting them to light up the scoreboard on a weekly basis (nor should they) but the Jets’ lack of on-field progress is disturbing. Solace can be gained from the fact that the team is well-set for the future…the elevator ride up the draft board is the sweetest form of gridiron schadenfreude…but it’s hard to get excited when the on-field product suggests that there’s still so much to work on.

Douglas’ drafts have also done little to inspire faith in the draft day rewards. Sure, his primary picks (Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker) have provided a solid foundation for the wall in front of Wilson. But addressing the entire body of work is a new exercise in football frustration and futility.

Take his original class in 2020, for example. Becton has been strong but has spent most of this season on injured reserve (along with sixth-round punter Braden Mann). Nothing more needs to be written about second-round weapon Denzel Mims’ lack of snaps (his 20 on Sunday were a season-best). Jabari Zuniga (3rd) and James Morgan are already gone while Morgan’s fellow fourth-rounders La’Mical Perine and Cameron Clark have united for a single snap this season. While there’s hope for secondary defenders Ashtyn Davis and Bryce Hall, they haven’t made any of the missed opportunities worth forgetting: for example, Jeremy Chinn, Logan Wilson, and Antonio Gibson went within the immediate ten post-Mims picks. The already pointless selection of Morgan is even more bizarre considering Gabriel Davis went to Buffalo three choices later.

It’s great that the Jets have accumulated such valuable draft capital…but does that mean much when the on-field product still wallows in gridiron shame?

Granted, there’s still time for the Jets to come out clean on the other side of this season: arguing about the fates of Saleh and Wilson (who is missing at least the next two weeks with an injury) is pointless: even the Jets won’t be so impatient to give up on them after one year. Another macabre gift has been bestowed in the sense that the Jets’ season is so far gone and already removed from the postseason that they have 11 consequence-free opportunities to stage free research and development for the future, starting with Sunday’s visit from the AFC North leaders from Cincinnati (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Douglas arrived in one of the most thankless jobs in professional sports. To his credit, he’s making the best of it through not only his draft board maneuvering but late summer cuts that have created a professional future for themselves (i.e. Quincy Williams, Ty Johnson). Trading off the franchise faces and his action on the offensive line was refreshing after years of Mike Maccagnan-supervised negligence. To say Douglas has the best intentions would perhaps be the understatement of this young season.

But if good intentions served as championship criteria, everyone would be undefeated.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The true culprit of the Sam Darnold era was…

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

Adam Gase is far from innocent, but he’s not the primary reason why the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold era didn’t work out.

There’s no use in crying about the past, especially when the prior affairs are only three weeks old. But social media’s stranglehold on society and the NFL stretching its news cycle from eight hours on Sunday to 365 days a year have seemingly done away with rationality.

If invitations to Canton were granted through 280 characters or less, for example, the construction of Sam Darnold’s bust would not only be underway but his 2021 season might have its own wing. It’s easy to see why Darnold’s modern endeavors have earned their share of headlines: he’s the quarterback of one of five undefeated NFL teams and his redemption story is compounded by the fact his former employers, the New York Jets, serve as a running gag amongst professional and amateur football comedians alike.

The Jets’ reunion with Darnold was crossed off of their bucket list on kickoff weekend. It’s way too early to fully grade the trade that sent Darnold to Charlotte, especially considering two of the metropolitan spoils garnered (second and fifth-round picks next spring) don’t even have names yet. Realistically, the Jets shouldn’t worry about Darnold again until 2025, the next scheduled meeting between Gang Green and Carolina.

Yet, the omnipotent nature of modern NFL football doesn’t allow the Jets a moment’s peace (Carolina’s nationally televised win over Houston on Thursday hasn’t helped stop the spread). The fact that Darnold is playing an active role in the Panthers’ success…he’s responsible for six of Carolina’s eight touchdowns while the Jets have scored two over their first three games under Zach Wilson’s offensive watch…is placing only a bigger spotlight on both Gang Green’s past, present, and future blueprints.

As their team continues to sputter sans Sam, Jets fans have sought a main villain, a living, breathing entity whom they can blame for their predicaments. Former head coach Adam Gase has been the primary target as Darnold joins a list of breakthrough stars that have flourished upon his departure (joining names like Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, and Laremy Tunsil).

Such fingering is misdirected.

The Jets’ modern struggles obviously do not fully exonerate Gase. Surely the post-Gase success list (which has also welcomed the fortunes of Gase’s collegiate and professional teams) isn’t a matter of coincidence and, traumatizing as this season has been so far, his weekly denials that he was fighting with the faces of the franchise haven’t been missed. Besides, the obvious suspect, as so many other murder mysteries have proven before, is more often than not the one who did the deed.

Gase will require some extra supervision when he inevitably gets yet another NFL job (because the modern NFL loves, if anything, coaching retreads), but he’s shielding the real culprit: it was ex-general manager Mike Maccagnan, in the front office, with a misguided sense of roster management.

 Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The jury is still out on Maccagnan’s successor Joe Douglas, especially with the poor early returns of the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. But one thing Saleh knew what Maccagnan was doing wasn’t working: as of Sunday’s Week 3 contest (a garish 26-0 loss in Denver), only three players from Maccagnan’s last contest as the metropolitan decision-maker (Foley Fatukasi, Marcus Maye, Nathan Shepherd) remain on the modern roster. Half of Maccagnan’s ill-fated final class (in the ensuing 2019 draft) is already gone.

Douglas’ pruge of the Maccagnan is a microcosm of what Darnold had to deal with. The Maccagnan era was one of negligence and ill-advised splashes, one that tried to cover inefficiencies at the supposedly “boring” positions with high-profile signings.

From the get-go, Darold was mostly left to fend for himself. Maccagnan’s strategy seemed to be an incomplete cause-and-effect chart whose profits and yields relied on Darnold becoming an MVP candidate. The offensive cabinets assembled by Maccagnan consisted of the aforementioned big-ticket free agents equally saddled with big baggage (Le’Veon Bell) and that was just the beginning of the team’s issues.

In his all-too-brief time as the Jets’ thrower, Darnold was also stuck with first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman), former stars past their prime (Demaryius Thomas, Frank Gore), flash-in-the-pan breakthrough candidates that wilted under a brighter spotlight (Chris Herndon, Quincy Enunwa), and undeveloped projects that either didn’t work out (Terrelle Pryor, Jermaine Kearse) or remain a work in progress (Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims).

All the while, Maccagnan almost completely ignored construction of the wall in front of Darnold. Save for some desperate moves late in his tenure…the ill-fated trade for Kelechi Osemele and drafting Chuma Edoga in the third round of his final draft…Maccagnan opted to go with blockers made of inconsistent one-year failed fixes. Darnold, for example, worked with three different primary centers (Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison, and Connor McGovern), an inconsistency set forth by Maccagnan’s failure to find a long-term solution.

It was a stark departure from predecessor Mike Tannenbaum’s finest hours: during his first draft in 2006, Tannenbaum chose Virginia tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, passing (pun intended) on touted quarterback prospects like Vince Young and Jay Cutler. When they had a chance to take touted collegiate, skill player heroes like Joseph Addai, Sinorice Moss, and LenDale White, they instead opted to bring in Nick Mangold. Not only did those two blockers headline the closest things the Jets have had to recent glory days, but they also became two of the most beloved figures in franchise history. Tannenbaum surrounded his homegrown talents with accomplished veteran strengths like Alan Faneca and Damien Woody. Carolina had already restocked its blocking cupboard with Taylor Moton and Matt Paradis.

Compare that to what Darnold has to work with in Carolina: the Panthers found a way to unite him with Robby Anderson, one of the few things that were working with him in New York. Anderson was one of two four-digit yardage receivers Darnold now has to throw to, the other being DJ Moore. Of course, no one in Jets circles needs to be reminded about the impact Christian McCaffrey can have, as the returning running back served as the 187-yard difference in Carolina’s 19-14 triumph on opening weekend. Carolina’s defense has also come up huge; through a majority of Week 3 action, the Panthers are the only team in the league that has let up less than 200 yards a game (191).

Rather than the hapless Gase, Darnold is also working with accomplished offensive minds Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. The former is all too familiar with raising lost causes from the football abyss, taking downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor to unprecedented new heights.

Carolina is in the midst of working with a new general manager, having brought in former Seattle scouting expert Scott Fitterer last winter. Adding Darnold is by far his most impactful move to date, a trade that open a new chapter in the book of the Panthers, one that officially allowed them to move on from the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera glory days.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few months into the job, Fitterer has done more Darnold than Maccagnan ever did.

Darnold is no longer being relied upon to be the sole source of offensive sparks. Many of those pieces arrived before Fitterer, but also spent valuable offseason funds on the aforementioned defense: former Temple linebacker was reunited with Rhule and now leads the team in sacks (4.5). They used their first pick on South Carolina shutdown corner Jaycee Horn (though he’s set to miss some time due to a non-contact foot injury). The Panthers are only poised to upgrade further after Week 3’s events: according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, they’re close to picking up former Jacksonville cornerback C.J. Henderson for tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round choice…a move the Jets, frankly, should’ve investigated further into.

Simply put, Fitterer appears to know the impact of surrounding a franchise quarterback with reliable help on all sides of the ball…a lesson the Jets are learning the hard way. Douglas at least appears to understand that on paper, having added accomplished veterans and using expanded draft capital on assistance in protection. There’s plenty of time to develop past the Darnold era and get things back on track. It doesn’t diminish, however, the progress Carolina has made with the former green thrower.

There’s no use in looking back on the Darnold era, at least not at this point on the NFL timeline, but that’s not the nature of modern football. If a (premature) culprit must be found, the Jets must start at the top. Blaming Gase is popular…but putting on Maccagnan is may be right for now.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets WR Jamison Crowder OUT for opener at Carolina

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

The New York Jets will be missing their most consistent offensive weapon from the last two seasons when they visit Carolina on Sunday.

New York Jets receiver Jamison Crowder will not partake in Sunday’s 2021 season opener against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Crowder’s absence stems from a positive test for COVID-19 and he remains on the reserve list.

Head coach Robert Saleh confirmed Crowder’s departure during his Friday statements. Saleh also said that the status of another receiver, Keelan Cole (knee), would be “down to the wire”.

“From a COVID standpoint, he’ll be out,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. Asked about the backup plan if Cole is unable to play, Saleh referred to it as “something we’ll talk about” before the team departs for Charlotte.

Crowder has been the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons. He has earned a team-best 1,532 yards on 137 receptions, a dozen of which have gone for touchdowns. Each of those marks is good for the team lead over the last couple of seasons. Crowder is set to enter his third season with the Jets after inking a three-year deal in 2019. Formerly of Washington, Crowder restructured the final year of his contract to center on guaranteed money this offseason ($4.5 million).

Though the Jets could be without two of their slot targets on Sunday, Saleh had a more optimistic outlook for starting tackle Mekhi Becton. The sophomore blocker has dealt with a concussion issue over the past few weeks but is expected to be ready for the matchup with the Panthers.

“He’s had his ups and downs, obviously, dealing with Carl (Lawson) which I think a lot of people would,” Saleh said of Becton’s summer. “I thought it’s been productive for him, this is a new technique, running off the ball, the pass sets, the protections, it’s all different, where he’s not just running gap schemes and just trying to overpower people, there’s more space than he’s being put in.”

“There’s been a lot of production for him and not even worried about him, he’s going to be fine, pass setting is pass setting, so expecting him to be dominant like he has been. From a run game standpoint, he moves people, that’s what he does best. It’s going to be fun to watch him play.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

Will the New York Jets’ first game of the Robert Saleh era bring about immediate change on the scoreboard or further heartbreak?

  • What: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers
  • Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS

new york jets, robert saleh

Geoff Magliocchetti

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team this offseason. On paper, the arsenal that the Jets have surrounded Zach Wilson with is better than anything Sunday’s aerial opponent Zach Wilson ever had. Head coach Robert Saleh was a hire praised by on-field constituents both domestically and abroad, rather than the hot-take artists.

But Jets fans must realize something, especially in the early going: Saleh and Wilson have been brought in as long-term project overseers, not miracle-workers made to bless the metropolitan area with an instant fix. The Jets’ somewhat dire 2021 outlook, one where making the playoffs remains a tall task, is more of an indictment of the Adam Gase era than anything else. It’s simply asking a lot for this team to take out several established contenders in what’s ultimately an ill-fated attempt to reach the AFC postseason bracket. That also applies against a Carolina team that wasn’t as garish as its 5-11 mark from 2020 indicated.

The powers that be, true to their nature, did little favors for Gang Green: the first game of the Saleh era comes in Carolina, where ex-Jets Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson can prey on an inexperienced Jets secondary. Carolina as a whole is looking to make a statement of sorts, one that will remind observers not to forget them as they try to make noise in a division ruled by Tom Brady until further notice. Eight of the Panthers’ 11 defeats from last year came by eight points or less. Most of those games were staged without the services of star rusher Christian McCaffrey, who is set to make his return on Sunday. Granted a home opener against a Jets team lacking defensive clarity (thanks to the inexperienced secondary and Carl Lawson’s injury), the Panthers’ offense has a prime opportunity to state its intentions for 2021.

As it stands, the Jets aren’t a team that can waltz into another team’s home and steal a momentum-shifting win. It’s very possible Saleh can mold them into such a squad by the end of the year, but asking them to do so in Week 1 is, again, a little too much to ask for at this point on the franchise timeline.

Panthers 23, Jets 17

New York Jets, Quinnen Williams

Brendan Carpenter

Who better for the New York Jets to faceoff against than the Carolina Panthers to open the 2021 NFL season?

Zach Wilson and Sam Darnold in a 1 p.m. ET matinee will surely be a sight to see. Darnold’s unit is ahead of Wilson’s in the preseason power rankings, but that could easily change Sunday. The season-opening result will rely heavily on the Jets’ defensive front. They have to pressure the quarterback because the young corners could get torn apart all game. The Panthers will be missing their starting right guard, John Miller, so Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins need to push the inside. The matchup to watch will be, without a doubt, Carolina’s blockers vs the Jets’  defensive line.

Jets 24, Panthers 20

robby anderson running a touchdown against the carolina panthers
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Dylan Price

Well, here we are Jets, the game we’ve all been looking towards since last season ended. On Sunday, the Jets fly to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers. The game holds extra weight as the team faces their demons of the past: the Panthers are coached by former Jets target Matt Rhule while Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and Frankie Luvu are among the former bearers of green on the current roster.

The Panthers will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement out of Gang Green and spoil the debuts of Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson. Ultimately, this game is a hard one to predict, but the Jets have a fresh start and a decent amount of momentum coming out of the preseason. I expect the team to come out fast out of the gate and to start the season strong. It’s going to be a tight game, but I think the Jets have what it takes to emerge victoriously.

Jets 27, Panthers 21

Best of the Rest 

Magliocchetti Carpenter Price
Dallas @ Tampa Bay (Thu.) Buccaneers Buccaneers Buccaneers
Arizona @ Tennessee Titans Titans Titans
Jacksonville @ Houston Jaguars Jaguars Jaguars
LA Chargers @ Washington Chargers Chargers Football Team
Minnesota @ Cincinnati Vikings Vikings Vikings
Philadelphia @ Atlanta Falcons Falcons Falcons
Pittsburgh @ Buffalo Bills Bills Bills
San Francisco @ Detroit 49ers 49ers Lions
Seattle @ Indianapolis Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks
Cleveland @ Kansas City Chiefs Browns Chiefs
Denver @ NY Giants Giants Broncos Giants
Green Bay @ New Orleans  Packers Packers Packers
Miami @ New England Patriots Dolphins Dolphins
Chicago @ LA Rams Rams Rams Rams
Baltimore @ Las Vegas (Mon.) Ravens Ravens Ravens

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Carolina Panthers

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

The New York Jets won’t have to wait long to check in on Sam Darnold, as they’ll open their 2021 season against their April trade partners.

The Opponent: Carolina Panthers
The Date: Week 1, September 12, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Series: Carolina leads 4-3 (last meeting: 2017, 35-27 CAR)

The “main protagonist showing off their new significant other in front of their ex” episode seems to be a staple of every sitcom. But more serious matters await in Charlotte on September 12.

Five months after collaborating on a trade that set the post-Trevor Lawrence portions of the 2021 NFL Draft into motion, the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers will do battle to open their respective campaigns. That April transaction ended the Jets’ Sam Darnold era in New York, giving way to the Zach Wilson chapters of the green Gospel.

Blessed with a rare meeting between New York and Carolina, the scheduling powers that be at the NFL wasted no time in staging a reunion. The Jets will face off against an interconfertnce opponent on kickoff weekend for the first time since 2018, when the Darnold saga began with a win in Detroit.

Darnold won’t be the only former green representative partaking in the game. Other ex-Jets who saw nothing finer than Carolina include Robby Anderson, Juston Burris, Pat Elflein, and Frankie Luvu.

Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny on the Panthers 

The Jets will likely be all too familiar with the predicament the Panthers currently find themselves in: trapped in a division with Tom Brady with no end to his reign in sight. Carolina hit the reset button shortly before Brady took his talents to Tampa, firing Ron Rivera and bidding farewell to franchise face Cam Newton after the 2019 season.

To replace the departed Rivera, Carolina hired Matt Rhule, who knew more than a thing or two about rebuilds on the college level. Following a one-year term as a metropolitan assistant (assistant offensive line coach with the Giants), Rhule went back to school and dragged Temple and Baylor out of the college football underworld. Rhule was reportedly strongly considered for the Jets’ job following Todd Bowles’ ousting, but he wound up returning to Waco for one more season (guiding the Bears to a Sugar Bowl appearance and a program-record 11 wins).

The football gods immediately bestowed Rhule another hurdle to leap, as injuries swallowed Christian McCaffrey after he became the highest-paid rusher in NFL history (four years, $64 million). Despite the loss of McCaffrey, the Panthers played respectable football. They were unable to escape another 5-11 season (their ten-win tally over the last two years is their worst since 2010-11), but nearly every game was competitive. Eight of their eleven losses came by single digits and they scored a late win over the playoff-bound Washington Football Team in December.

What’s New in Carolina? 

When removing veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina was one of the youngest teams in football last season (26.05 on their 53-man opening day roster). Somehow, they managed to get younger, apparently finding the fountain of youth in Cleveland.

The Panthers were one of three teams (Dallas and Minnesota the others) that came to the podium an event-high 11 times during draft weekend. They used their opening pick (eighth overall) on South Carolina defender Jaycee Horn and ensured continued to surround Darnold with strong talents. Some of Carolina’s Saturday gems could particularly intriguing: injury issues landed Oklahoma State offensive force Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round, while another former Gamecock, Shi Smith, could become a hidden gem in the sixth-round.

Defensively, Horn will join Burris and versatile sophomore Jeremy Chinn in the secondary. Veteran A.J. Bouye likewise joins the fold, though the former Denver Bronco is missing the first two games of the year with a PED suspension.

Even before their draft day splurge (which also netted them LSU receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round), Carolina brought Darnold to an offense that, at least on paper, was better than anything he had to work with in New York. In addition to McCaffrey and fellow former Jet Anderson, Darnold will also get to work with D.J. Moore (1,193 yards in 2020) and touchdown hawk David Moore (no relation).

robby anderson running a touchdown against the carolina panthers
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

How to Beat Them

-Let Bygones be Bygones

It’s no secret that the Jets’ visit to Charlotte will be one of the most intriguing matchups of Week 1…if only because the court jesters of Twitter probably already have scheduled posts lauding Darnold and Anderson.

The Jets have proven to be one of the most exhausted sources of social media schadenfreude in football circles. That was ridiculously present throughout the course of the Darnold era. The discourse behind his mononucleosis diagnosis and supernatural encounter probably would’ve died down in a week if it happened anywhere else in the NFL map…but, because it happened in a green uniform, it went viral.

Simply put, the Jets can’t go into Charlotte purely with the purpose of trying to show Darnold and Anderson (who has never let an opportunity to disparage the Jets go to waste) what they’re missing. They’re playing the Carolina Panthers, not the Carolina Ex-Jets.

The team would be wise to follow the example of general manager Joe Douglas. Ironically enough, no one in football was more complimentary toward Darnold than the man who pulled orchestrated his trip down south (notably scoring a second-round pick for a quarterback with a career 78.6 passer rating). Douglas has diplomatically addressed the trade, claiming that Darnold’s “best football is in front of him” but that the trade was in the best interest of both sides.

“Ultimately, we felt that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam…for Coach Saleh and his staff, and for the locker room,” Douglas said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “We felt this was the best decision for the organization moving forward, hitting the reset button.”

-Un-Christian Like Behavior

To the Panthers’ credit, the team did not completely fall apart when McCaffrey was lost for the season, thanks in part to a career-best season from the Atlanta-bound Mike Davis. If disaster comes to Carolina again, it’ll likely come down to the talented Hubbard to pick up the slack.

But, if McCaffrey is truly back, he’ll undoubtedly be a front-runner for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. No one on the New York defense…heck, any defense on Carolina’s 2021 docket…needs to be told what he’s capable of at full strength.

In the midst of their woebegone 2020 season, the Jets’ run defense was a rare silver lining. Thanks to the breakouts of interior linemen Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers, the Jets’ run game ranked fourth in the AFC last season (12th overall in the league). They’ll have an instant opportunity to prove that last year was no fluke, especially when the offseason centered on bolstering the pass rush.

Will the Jets be able to show Darnold what he’s missing when they meet in September? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter @GeoffJMags and continue the conversation. 

New York Jets schedule: Why Week 2 looms particularly large

National eyes have turned to the New York Jets’ opening matchup in Charlotte, but the home opener against New England will be a true test.

For all its flaws, the NFL status as a genius marketing behemoth cannot be denied.

Its draft is no longer two days in April expanding into a year-round process, a major tenet of which involves a lot of Indianapolis-based spandex and bench presses. Preseason games whose box scores are immediately scorched when the clock hits all zeroes get ratings are given national priority alongside late-season baseball games.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of the NFL’s stranglehold on the American imagination is the release of its annual schedule. The question of “who” yields no surprises…14 of a given team’s 17 opponents are predetermined years in advance and 17 are solidified by the end of final week action…but the question of “when”, the mere attachment of times and dates to these matchups, causes We the People to lose our collective minds. Playoff races in basketball and hockey are cast aside on national highlights show to debate whether the Chicago Bears deserved the Thanksgiving treatment.

Despite the relative lack of surprises, the New York Jets did learn some intriguing info. Though bereft of prime time games, save for a November Thursday night’s excursion to Indianapolis, the Jets will nonetheless study abroad in London, facing off with Atlanta in October. But the matchup everyone’s talking about comes in the Jets’ Week 1 visit to Charlotte to battle the Carolina Panthers.

By now, everyone knows what’s at stake at Bank of America Stadium come September 12: the hope of the Jets’ present and future meets the ghost of all-too-recent football past in the form of Sam Darnold (and Robby Anderson, among others). Despite the combatants carrying over a combined six wins from 2020, many have pegged the interconference showdown as one of the most anticipated get-togethers of opening weekend.

Opening with Carolina works from a Jets perspective in the sense that they can remove Darnold from their list of early “distractions” and carry on with the rest of what’s sure to be a developmental year. But, to that end, their home opener in Week 2 may loom even larger.

For their 2021 home opener, the Jets will welcome the New England Patriots into East Rutherford for the first of their yearly pair. What happens for those precious three hours at MetLife Stadium could well set a permanent tone for what the Jets’ leadership triumvirate of Joe Douglas, Woody Johnson, and Robert Saleh are trying to build.

Put aside the fact that three Presidents of the United States have held office and 11 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been released since the Jets have emerged victorious from a showdown with the Patriots. Zach Wilson’s presumed home opener will mean everything to a Jets team that must do everything in its power to get started on the right note.

It might feel like an eternity since the Jets had a winning record, but one only has to flashback to September 2018. A 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football had the fanbase buzzing. The fact that Sam Darnold’s first NFL pass was a pick-six was offset by a strong defensive effort (five turnovers) and the run game run up 179 on the ground. Darnold even made up for his early gaffe with two touchdown tosses in the dominant effort.

However, things came to a crashing halt in the MetLife Stadium opener against Miami. Facing off against future boss Adam Gase, the Jets surrendered the first 20 points before making things somewhat respectable late in a 20-12 loss. It was a sloppy game whose final score was nowhere near indicative of just how one-sided it was.

Now, the Darnold/Gase era didn’t falter solely because they lost to the Dolphins in Week 2 of the former’s rookie campaign. But, in hindsight, it served as perfect foreshadowing of the struggles to come: they turned the ball over three times, saw their rushing protection fall to 41 yards on 17 attempts, and allowed Darnold to get sacked three times. Penalties were prevalent, with the Jets losing 50 yards on seven infractions. Three resulted in Miami’s first downs and a particularly embarrassing sequence

The Jets are still trying to pick up the pieces to this day. That loss signaled the beginning of the end of the Todd Bowles era, mustering a mere three wins after that before he was let go at the end of his third season at the helm. It placed the Jets on a collision course with the disastrous Gase era, a period whose strongest yield was probably the fact it led the hiring of a sound football mind like Saleh, whose arrival has garnered praise both domestically and abroad.

Miami was merely a microcosm of what was to come under Darnold, as it highlighted the issues that would plague his star-crossed New York career. Of the ten starting men that suited up for the Jets that afternoon, only one other (Chris Herndon) was on the team in 2020. The Dolphins were credited with only three sacks of Darnold, but he was nonetheless forced to run for his life, to the tune of five other quarterback takedowns.

Negligence on both the offensive line (featuring only one player chosen within the first day of the draft, the former Seattle Seahawk James Carpenter) and run game (Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell) was a hint of things to come. Current management has seen to counter these issues, using first-round choices (Mehki Becton/Alijah Vera-Tucker) to protect Wilson and bolstering the run game with a stopgap rusher who has been a vital cog in Super Bowl runs (Tevin Coleman).

This season’s home opener is also going to take on a special meaning. Improvements have been discussed ad nauseam but MetLife Stadium will be packed to the brim with fans for a Jets game for the first time since December 2019. We, the football-loving people, have been through a lot over the past year-plus. Fans of the Jets and 13 other NFL teams were denied the simple pleasure of spending Sunday in a parking lot, surrounded by 80,000 of their new best friends. With restrictions loosening across the country, it feels (knock on wood) like it’s only a matter of time before all 30 NFL facilities get the go-ahead to pack the house. No matter the result that day, the first spelling of Jets will be downright emotional.

A brilliant tone can be set for the team moving forward, or another distressing sign of things to come could emerge. What the Jets do in these early hours will mean the world.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

One question will define Sam Darnold’s New York Jets tenure

As the Sam Darnold era ends, a lingering question will haunt New York Jets fans as he prepares to move to Charlotte.

With respect to the countless devotees of movies, books, television shows, etc., across the world, no one writes more fan fiction than football fans. Rather than “Once upon a time…”, football fables often begin with a question: “What if…?”.

The question is endlessly asked before, during, and after every NFL season. What if that star prospect falls? What if they went for it on fourth down? What if that quarterback retires?

What if the New York Jets hired someone…anyone…other than Adam Gase to oversee Sam Darnold’s developmental years as head coach?

It’s a question whose answers reside months, even years, away. Both Gase and Darnold are now distant memories in the New York archives, the former fired and the latter bound for Charlotte in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. The Jets only have numbers to show for it in the immediate aftermath. Dealing Darnold netted them the 226th overall pick in the coming draft, as well as a second and fourth-round choice in the spring of 2022.

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

In the immediate aftermath, it’s easy to call the Jets’ Darnold deal with Carolina a win for both sides on paper. Darnold gains welcome stability in Carolina (reuniting with fellow ex-Jet Robby Anderson and working with All-Pro rusher Christian McCaffrey) while the Jets make some fine additions to their draft collection. But the Jets will forever look back on their Darnold with a sense of regret and what might’ve been. The chorus of “what if” echoes as the countdown to what’ll likely be the beginning of the Zach Wilson or Justin Fields era.

It starts with the hiring of Gase, a supposed offensive guru brought in to oversee Darnold’s vital post-rookie campaigns. Todd Bowles’ tenure had undoubtedly run its course, but its final stages were full of hope through Darnold’s final four games. It was a stretch that saw Darnold earn a come-from-behind victory in Buffalo (topping fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen in their first meeting) and go head-to-head and blow-for-blow with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive weeks. The latter tilt, a Festivus showdown with the Green Bay Packers, was an overtime thriller that saw Darnold earn career-bests in passer rating (128.4) and passing yardage (341).

When Bowles was let go, the Jets needed someone with a strong developmental mind, someone who could nurture Darnold’s potential and build on the promise shown over the final stretch. CEO/Chairman Christopher Johnson knew just how vital the search would be when he spoke after dismissing the current defensive coordinator of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I think the Jets are a really good spot for a coach to end up,” Johnson said at the time. “So I think that we have a competitive advantage there. But we’re not going to sit down and wait for people to come to us, we’re going to search hard and fast. We want to get this done.”

It got done through the arrival of Gase, fresh off three years of Miami mediocrity. From the get-go, there probably should’ve been something off about the new boss, one who never truly fostered a young quarterback. Peyton Manning put the best numbers of his career under Gase, but the most adamant football denier could probably oversee an offense with Peyton Manning and still average 21 points a game.

Gase helped get the Chicago Bears’ offense back on track as coordinator in 2015, but Jay Cutler, despite a career-best passer rating, was in his 11th season and headed toward his polarizing career’s final stanzas. Even if Gase’s work with Cutler counted for something, it was more or less undone when the pair reunited for a fruitless season in South Beach two years later. In terms of youth, Ryan Tannehill endured what seemed like an endless stream of “make-or-break” campaigns before being mercifully shipped to Tennessee after Gase’s Floridan ousting. By now, little more needs to be written about Tannehill’s success sans Gase.

Yet, the Jets insisted Gase was their man, sticking with him after a dreadful 0-4 start. After his infamous bout with mononucleosis…a happening only amplified by social media schadenfreude that amplifies the Jets’ simplest errors…Darnold helped right to ship to the tune of a 7-9 ledger. Further fleeting flashes of brilliance emerged, such as Darnold’s return from illness, a 338-yard, two-score showing in a triumph over Dallas, the Jets’ first win of the year. Further silliness came through Darnold’s failed Ghostbusters tenure, but to have him post a winning record (7-6) despite endless silliness surrounding him was a promising sign.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

But seeds for a destructive 2020 season…for reasons far beyond limitations set up by the ongoing health crisis…were starting to take root. Anderson, Darnold’s favorite target during his opening years, absconded for Carolina after “(losing) his love of football“. Every week, it felt like Gase had to ensure the public that he wasn’t dealing with a full-on mutiny.

As the season moved on, the Jets continuously eschewed the notion of firing Gase in-season. Johnson even broke out the guru comparisons after a listless opening day loss in Buffalo by calling Gase “a brilliant offensive mind” after the Jets pulled off the statistical anomaly of earning under 300 yards in Orchard Park. The sub-300 tally, in fact, occurred 11 times during the 2020 campaign…a downright jaw-dropping occurrence in an NFL that worships offense.

All the while, the Jets gave up on several accomplished names before deciding Gase was expendable. A mini-fire sale ensued that saw accomplished defenders Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, and Pierre Desir sent away. Le’Veon Bell, a constant co-combatant in Gase headlines, was outright released while the eyes of the nation were centered on a rare Tuesday night game.

Darnold sank further into oblivion, forced into situations that even the greatest, most established quarterbacks would have trouble salvaging. One couldn’t even argue that the Jets were showing promise in these losses. All but one of their first eight defeats came by multiple possessions, exacerbated by the struggle to gain yardage. Unlike their blue MetLife Stadium co-tenants (the Giants losing five of their first eight in single possession games), there was nothing to get excited for from a Jets perspective.

For the record, it’s not only the Gase hire that Darnold had to put up with. His rookie season was spent behind an offensive built through the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. When the 2020 season kicked off, Darnold had only a single receiver left from his rookie campaign (tight end Chris Herndon, who has struggled to maintain rookie momentum) and his offensive line had undergone yet another makeover. The fact such flashes of brilliance were achieved despite playing in the far reaches of the football netherworld perhaps says something about Darnold, who has a prime opportunity to put his career back on track in Charlotte.

It could’ve happened in New York. The offensive line still needs work, but the Jets upgraded their weaponry this offseason, bringing in capable targets (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) that can compete with returnees (Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims) for top receiving honors. A multi-faceted rushing talent like Tevin Coleman can take some of the pressure off of whoever the quarterback will be.

But the Jets are trying to pen their own redemption story. They don’t have the time to co-author someone else’s.

In short, the Gase era left the Jets no other choice. His firing brought in a new regime, one praised not by the hot take artists but by players themselves, both domestically and abroad. For Robert Saleh to fully implement his vision and the Jets holding the ever valuable second overall pick of the NFL draft…the original of aerial franchise saviors like Donovan McNabb and Roman Gabriel…Darnold simply had to go.

Still, that won’t stop the eternal discussions, the fabled chapters that Jets fans will write for months before a single down is played and in the years after that, both supporting what Darnold could’ve done and celebrating his release.

The question will still be asked…what if?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING NEWS: New York Jets trade QB Sam Darnold to Carolina (Report)

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the New York Jets are trading quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers for three picks.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the New York Jets are trading quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. In exchange, the Jets get three picks from Charlotte: two 2022 choices (second and fourth) as well as a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft in April.

[UPDATE: 4:50 p.m. ET]: The Jets have confirmed the trade in a team statement.

“I want to publicly acknowledge the commitment, dedication, and professionalism Sam displayed while with the Jets. He is a tough-minded, talented football player whose NFL story has not been written yet,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas said in the team-issued declaration. “While all these things are true, this move is in the short and long-term best interests for both this team and him. We thank Sam for all of his work on behalf of this organization and wish him well as he continues his career.”

The 2021 pick sent over from Carolina will be the 227th overall pick (226th if accounting for the forfeited 77th choice from New England).

Thus ends Darnold’s tenure as the New York Jets’ franchise quarterback, a stretch that began as the third overall choice out of USC in the 2018 draft. Darnold was part of a highly publicized quarterback draft class that also included Baker Mayfield (1st overall), Josh Allen (7th), Josh Rosen (10th), and Lamar Jackson (32nd). While his New York career featured flashes of brilliance, he was never able to establish any consistency. His Jets career ends with a 13-25 record as a starter, going along with 8,097 yards and 45 touchdown passes, those marks both good for eighth in team history.

It was tough for Darnold to establish his mark as a Jets starter due to the numerous turnover in the Jets’ starting lineups. Only one receiver (tight end Chris Herndon) remained on the Jets’ roster from his rookie campaign. He was nonetheless able to display fleeting flashes of brilliance in green, his best showing being a December 2018 battle with Aaron Rodgers during his rookie season. Darnold earned personal bests in passer rating (128.4) and yardage (341) in a 44-38 overtime defeat at the hands of Green Bay. Another classic Darnold moment came in October 2019, when he returned from a bout with mononucleosis to tally 338 yards and two scores in a win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Darnold also had trouble staying healthy during his time with the Jets, failing to start a full season through injuries and illness.

Carolina should present a stable situation for Darnold, who reunites with Robby Anderson, his former favorite target in green. The Panthers also have a strong rushing situation (headlined by Christian McCaffrey) and strong offensive minds like head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Darnold will likely compete for the starting job with Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers’ incumbent starter who worked with him during the 2018 preseason.

With the trade of Darnold, the Jets will more than likely use the second overall choice in April’s draft on a quarterback, namely BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Why Carolina is the perfect Sam Darnold trade partner

The quarterback trade market has mostly dried up, but if the New York Jets are looking to deal Sam Darnold, Charlotte is a prime destination.

The mythical hands of the football gods are ready to pull up the needle on their record player, ending a turn in the proverbial game of musical chairs played amongst the NFL’s quarterbacks. When the music stops, another turn awaits at the end of April through the NFL Draft in Cleveland.

The New York Jets have a chance to partially control who sits in their chair. But, when you’re a team whose offseason to-do list length rivals that of a CVS receipt, it’s a seat whose occupant you’d like to be aware of sooner rather than later.

As the league inches closer to a date with destiny in Cleveland, the pressure heightens when it comes to a decision on Sam Darnold. While many have penciled in several non-Trevor Lawerence names in the Jets’ slot at second overall, the Jets have stood their ground with Darnold for the time being.

But if they do intend to draft, say, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance, trading the incumbent should be a priority. A case could be made that Darnold could be a safety net for a newcomer, but circumstances, as they are, wouldn’t let that work for anyone. The Jets are already a team whose smallest controversies are amplified by social media platforms that thrive on schadenfreude, especially when it happens in a New York market. When rare hope presents itself in this perpetual rebuild, the Jets need to work through that situation with as few questions as possible.

The question of where the Jets have been too patient can certainly be raised. Several of the aforementioned seats (such as those in Indianapolis, Washington, Chicago, and New Orleans) have been filled while others (Jacksonville) have clear plans to solve their quandaries at the draft.

But, if the Jets are still looking to send Darnold off to not-so-greener pastures, a prime opportunity awaits down south through the Carolina Panthers.

ESM explains…

Nothing to Lose

What Darnold needs for his NFL career to succeed is stability and relative peace and quiet. Carolina can offer the latter through somewhat macabre circumstances.

In short, no one is expecting the Panthers to contend for the NFC South in the immediate future. After all, the division lists the defending Super Bowl champions from Tampa Bay amongst its members. New Orleans maintains enough firepower to remain competitive with Jameis Winston while Atlanta seems to building toward one final run with Matt Ryan in tow. The Panthers, on the other hand, are engaged in a rebuild that’s now forced to take a detour after Curtis Samuel left for Washington.

But there’s no doubt that Carolina is a bit more quiet on the media spectrum that the New York metropolitan area. They have some pieces that can contribute to their potential future glory days but have fully acknowledged that they’re still several pieces away from contention…including quarterback. But a better setup than the Jets have ever offered him (Carolina franchise tagged blocker Taylor Moton and All-Pro rusher Christian McCaffrey is set to return) and relative, for lack of a better term, obscurity can help truly decide if Darnold is cut out for NFL endeavors.

Matt Rhules 

As he enters his fourth NFL season, Darnold, no matter where he goes, is set to work with his third different coaching regime. It’s not impossible to recover from this; the perfect case study in finding success after some brutal early-career turnover is Alex Smith, who has developed a lengthy, strong tenure despite entering in the midst of countless regime changes in San Francisco.

But for the personal reclamation project to officially begin, a strong, accomplished offensive mind must be at the helm. Enter Matt Rhule, who has dragged entire college football programs from the gridiron underworld through dazzling offensive antics.

When Rhule took over Temple, they were picking up the pieces after Al Golden left for Miami. After a two-win debut, Rhule had the team at .500 before consecutive 10-win seasons. That led to a Big 12 gig at Baylor, where he transformed a one-win team into a Sugar Bowl contender within three seasons. One of Rhule’s primary weapons, Denzel Mims, became a second-round pick of the Jets’.

A familiar face in a stocked arsenal

Despite an ugly five-win ledger, Carolina had a lot of things to be proud of last season. All but three of their losses came by a single possession as the team remained competitive in a year where McCaffrey was limited to three games. But their inability to close games and earn points on late possessions doomed them to be buried in the power NFC South, wasting a 3-2 start.

Manning the quarterback role was Teddy Bridgewater in his first full-time starting job since Minnesota’s star-crossed season in 2015. While Bridgewater’s story is one of the most inspiring in football…regaining a starting position after a non-contact training camp injury in 2016 threatened to derail his career…questions have been raised as to whether he can hold the responsibilities of a full-time franchise role. Rhule did not commit to Bridgewater under center in his year-end statements.

“Teddy is here. I have a lot of respect for him. I believe in what he can do. I’ve seen glimpses, flashes of us as an offense looking really good,” Rhule said, per ESPN’s David Newton. “With regards to the draft and players, we’ll look at every opportunity to have the best we can have at every position, and that includes the quarterback position.”

Bridgewater is set to enter the second year of a three-year, $63 million deal inked last offseason. While Bridgewater has some experience with the Jets organization through the early stages of his comeback endeavors through the 2017 preseason, it’s unlikely the Jets would want to take on that price tag, unless they want to go with a stopgap option.

When it comes to a trade destination, Carolina is stocked with several offensive weapons, including Robby Anderson, with whom Darnold worked over his first two years in New York. Anderson mentioned that he “loved Sam” shortly before he hit the free market. Reuniting with a familiar face, as well as one of the most electrifying rushing talents in the league in McCaffrey, would help move Carolina in Darnold’s corner. Even with the loss of Samuel, the team seems well pleased with the emergence of DJ Moore as well, though they’ll likely look to upgrade their depth come draft weekend in Cleveland. While the blocking (which includes Anderson’s fellow former Jet Pat Elflein) leaves something to be desired, it’s unlikely that Darnold has had protection of Moton’s caliber…save for probably the one season he had with Mekhi Becton last season.

No matter what happens with Darnold, the Jets will be staring at questions that will take months, probably even years, to be answered. But if they’re opting to move on from Darnold, Carolina might be their best, and possibly only, option.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The Sam Darnold trade partner power rankings

As the new NFL year officially gets underway, trade partners for New York Jets QB Sam Darnold are starting to dwindle.

To quote Evelyn Carnahan, Rachel Wiesz’s character from the beloved 1999 film The Mummy, patience is a virtue. Except, apparently, in the NFL.

The New York Jets have bided their time when it comes to their ongoing quarterback quandary. One guarantee remains, that all questions will be solved by the final hours of April 29, the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, where the Jets hold the second overall pick. All but one of the elite rookie names will likely be available to the Jets, who still have a Sam Darnold-sized question to answer: where will the third pick from 2018 take his snaps comes Week 1 of the 2021 campaign.

It’s hard to fully blame Darnold for the current, wayward state of the offense. But with the Jets holding the second overall pick and a new coach in tow, the temptation of starting fresh at football’s most vital position may be too much to resist.

But it’s possible the Jets have been too patient when it comes to Darnold’s future. Several starter-starving teams have settled their vital affairs and have found their solutions. Some took care of the matter early on (Indianapolis trading for Carson Wentz after Phillip Rivers’ retirement), while other solutions have presented themselves more recently (Andy Dalton in Chicago, New Orleans re-signing Jameis Winston after Drew Brees’ departure).

Others have remained stagnant, but at least there’s a clear plan in mind. The Jacksonville Jaguars have addressed other areas of need while actively shopping incumbent Gardner Minshew under the presumed assumption they’ll take Trevor Lawrence with the top overall pick come April. While the Jets have made some agreeable, if not downright underrated, signings this offseason, they’re no closer to solving their quarterback situation than they were in Week 17’s immediate aftermath.

Where else can the Jets turn and where will Darnold end up going? ESM ranks the remaining possibilities…

5. Washington Football Team

With Wild Card hero Taylor Heinicke and living football meme Ryan Fitzpatrick in tow, there’s no doubt that Washington’s passing endeavors will get social media clicks. But is it going to lead to wins? With Curtis Samuel joining college teammate Terry McLaurin, there’s a chance for offensive fireworks in Landover.

Washington does have a little extra draft capital that would be appropriate in a Darnold trade…they hold an extra third-round choice from the Trent Williams trade…but they’re probably set up with the pairing for the time being with their current, popular pair.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The status of incumbent Jimmy Garoppollo has been a hot topic in the Bay Area this winter, especially with the Warriors and Sharks mired in mediocrity. But, interestingly enough, Garoppollo’s future seems a bit more secure after the 49ers made Williams the highest-paid blocker in the history of football and re-upped with secret weapon Kyle Juszczyk.

The Jets have done something similar, adding Corey Davis after his career-best season, though their other offensive areas (particularly the blocking) still leave much to be desired.

3. Seattle Seahawks

The apparent displeasure of Russell Wilson in Seattle has been one of the most curious offseason sagas the NFL has had to offer. Such discontent has apparently had the Seahawks looking into trade possibilities. Wilson’s market is also a lot wider due to his status as an established star and Super Bowl champion. While Seattle has made some moves that will likely picque Wilson’s interest (adding Gerald Everett and Gabe Jackson), it’s likely nothing that’s going to make him fully buy into the Seahawks’ endeavors.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has reportedly expressed interest in his fellow USC football alum and the Jets’ previous dealing with the Seahawks through the closing chapters of the Jamal Adams saga. However, one has to think that Seattle, already sidelined in future capital (i.e. no first round picks for the next two years) would want to stop sending their assets out east to get a quarterback whose career has thus far defined mediocrity.

2. Denver Broncos

Denver’s in a bizarrely similar situation as the Jets in that they too are saddled with a young quarterback who has shown flashes of brilliance but not nearly enough to assure them that they don’t have to worry about their passing situation. Perhaps the arrival of another young talent would light a fire under either prospect.

The Broncos already solved one of their biggest offseason issues…exercising the $7 million option on Von Miller…and Darnold can help them solve another, the passing situation that has been in limbo since Peyton Manning retired.

1. Carolina Panthers

Robby Anderson’s time with the Jets didn’t end on a bright note, with the receiver declaring that he was “was losing (his) love for football while clad in a New York uniform. The Jets themselves made little effort to retain him, letting him walk to Carolina. But Anderson and Darnold, the closest thing the Jets have had to an explosive, big-play QB/WR combo in recent memory, still had some kind words for each other. Anderson made it clear that part of the reason he wanted to return to the Jets was because of his rapport with Darnold and the quarterback had nice things to say about Anderson even after his departure.

“Me and Robby had a really good connection over the years,” Darnold said of Anderson in May, per USA Today’s Tyler Greenawalt. “He had gotten a lot better at running routes, as time went on.”

Carolina’s quarterback situation is a questionable state at this point in time. Ex-Darnold mentor Teddy Bridgewater’s return is undoubtedly inspiring, but there are doubts he’s the long-term solution. The current backup plan is XFL star P.J. Walker, so the Panthers could stand to upgrade. Further working in Darnold’s favor is the prescience of offensive guru Matt Rhule as head coach. The NYC native has overseen collegiate offensive fireworks at Temple and Baylor and could be the perfect mind to help fulfill Darnold’s NFL potential.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags