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

Three reasons why a QB1 would want to come to the New York Jets

New York Jets, Trevor Lawrence

Enough negativity, pessimism, and parody has surrounded the 2020 New York Jets. It’s time to focus on a (hopefully) brighter future.

It’s understandable to see why the 2020 New York Jets have become a bit of a punchline. The team appears to be the year 2020 A.D. personified, trapped for five more weeks in a season that will go down in infamy, even if the Jets (0-11) do manage to eke out a win before all is said and done. Their next opportunity to do comes on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Raiders (1 p.m. ET, CBS). 

The Jets and their fans have been through untold amounts of gridiron catastrophe over the decades, but a winless season has avoided them for the time being. Either way, those who make football funnies, both through pregame shows and social media, have been granted a plethora of material by the Jets’ modern endeavors.

It seems like a tired tradition at this point, but Jets fans are looking toward the future with hope. The light at the end of the turfed tunnel appears to be the right to choose first at the 2021 NFL Draft come spring. It’s assumed by many that, if the Jets were to secure that pick, they would use it one of the passing talents at the top of the big boards.

But football comedians and analysts alike are seeking to deny the Jets even that simple pleasure. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are juniors, but very much expected to make the early leap to the NFL once this college football season ends (potentially in the College Football Playoff). But, if the horizon becomes a bit too scary, respective returns to Clemson and Ohio State for senior year, while seemingly unlikely, would be options that were indeed on the table. Amateur and professional pundits alike have openly taunted the Jets with the idea that one or both would go back to school, if only to avoid the ongoing cesspool of New York football and to take advantage of the time-honored tradition of harvesting clicks through the “LOL Jets” subgenre. Peyton Manning partook in a similar gambit in 1997, choosing to go back to Tennessee after the Jets chose not to commit to taking him with the top pick after the one-win disaster in the final year of the Rich Kotite era.

In short, many have asked: what could the hapless Jets possibly offer an accomplished college name, especially one with a viable option like the back-up plans Lawrence and Fields have?

ESM feels there’s enough negativity surrounding New York’s green team; here’s what they have to offer to their new franchise man.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
 (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

There’s Plenty to Spend

Even if the Jets opt to move on from Darnold, this season has proven that a simple quarterback switch isn’t going to solve all of the Jets’ problems. But there’s another list where the Jets rank toward the top, other than the draft order: the 2021 cap space table.

This offseason, the Jets will have just over $82 million of cap space to spend, trailing only fellow early picker Jacksonville ($85 million). It’d be fair for Jets fans to ask if general manager Joe Douglas is willing to splurge; after all, Douglas was blessed with some extra funds late this summer but opted to mostly stand pat with the team he had (passing on signees like Jadeveon Clowney and Logan Ryan). Many of the free agents that did join up with Douglas haven’t truly panned out thus far, some through no fault of Douglas or their own, instead being lost to injuries. But in comments made earlier this year, Douglas seemed to hint that this prior offseason, defined by short-term deals and a sense of hesitation, could serve as a learning experience, potentially hinting at bigger things in the future.

“I think we had a focus on what we going to try to attack in the offseason. That was on the offensive side of the ball with o-line and skill players. Ultimately, for a lot of different reasons, it hasn’t materialized this year on that side of the ball,” Douglas said, per notes from the Jets. “We’re going through this offseason, we’re going through what our processes were in the offseason and trying to figure out what we can do better moving forward.”

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

A Blocking Revolution is Well Underway

If Douglas has succeeded in one area during his year-plus on the job, it has been in doing his utmost to make up for the relative offensive line negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His first moves at the helm were to trade a draft pick for Alex Lewis and convincing Pro Bowl staple Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. Lewis has been effective but injured, while the Kalil experiment failed to yield positive results. But those moves foreshadowed the much-needed rebuild of the New York offensive line.

In April, Douglas used the first draft pick of his Jets tenure (No. 11 overall) on a blocker out of Louisville. Upon hearing his name, Mekhi Becton became the first New York lineman taken in the first round since the legendary D’Brickashaw Ferguson in 2006. His drafting has provided sweet relief in a lost season, with his results on Pro Football Focus (where he is one of 15 NFL tackles with a grade of at least 70 in both pass and run blocking) showing a promising return on investment.

“I think he is a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in notes and video from the Jets. “We’re excited about working with him every day, because you’re talking about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart, he’s tough as nails, and has a rare size and athleticism. And still, he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do physically. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be, so we’ve made it our mission to sort of bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

Some of Douglas’ other additions have not panned out, and that’s apparent in the current state of the offensive line. Greg Van Roten has been durable but inconsistent and George Fant has been average, but other additions like Connor McGovern (the one Jets free agency signee from last season with no cap savings on a potential out) and Josh Andrews have been most disappointing. There’s little reason to doubt that Douglas will once again look toward the free agent front to find protection through both experienced (Alex Mack) and younger (Joe Thuney) options alike.

The idea of a blocking revolution doesn’t even have to have a new quarterback to protect. It instead could continue at the top of the big board if Sam Darnold rises to the occasion over the final games. If that’s the case, the Jets could perhaps opt to choose tackle Penei Sewell out of Oregon to help not only Darnold but what will likely be a new weapons package. Sewell opted out of the 2020 season but has already declared for the draft. He will bring the Outland Trophy and unanimous All-American honors with him.

 Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Weapons Are Emerging

No matter who Douglas chose with the 11th overall pick last spring, he was going to annoy some subsection of the New York fanbase. For everyone who wanted a blocker, there was another who demanded that Douglas dip his toe into the pool of receivers available toward the draft’s middle stages. The Jets will face one of those receivers on Sunday with Henry Ruggs partaking in the Las Vegas efforts. New York also passed on Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson in the process. A consolation prize awaited in the second round in the form of Denzel Mims from Baylor.

When it comes to Mims, it appears that Douglas’ patience is paying off. He had to wait a little longer due to training camp ailments but has since become one of the Jets’ most reliable receivers. Mims has since united with Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder to provide a spark to the New York offense. The two have played in each of the Jets’ past three games. In that span, the Jets put out a season-best 322 yards in Week 9’s Monday night loss to New England and their margin of defeat has trickled to an average of just over eight points. Without the trio, they were losing by an average of 18.

Despite some emergencies from de facto homegrown talent…rookie rusher La’Mical Perine was also starting to find a bit of a groove before landing on injured reserve…Perriman was added on a one-year deal while Crowder could be a cap savings casualty, so the Jets must take full advantage of their expanded cap space in an illustrious market. The team can probably get by with Perine as their top rusher (though an affordable, decently-aged veteran like Phillip Lindsay or Wayne Gallman could provide a nice compliment), but they must be ready to splurge in a crowded receivers’ realm. Allen Robinson will likewise be the top option alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose rookie deal in Pittsburgh is set to expire.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Ohio State Quarterback Situation Clear Cut For 2019 Season

With the 2018 college football season over, it’s time for some quick recaps of where various teams are in 2019, starting with the quarterback situation of conference champions Ohio State.

Unlike Ohio State’s quarterback situation last year, there won’t be too many question marks before the season begins. Last season, there was a nominal race between Tate Martell and Dwayne Haskins Jr., but the race could be described as nominal for a reason. Haskins was the favorite coming into the season after serving as J.T. Barrett’s backup, and took the starting job easily once spring football proved who was the better player.

Martell is now with the Miami Hurricanes, jumping from the Big Ten to the ACC despite the player that had started in front of him being gone going into the 2019 season. That doesn’t mean that the Buckeyes are without a quarterback for 2019 and it does make things a lot more interesting when you consider the fact that Georgia transfer Justin Fields has been granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.

Fields lost out in the starting quarterback battle long ago to Jake Fromm, but that doesn’t say as much about Fields being bad as it does about Fromm being one of the top NFL draft prospects in next year’s class of quarterbacks. In fact, there’s some oddmakers who think that Fields can even compete for the Heisman Trophy.

Fields was listed by BetOnline as having 12/1 odds to win the trophy. Fields was the top ranked recruit in his class according to ESPN and 247Sports, but only had 39 passing attempts during his 2018 season, when he was a freshman. Despite the small amount of throws, Fields still made appearances in 12 games and looked good, throwing four touchdowns during that time and completing 69.2% of his passes.

Is Fields going to be as good as Dwayne Haskins was? That’s a very tall task, as Haskins is currently the top quarterback prospect in the NFL Draft, and Fields is only a sophomore. But Ohio State is perhaps getting more of a sure thing than they were with Haskins, who entered the season as one of the team’s question marks. Things turned out well for Haskins and Ohio State, but the narrative at the end of the season was very different from the one at the start of it.

Fields has a bit more hype entering the season but it remains to be seen whether or not that hype means that Fields is more of a sure thing than the player that came before him. It is sure, though, that things are a lot more clear cut for Ohio State going into this season than they were before.