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 Jets positional preview 2021: Quarterbacks

ESM opens its New York Jets offseason preview by pondering what they’ll do at the quarterback slot in 2021.

The Position: Quarterback
On the Roster: Sam Darnold, James Morgan
Free Agents: Joe Flacco
Reserve/Future: Mike White

When will green smoke arise from One Jets Drive?

The New York Jets are once again pondering its future at the franchise quarterback slot, as a potentially turbulent stretch awaits. Many still have hope in the potential of Sam Darnold, but new regimes often bring sweeping changes to NFL franchises. The primary quarterback start is often the first spot to undergo a makeover. New York is in the second full year of Joe Douglas’ tenure as general manager, while Robert Saleh is ready to succeed Adam Gase as the head coach.

It’s easy to dismiss the struggles of Darnold as being trapped in a situation far from his own doing. In his three years at the helm, Darnold has eeked out flashes of brilliance despite endless waves of turmoil and turnover. To put things in perspective, only a single Darnold target from Darnold’s rookie season of 2018 was on the Jets roster in this past season, and that one outlier (fellow 2018 draftee Chris Herndon) hasn’t matched the promise shown in his debut campaign. The blocking wall in front of Darnold has seen more names flipped than the departures board at Grand Central Terminal. Long-term options in each spot have appeared to present themselves through Denzel Mims and Mekhi Becton respectively but with so many attractive names through both free agency and the draft presenting themselves, the temptation to start over might prove too great. Darnold’s early misfortunes when it comes to injuries also may not work in his favor, as he has yet to play a full NFL season.

In his opening statements as Jets head coach, Saleh praised Darnold repeatedly, noting the difficulty in scouting him when his former compatriots came to New York for a September tilt earlier this season. But, nothing the gap between winter and training camp, Saleh did leave the door open to change.

“He’s got an unbelievable arm talent. There’s a reason why he was the number three pick in the draft. He’s fearless in the pocket, he’s got a natural throwing motion, he’s mobile, he’s extremely intelligent, and he’s tough as nails,” Saleh said in video provided by the Jets. “We’re just getting the (coaching) staff into the building, so there’s so many things that we have to do from an evaluation standpoint with regards to the entire roster, not just at quarterback. To give you that answer right now would not be fair.”

Also under contract for the Jets is fourth-round pick James Morgan, who did not dress in any games last season.

Free Agents-to-be

Joe Flacco

The former Super Bowl MVP did a respectable job in four starts in substitute duties, throwing for 848 yards and six touchdowns. His Total Quarterback Rating, calculated by ESPN, of 57.9 was his best since 2014.

While Flacco could be brought back as a veteran mentor and backup to Darnold or the new, younger franchise man, the former Super Bowl MVP hinted that he believes he can still be a consistent NFL starter.

“I obviously still believe that I’m a starting quarterback,” Flacco said in May, per Andy Vazquez. “You never know what three years down the line is going to look like, so I still have that confidence and I still have the want, the want to to do that. But at this moment, that’s not my role.”

Will They Draft?

It’s very possible, depending on how the free agency market shakes out. Falling out of the top spot of the draft no longer seems like a tragedy it was made out to be after the College Football Playoff, particularly during its Sugar Bowl leg. Ohio State thrower Justin Fields outplayed presumed top choice Trevor Lawrence en route to a 49-28 victory, leaving the first choosers in Jacksonville a big decision to make while the Jets can swoop in and take who’s left. Of course, if the Jets land one of the names below, drafting a quarterback would be null and void.

If the Jets do decide to stick with Darnold, it’s possible they could use one of their day two picks (owning an extra through the Jamal Adams trade with Seattle) on a quarterback to raise the heat on the incumbent. Options in a relatively deep class could include Kyle Trask and Mac Jones.

Veteran Possibilities

Deshaun Watson, Houston

Not even the chase for the Super Bowl could derail the hype around Watson and his potential next destination. Things hit a green fever pitch over the weekend when Watson reportedly declared that New York would be his ideal destination. Saleh celebrant Richard Sherman has done nothing to dispel the rumors, joining Cris Collinsworth’s podcast to encourage Watson to get to the metropolitan area. It speaks volumes that Watson, who has also reportedly expressed interest in working with Saleh, would be willing to come to a team that is potentially rebuilding.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit

Over the weekend, ESPN Adam Schefter reported that Stafford and the Lions appear headed toward a divorce. The Jets, again, have the cap space to work with a big contract like Stafford’s, but, like Watson, it wouldn’t be fair to subject him to the franchise the way it is now…there is no Calvin Johnson on this team, at least at the moment. But since the Jets have the assets to work with, it would almost be foolish to not consider the possibility.

Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis 

Would the Jets be better off with a placeholder quarterback of sorts as they seek to regain their NFL footing? There are few better options than Brissett if they opted to go that route. Brissett faces a bit of a crossroads in his career, in that he could fight to regain the starting position with the Colts now that Phillip Rivers has retired, or seek a new opportunity elsewhere. He did a solid job stepping for Andrew Luck upon the latter’s sudden retirement and later developed a slight niche for coming in on short-yardage or deep-ball situations.

Outlook

It seems safe to assume that the Jets’ quarterback situation will be different going into the 2021 campaign, whether it’s at the top or in terms of understudies. If prior regime changes across the NFL are any indicator, it seems that the Jets will indeed move on from Darnold, with the only question being whether it comes through the draft or free agency.

Opting to find a new franchise man through the draft might be a conservative but far more affordable option. Adding a name like Deshaun Watson to New York sounds like a lot of fun and the Jets have plenty of assets through draft picks and cap space to negotiate with. But the fact of the matter is that the Jets have many, many holes to fill beyond the quarterback spot…which, in the eyes of some, may not need to be filled in the first place. If there’s little left to spend to fill the other holes, then a player like Watson or Matthew Stafford would be no better off than when they started.

To spend a majority of the offseason budget on a single big-ticket item wouldn’t be smart. There’s time, however, to make the situation more attractive to an incoming rookie quarterback by parceling those assets through building blocking help and more weaponry.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: It’s time to (at least) activate James Morgan

James Morgan has been a literal bystander to the New York Jets’ demise. He should at least get a chance to stop it.

It’s hard to find anyone truly blameless in the ongoing disaster that is 2020 New York Jets football. Everyone on the Jets’ game day manifest has come up short in some way, shape, or form. Arguments can be in how much blame individual members have accumulated, but the Jets are 0-6, the NFL’s last winless team, for a reason: they’re losing as a team. Le’Veon Bell was labeled the de facto first scapegoat when the Jets released him earlier in the week. That did nothing to solve the Jets’ woes, as the first post-Bell session saw them fall in a 24-0 shellacking in Miami.

The Jets’ universal woes make it hard to truly assess the quarterback position. Things have gotten bad enough that legitimate conversations are being had about moving on from Sam Darnold in the franchise quarterback spot. But, with Darnold injured, 2020’s cesspool has also sucked in the career of former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, who capped off the most recent loss by taking a 28-yard sack that took the Jets out of field goal range and carried on a South Beach shutout effort.

It’s understandable why Flacco was brought in. While showcasing the occasional flash of brilliance, it’s fair to say that Darnold has struggled to stay healthy over his first two NFL seasons (six games missed over that span). Bringing a veteran like Flacco, a guy with championship acumen and a little bit of professional effectiveness, gave the Jets a sense of security if/when the unthinkable happened to Darnold again, a player that could keep the team afloat in case of emergency.

But with emergency and chaos established as the evergreen settings in New York, Flacco no longer has a purpose in New York. Thus, it’s time to turn to one of the last blemish-free players on the roster: rookie thrower James Morgan.

Morgan’s “innocence” is perhaps solely supported by the fact he has yet to wear a Jets game jersey. Chosen in the fourth round of April’s draft out of Florida International, a preseason showcase was denied to him by the ongoing health crisis. Some saw his selection as questionable, with the Jets seemingly set on a young quarterback, but others justified his New York arrival as the team bringing in a young project to situate and develop behind Darnold. Putting him in a 2020 contest would be a transaction of dire circumstances, an occasion of only extreme desperation.

We’ve long made it to that point. It’s time to let Morgan show what he can do.

Like the Jets as a whole, Morgan is in a situation where he has nothing to lose. Despite quickly climbing up the passing leaderboard at FIU (he ranks 2nd in most major categories despite spending only two seasons in Miami after a transfer from Bowling Green), no one’s seeing Morgan as a franchise quarterback, especially in New York. But the team did use a fourth-round pick to bring him in, so they might as well get their money’s worth and allow Morgan

Flacco’s purpose is long gone. He can still provide mentorship from the bench, but subjecting him to more of this New York torture is sullying an otherwise strong NFL career. The Jets might as well use whatever opportunities they have left…ten games remain on their schedule, unfortunate as that may be…to empty their vaults of young talent and see what they have before the ongoing purge (one that began with Bell’s release and a postgame trade of veteran defender Steve McLendon to Tampa Bay) presumably hits apocalyptic levels in the offseason.

A Morgan promotion is part of a youth movement the Jets should be embracing on a full-time basis. Frank Gore shouldn’t still be getting more carries than La’Micael Perine and Ty Johnson combined. The receiving corps can showcase the talents of Jeff Smith and Braxton Berrios, with Jamison Crowder (another candidate for an unblemished resume in terms of New York endeavors) overseeing as a reliable veteran prescience on the field. Morgan could perhaps make his NFL debut alongside other rookies who have had trouble seeing the field, like Denzel Mims, Cameron Clark, and Bryce Hall (all of whom have been injured at the onset of their pro careers).

The Jets have nothing to lose. Their playoff hopes ended before those of the Yankees and the smallest mistake, no matter how trivial, will earn headlines and hashtags like “#LOLJets” no matter what they do. If this season from the darkest depths of the football underworld allows them consequence-free opportunities to see what they have in the youth reserves, you might as well take it.

Of course, Morgan’s opportunity should perhaps become null and void if/when Darnold becomes healthy. The franchise man should perhaps get another chance to protect his title, especially if they go through on finding a new coach before or after the year lets out. But if Darnold is still down..or even if the Jets want to hold him out of the toxicity of 2020 football…there’s no use in subjecting Flacco (or even Mike White, a traveled veteran seeking his first regular season snaps) to more of this. At the very least, the Jets should also see what they have so they know exactly what needs to go on their offseason checklist. Their MetLife Stadium co-tenants dealt with the rising of a Davis Webb cult during the 2018 offseason, if only because it was never proven that he wasn’t the answer under center.

The Jets need something, anything, to help leave this season on any level or form of comfort. Giving Morgan an opportunity could be a desperate, yet effective, way of doing so.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The Good and The Bad of New York Jets First Scrimmage

New York Jets, Nate Hairston

A number of things stood out to me from today’s first team scrimmage for the New York Jets, and for the most part they were not very good. So, let’s breakdown what went right and what went wrong for the Jets today.

The Good

Frank Gore

Gore reportedly looked “terrific” according to The Athletic’s Connor Hughes among others. Gore has been fantastic to this point according to Gase in terms of leadership impact and on the field performance. The ageless wonder continued to amaze and I’m excited to see him debut with the Green and White.

LaMical Perine

Sticking with the running backs, Perine was impressive today ripping off a 20 yard gain and then a 79-yard score. Perine was known for his breakaway speed at Florida and he flashed that today. The Jets know they have a unique blend of speed and size in that running back room and the perfect definition of that is Perine. I’m intrigued to see how he continues to grow from here as the season progress.

Mike White and James Morgan

The little known former 5th rounder was a practice squad fixture last season. Then this season, Gase said it’s been like two different quarterbacks. He’s thrown the ball very well in camp to this point and that reportedly continued today with another solid showing. Morgan also dominated the first-team defense which is impressive but also scary.

Ashtyn Davis

Davis continued his impressive camp with a pick-six today. Davis has been working side by side with the Jets defensive coaches in order to maximize his potential early on. It’s clear the organization has high hopes for him.

The Bad

Turnovers

The Jets first-team offense turned the ball over 3 times today against the second-team defense. That’s inexcusable and something that you’d expect earlier in camp, not two weeks away from the season. That’s an issue that needs to be worked on quickly.

First Team Defense Pressure

The Jets reportedly had no pressure in the backfield today. Presumably, Tarell Basham was set for the second pass rusher role, but with his injury, Jenkins will get targeted all the more. So, this makes pressure a difficult thing for the Jets to sustain right now. A move might need to be made for a pass rusher if Basham won’t be ready by week one.

Injuries

It seems like every day more injuries occur. Today, Lawerence Cager caught bad luck during his excellent camp with swelling emerging around his knee. That’s the latest receiver out and latest important piece. Then, new guard, Greg Van Roten got hurt as well. The Jets need to find ways to minimize injuries or this will be a long year.

Wide Receivers

I touched on the injury to Cager, but with Crowder and Hogan having a bad record with injuries and both fumbling during the scrimmage, it’s apparent the Jets need more insurance. Perriman and Mims will be back soon, but the Jets could use another vet to provide more insurance.

Lev Bell

Lev was pulled after just a few reps. It was reportedly to keep him loose, but he refuted those claims on Twitter immediately. He claimed that he needs reps to get going and the Jets were mismanaging him. All I can say is, welcome to Jets football. 

New York Jets sign trio of 2020 draft picks (Report)

DL/LB Jabari Zuniga, QB James Morgan, and P Braden Mann are the latest New York Jets draft picks to officially sign their rookie deals.

The New York Jets revealed that two more draft picks signed with the team on Monday evening. New York confirmed that they signed defender Jabari Zuniga and quarterback James Morgan, while Manish Mehta of the New York has stated that the team has also officially added punter Braden Mann.

Mehta also had the financial terms for each first-year. Each is worth four seasons, with Zuniga earning $4.73 million, Morgan getting $4 million, and Mann rounding it off with $3.47 million.

Zuniga was the latter of the Jets’ pair of third-round picks, chosen 79th overall out of Florida. Injuries limited Zuniga to five games in his senior season, but he nonetheless managed 33 sacks over four seasons in Gainesville. Capable of playing on both the line and at linebacker, Zuniga was placed on the Chuck Bednarik Award watchlist (awarded to the nation’s top defensive lineman) during a junior campaign that saw him earn 45 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks.

Morgan is set to partake in the Jets’ competition for the backup quarterback job behind Sam Darnold. He was chosen in the fourth round (125th overall) out of Florida International. Despite spending only two seasons with the Golden Panthers, having transferred there from Bowling Green, Morgan ranks second in FIU history in passing yardage (5,312) and touchdowns (40).

Mann was the Jets’ final pick of the April proceedings, having his name called with the 191st overall pick. The Texas A&M product was one of the most prolific punters in college football history, earning unanimous All-American honors and the Ray Guy Award (bestowed to the nation’s top punter) after his junior season. His 51.0 average is the best in NCAA history.

With these signings, first-round pick Mekhi Becton and third-rounder Ashtyn Davis are the only Jets selections who have yet to sign.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NFL Draft: New York Jets take FIU QB James Morgan at No. 125

Formerly of Bowling Green and Florida International, James Morgan was the New York Jets’ second of six Saturday picks.

The New York Jets added to their quarterback room with their second of six picks of Saturday’s 2020 NFL Draft. With the 125th overall pick, the Jets chose James Morgan, an alum of both Bowling Green and Florida International.

Morgan tallied 8,645 passing yards and 65 touchdown passes over his four collegiate seasons with the Falcons and Golden Panthers. His banner year came with FIU in 2018, when he led Conference USA with a 157.6 passer rating and 8.4 yards per attempt.

Morgan also raised his draft stock by participating in the most recent East-West Shrine Game, where he threw a touchdown pass in his East squad’s victory at Tropicana Field.

Though Sam Darnold is still the presumptive starter, Morgan becomes the second thrower added this offseason. Former Dallas Cowboys draftee Mike White joined up in late December, while incumbent backup David Fales was re-signed.

The pick used to take Morgan was the first of two picks acquired from the New England Patriots in a trade enacted late Friday night. New England got back the 101st overall pick from the Jets and also sent over the 129th choice and a sixth-round pick for next season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags