New York Jets: Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson can’t mix

If the New York Jets quarterback quandary is truly down to Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson, there must be no stalemate.

There’s no telling exactly when the New York Jets started thinking of having someone other than Sam Darnold in their franchise quarterback role. The only facts behind the case are that the situation is active and will be resolved by the evening of April 29, when the team chooses second in the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.

But what if the situation stretches beyond April, into the warmer months? The only way to do that would be to keep Sam Darnold and draft Zach Wilson…a situation the Jets must avoid at every cost.

No matter when this proverbial game of musical chairs began, some of the contestants have dropped out, opted to join other games, or both. One seat, that of the franchise quarterback role, remains, and it appears that two players circle it while the music plays: Darnold and Wilson.

As those other seats fill across the league, the incumbent Darnold remains a Jet with the team does their due diligence on his potential replacement. With Urban Meyer more or less eliminating any draft day surprises vis a vis Trevor Lawrence, draft day attention now turns to the Jets in the second slot. The consensus No.2 has become BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who wowed many at his Provo-based pro day with Mahomes-like tosses. Among the awed was the Jets’ representative triumvirate of head coach Robert Saleh, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, and general manager Joe Douglas. The idea that Saleh and LaFleur’s former Bay Area comrades, equally perplexed over their own passing situation in San Francisco, traded to the third, not second, slot with Miami instead of the Jets served only to fuel the idea that Darnold’s green days were numbered.

If Wilson is truly on his way, a new debate is spawned: what to do with Darnold? One of the more fascinating “what if” situations on the modern NFL landscape is envisioning Darnold’s career if the Jets hired someone…heck, anyone…at head coach other than Adam Gase. The team has stocked up on affordable/bargain offensive weaponry this offseason that could provide Darnold some long-awaited professional stability.

But if Wilson is the way the Jets want to go…the Jets must cut ties with Darnold at all costs. The idea that this team can make it through a situation where two quarterbacks in their early 20s are on the same roster seems dubious at best. If Wilson’s Jets career begins, Darnold’s must end.

There’s no doubt that an incoming franchise thrower can benefit from having a veteran work alongside him, even through competition. That’s exactly how Darnold’s New York career began, after all, as he worked alongside Josh McCown for a season. But Darnold, set to turn 24 in June, isn’t exactly at the “veteran mentor” stage of his career. This is a quarterback who has displayed fleeting flashes of brilliance, enough for the casual observer to wonder if it’s a miracle in itself that he was able to briefly shine in the first place.

With the Jets cleaning their coaching house, there’s an opportunity to see Darnold work with a new staff. The idea of quarterback competition at camp could be interesting, especially if preseason games return this summer. Some might see Darnold as a reliable safety net if the unthinkable happens to the rookie, Wilson or otherwise. But when you’re trapped in a perpetual rebuild…one that just might see a light at the end of its tunnel…that’s not worth it. A Jets team divided amongst itself…especially at the quarterback position…cannot stand.

The Jets are in a position where they might finally be starting to right their ship. Whereas the hire of Gase was praised only by the hot take artists, players both domestic and abroad lauded the arrival of Saleh. It’d make sense to follow his vision as precisely as they can. At the same time, it means minimizing controversy, vital for a team whose smallest abnormalities are turned into memes because the mere concept of “LOL Jets” gets clicks.

There’s also no use in pulling Wilson’s leg, which the exact message that keeping Darnold sends. How can he ease into the franchise quarterback role when a young player who may be equally capable…the Jets still don’t know…is sitting behind him? It’s one thing to bring an experienced mentor whose full-time starting days are probably behind him (i.e. Alex Smith/Brian Hoyer) or a relative veteran who’s proven reliable in a pinch (i.e. Nick Mullens/Blake Bortles). But to continue to work with a young quarterback and push him back to a backup role creates a problem where there doesn’t need to be.

The situation works on both sides. Though the scenario appears to become more remote with each passing day, there’s still a chance that Darnold could stay. If that’s the case, it’d be silly to say Darnold’s the starter and have the second overall pick breathing down his neck. Fans are set to return to MetLife Stadium this fall and the last thing Darnold would need is a chant for Wilson’s insertion every time he throws an incompletion.

While Saleh has carved out a hopeful path, he inherits a mess from the depths of the football netherworld that, again, needs little exacerbation. The defensive-minded Saleh must settle the uncertain secondary situation in the post-Jamal Adams era, while he and his offensive assistants also have to figure out an offensive line picture that, the arrival of Dan Feeney notwithstanding, doesn’t look much different from last season’s. To worry about the quarterback situation is simply thinking about another problem the Jets can ill-afford.

New York football will have its share of problems beyond April 29. With a glimmer at the end of the tunnel of rebuilding, but countless other turns to tackle in it, this quarterback issue can’t go beyond that.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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: Could Gardner Minshew be an answer at QB?

The New York Jets have already added one former Jacksonville Jaguar. Could another help them solidify a youthful revolt on offense?

Salvation for the two-win New York Jets could be earned through the one team that managed to finish worse: the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jets have already added one North Floridian import in receiver Keelan Cole, a slot receiver that managed to earn a Duval-best 2,242 yards over the last four seasons despite relentless turnover at the quarterback position. Cole entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and has had seven different starters throw to him, including three alone last season.

Jacksonville has a prime opportunity to finally stop the carousel as the owners of the top pick of April’s NFL Draft. The consensus top choice is Clemson star Trevor Lawrence. The Jets are immediately behind them and are doing their due diligence on rookie throwers like Justin Fields and Zach Wilson, as Sam Darnold’s future remains a metropolitan talking point.

But could the Jets’ solution like in further negotiations with the Jaguars.

The incumbent thrower in Jacksonville is Gardner Minshew, a sixth-round pick out of Washington State in the 2019 draft. Jacksonville has reportedly embarked on an endeavors to trade Minshew before Lawrence presumably dons teal and black on April 29. Minshew has produced some impressive numbers despite working in relative gridiron squalor in Jacksonville, posting 5,530 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 11 receptions over the last two seasons.

ESM has four reasons why the Jets should investigate…

He’s an upgrade

As the Jets continue to ponder the Darnold situation, many have risen in defense of the third overall pick from 2018, claiming his subpar numbers (79.1 passer rating, 28 touchdowns, 24 interceptions) are the result of a toxic football environment brought upon by the Adam Gase era. However, Minshew has arguably had even worse surroundings in the wasteland of Jacksonville’s post-AFC title game visit in 2017.

With 23 games (21 starts) under his belt, Minshew nonetheless has Darnold bested in touchdown passes, yardage, and passer rating despite partaking in two fewer games than the Jets’ incumbent. There’s time for Darnold to get his NFL act together, but if Minshew, who has proven he can produced in a professional setting, can help the Jets in the short-term and finally get some offensive momentum moving in the right direction, it’d help this hopeful chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild get started on the right note.

He has connection with a crucial newcomer

After a relatively slow start, the Jets have made a strong effort to upgrade their receiving weaponry. Reliable slot man Jamison Crowder appears to be on his way back with hopeful second round choice Denzel Mims. The newcomers have arrived from the AFC South. Corey Davis, fresh off a career-best season in Tennessee, joins the fold with Cole, the Jaguars’ most prolific receiver over the last four seasons.

Minshew bestowed some strong praise unto Colege heading into the 2020 season, comments that indicate that he would have no qualms working with him again.

“I love throwing to Cole and I’m excited to see what he’s going to be doing,” Minshew said per Demetrius Harvey of Big Cat Country. “He’s got really good hands, can play all three positions, he makes the tough catch, he’s been very consistent, he’s become better at this route running, he’s been able to get in and out a little better, so you see an improvement from last year to this year.”

The Jets backed themselves into a bit of a corner 

The Jets have undoubtedly upgraded this offseason, at least on paper. But their primary concern remains unsolved, one even bigger than the quarterback conundrum.

New York can resolve their quarterback situation one way or another. They can stick with Darnold, trade for a name like Minshew or Russell Wilson (the Deshaun Watson pursuit is likely on hold for obvious reasons), or wait until the draft. But no matter who the quarterback is, he’s going to need protection through a retooled offensive line. With the exception of adding the Los Angeles Chargers’ Dan Feeney…high in personality, low in analytical gradings…the Jets haven’t done anything to upgrade their much-maligned unit. Drafting Mekhi Becton was a good start last season, but general manager Joe Douglas’ free agency renovations haven’t panned out. Recurring target Joe Thuney is off to protect Patrick Mahomes in New England while Green Bay stud Corey Linsley is off to Feeney’s old stomping grounds.

Thus, the Jets find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. If they draft a quarterback, the poor first-year man will likely be running for his life or potentially see his confidence shattered behind a makeshift blocking unit. Thus, using the second choice on top blocking prospect Penei Sewell out of Oregon. Minshew would be a strong, if not temporary, solution while the Jets try to bolster the men in front of him.

Furthermore, taking on Minshew’s contract is a light load the Jets could handle while seeking out further options on the line. Over the next couple of seasons, Minshew’s combined cap hit is in the $2 million range.

He brings stability to a franchise in desperate need of it

Time will tell how Minshew’s NFL career plays out. As of now, he appears set to inherit Ryan Fitzpatrck’s throne in terms of being a serviceable fill-in option while accompanying such endeavors with a larger-than-life personality. At this point, he’s probably not a future franchise quarterback. But he can provide a sense of stability to a Jets team in desperate need of it, a security blanket, if only for a sense or two that the Jets desperately need.

The Jets are working on a playoff drought that’s nearly old enough to see a PG-13-rated movie without parental supervision. Ending that drought is a lot to ask for this year with still so many established contenders, no matter how much hope Robert Saleh brings to this team. But the Jets need to re-establish a sense of stability to their franchise at any cost possible. Thus, using Minshew as a stopgap option of sorts can help make the Jets a destination of sorts.

A comparable case came during the 2017 campaign in the form of Josh McCown. While far older and probably never reaching the statistical heights that Minshew has already traversed, McCown’s strong season on a Jets team some predicted would go winless helped them bring some stability to a team whose quarterback situation was in flux. The team had one less thing to worry about and was able to bide their time in finding a successor while being competitive in the meantime. McCown went 5-8 as a starter…featuring a win over the aforementioned AFC finalists from Jacksonville…but six of those eight defeats came by a single possession. Minshew can help the Jets build something further, helping get a new regime off in the right direction.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets to attend QB Trey Lance’s pro day (Report)

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas is expected to be among those observing North Dakota State QB Trey Lance in Fargo.

The New York Jets will officially begin their rookie quarterback evaluation on Friday. General manager Joe Douglas is expected to be one of several decision-makers on hand at North Dakota State University’s pro day to view touted thrower Trey Lance. Proceedings can be viewed at 11 a.m. ET on NFL Network.

A report from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated mentions that Douglas will be one of five general managers stationed in Fargo. Atlanta, Carolina, and Detroit are each sending both a coach and general manager while Washington is likewise repped by its GM Martin Mayhew.

Lance is expected to be one of the first passers selected in the first round of the NFL Draft come April. Though Lance has only a single full year of starter’s experience, he posted one of the most prolific ledgers in the history of the Bison’s storied football program. Lance was responsible for 36 touchdowns without throwing a single interception during their eighth Football Championship Subdivision title in program history. The Bison’s perfect 16-0 record hadn’t been achieved at the Division I level since 1894 (Yale).

For his efforts, Lance, then a redshirt freshman, earned the 2019 Walter Payton Award, annually bestowed to FCS’ most outstanding offensive player. Previous winners include Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Cooper Kupp. Lance was the first freshman to ever be bestowed the award named after the Chicago Bears legend and Jackson State alum.

Lance is not partaking in the Bison’s ongoing season, which was moved to spring and continues on Saturday at the Fargodome against Illinois State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+). But he did partake in a brief fall showcase against Central Arkansas, earning 292 total yards and four scores in a come-from-behind victory.

One of the most dominant programs in FCS history, NDSU’s pro offerings won’t be limited to Lance. Blocker Dillon Radunz earned positive reviews for his performance during Senior Bowl prep in Mobile while receiver-turned cornerback Marquise Bridges has likewise warranted a look. That group helped NDSU break its own record for the longest winning streak in FCS history (39), which was snapped on February 27 against Southern Illinois.

The last NDSU alum chosen by the Jets was running back Gordy Sprattler in the ninth round of the 1979 draft. Sprattler did not play a regular season down. They last chose a quarterback from an FCS/Division I-AA school in 1983 through first-rounder Ken O’Brien of California-Davis.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags   

New York Jets: New deals elsewhere make the case to draft

As a decision at quarterback looms, the New York Jets can take a lesson from Dak Prescott’s new contract and Tom Brady’s restructures.

Tom Brady has taught, or has at least attempted to teach, the New York Jets countless lessons over the past two decades. As Brady plans to extend his career even further, the Jets can probably stand to take one more as light begins to flicker at the end of their tunnel of rebuilding.

Just over a month after he helped bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay…and a seventh ring to his finger…Brady is already laying down the blueprints for another. According to a report from Josina Anderson, the thrower whose “GOAT” label is becoming less debatable with each passing day and the Buccaneers are restructuring the two-year, $50 million deal bestowed to him last spring.

The plan is to open up enough cap space to keep the other key contributors from the recently wrapped Super Bowl run. Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, and Leonard Fournette are among the champions set to hit the market, while receiver Charles Godwin was franchise tagged.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Brady, 44, would adjust his contract to prolong a potential dynasty. In 2014, negotiations with the New England Patriots netted $24 million in cap space that played a role in three additional Super Bowl visits (two wins).

As things currently stand, Brady is the 16th-highest-paid quarterback in football. It’s probably the one quarterback list where he doesn’t appear in the top ten.

“When he restructures his deal, he’s getting a big bundle of cash up-front. But it is helping us create cap room,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft said of a prior restructure in 2012, per Mike Reiss of ESPN. “We are in the business of quality depth management,” Kraft said. “It’s a physical game and you have injuries, and you need depth on your team.”

The Brady situation is a direct contrast to the ongoing passing situation in Dallas. Dak Prescott is now the second-highest paid quarterback in football at the end of a two-year game of chicken between him and Cowboys management. He’ll make $40 million in each of the next four seasons, a price tag bested only by Patrick Mahomes’ seemingly eternal deal in Kansas City.

It’s great to see a high-character, high-ceiling athlete like Prescott get a good deal, but it’s not the transaction that’s going to bring an elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy to the metroplex. With the signing of Prescott, the Cowboys bare sit above the cap, now working with less than $1 million of space. It could necessitate some painful cuts in the coming future…some say talented blocker Tyron Smith could be a part of that, for example.

Prescott’s deal should not be seen as greed on his part, but rather getting what’s necessary for the Cowboys to merely remain relevant. Some have grilled Prescott for a lack of postseason success, but it’s clear he has the skills to be a game-changing NFL quarterback. Dallas had a taste of life without Prescott when he was lost for the season with an ankle injury after five games. A cursed quarterback hydra of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert mustered a 4-7 mark in Prescott’s absence. Through four seasons as a full-time starter, Prescott has yet to post a losing record with a star on his helmet.

What do these situations have to do with the Jets? They should avoid a similar predicament in all circumstances.

Unlike the Buccaneers and Cowboys, the Jets’ quarterback future is anything but settled. The only thing anyone knows about the situation is the unspoken guarantee that it will all be over no later than the evening of April 29, the first round of the NFL Draft. Just over a month of relative chaos, however, awaits on the horizon.

The Jets have enough stress with an NFL equivalent of a first-world problem: deciding what to do with the second overall pick. But it seems like every elite, disgruntled, veteran quarterback wants in on what Robert Saleh has to offer, as rumors have linked Deshaun Watson ($39 million in 2021) and Russell Wilson ($35 million) to a green future. Watson and Wilson respectively rank third and fourth in terms of the best-paid quarterbacks, but the Jets, blessed with a cap space number in the area of $70 million that’s been talked about endlessly in the NYC area, are one of the few teams that can perhaps afford to take on such a financial burden.

Tantalizing as such a union would be, however, the cases of Brady and Prescott dictate that the Jets would be best off starting fresh with a rookie contract.

New York Jets
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There’s a sense of “when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose” with the Jets, which can allow them to play with a sense of reckless abandon under a first-time head coach seeking an identity. With so many holes to fill and so many established contenders in the AFC, ending their postseason drought still seems like a tall task. But progress must be made in this perpetual rebuild, particularly in the franchise quarterback role that’s felt vacant since Joe Namath left Shea Stadium for the final time.

For the Jets to do that, they need to fill as many holes as possible and settle as many of their affairs as they can…similar to what Brady’s doing in Tampa Bay. Save for the front four and one of the tackle slots…which appear set to be anchored by the talents of Quinnen Williams and Mekhi Becton respectively…the Jets face uncertainty at almost every spot on the depth chart. Thus, the Jets are not in a position to dedicate most of their offseason funds, no matter how expansive their surplus becomes, to a Prescott-like situation.

It’s better, at this point, to follow the Brady method and restructure around a quarterback that’s not among the highest-paid names in football. Even if they wanted to even extend Sam Darnold’s fifth-year option (currently valued at circa $18 million, per Over the Cap), that would be a better, more affordable trek on which to embark.

When you accumulate a 30-8 record against the Jets in your NFL career, you tend to teach the metropolitan area a lesson or two. With Brady taking on less to ensure his reign lasts even longer, finally heeding and emulating his example…even in mere roster management…can help finally end the perpetual rebuild.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

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

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

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

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

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

For: He’s a reliable, veteran backup

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

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

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

Against: Is this the end?

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

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

For: Perhaps a stopgap? 

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

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

Against: Is he too accomplished?

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills offseason preview 2021: Quarterbacks

The Buffalo Bills finally have an answer in their franchise quarterback role, but adjustments may be coming to their backup situation.

The Position: Quarterback
On the Roster: Josh Allen, Jake Fromm
Free Agents: Matt Barkley
Reserve/Future: Davis Webb

It took 24 years, 18 AFC East titles for the New England Patriots, and countless false prophets…but the Buffalo Bills have finally found the answer to Jim Kelly.

Any doubts about Josh Allen’s NFL future were more or less eliminated with a historic season that likely occupies its own chapter in the Buffalo record books. Allen’s 2020 evolution turned the Bills into bona fide championship contenders, ones that fell just a game short of the Super Bowl. It’s safe to say that the Bills envision Allen riding out the decade with a streaking buffalo on his helmet…and maybe partake in a little of the next one as well. In fact, it may not be too early to start thinking about an extension to ensure he stays in blue and red.

But if any franchise knows that NFL prosperity can be yanked away in the blink of an eye…it’s the Buffalo Bills.

No one in their right football mind is going to deny that Allen has a role to play in the future of not only Western New York but the national gridiron scene as a whole. But the Bills must think about the names behind Allen, just in case the medically unthinkable happens. Allen has started the last 42 Bills games under center, but he did miss four games during his rookie year (2018) with an elbow injury. During that time, Buffalo worked with the backup hydra of Nathan Peterman, Derek Anderson, and Matt Barkley, the latter securing the long-term backup job by earning the lone win in that bunch.

Obviously, Allen is the toast of The Queen City until further notice. But no one in the NFL has ever prepared for an injury, especially one of the season-ending variety that can sink Super Bowl runs entirely. Barkley has proven somewhat reliable when called upon (his 2020-21 ledger consisted of Week 17 mop-up duty in a blowout win over Miami), but the Bills might have plans for rookie Jake Fromm to assume the role. Chosen in the fifth round of last year’s draft, Fromm’s rookie season was an unusual situation where he was kept in relative isolation in case COVID-19-related protocols rendered Allen, Barkley, and practice squad arm Davis Webb inactive.

It may seem irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but backup quarterback remains one of the most underrated positions in any of the four major sports. The wrong name behind Allen, likely one the Bills hope they never have to see in the weekly box score, could save or derail a championship effort the Bills have steadily built.

Free Agents-to-be

Matt Barkley

Barkley’s football career has never truly recovered since he fell to the fourth round of the 2013 draft and a six-game stint as a starter yielded little in Chicago. But he managed to create some stability in Buffalo after guiding the Bills to a one-sided win over the Jets during the aforementioned 2018 season, having been Allen’s backup ever since. Barkley’s given little reason for the Bills to move on, but it’s possible they could move on to a younger name like Fromm to serve as Allen’s understudy.

Will They Draft? 

Very, very, very unlikely. The Bills just used a draft pick on a quarterback in Fromm, and if they bring in another camp arm. It’ll likely be one of the veteran free agent variety. Longshot options on day three include Ian Book of Notre Dame and Dustin Crum out of Kent State.

Veteran Possibilities

Tyrod Taylor, LA Chargers

One of the most reliable pre-Allen options as Buffalo quarterback was Taylor, who helped the Bills end a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to enjoy a Labatt Blue legally. Since Allen’s takeover, Taylor has been the opening act for rookie sensations in Cleveland and Los Angeles. If Allen were to go down, Taylor would serve as a reliable replacement because he has likewise been a multi-threat; some of the records Allen broke this season, namely the quarterback rushing marks, previously belonged to Taylor.

Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis 

It’s unfortunate that Brissett likely won’t get an opportunity to win his starting job back in Indianapolis, as he performed admirably when Andrew Luck abruptly retired in 2018. Brissett is another mobile threat who would help Buffalo quickly pick up the pieces if the unthinkable happened to Allen. Despite backing up Phillip Rivers this season, the Colts had Brissett come for quarterback sneak situations on crucial short-yardage situations (scoring three touchdowns last season).

Colt McCoy, NY Giants

If Barkley leaves and the Bills go looking for a more traditional veteran option to compete with Fromm, they could go with McCoy, who was relatively decent in two starts with the Giants, even helping the team earn a win in Seattle.

Outlook

Quarterback remains very low on the Bills’ offseason priority list. If they lose Barkley, it’s likely they’ll attempt to groom Fromm into the backup role, though a competition will ensue if they want someone with more experience behind Allen.

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 now or never for QB Sam Darnold

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

The New York Jets are officially eliminated from the playoff contention. But the next six weeks might as well be Super Bowls for Sam Darnold.

The holiday season is upon us and with it comes an endless tide of yuletide excuses for getting out of December festivities. Even in these trying times, there are enough activities in a metropolitan area like New York where social distancing can unite with a sense of supposed fun.

For New York Jets fans, however, a weekend with the in-laws may serve as a perfect excuse for avoiding these final hours. Braving cold temperatures to put up Christmas lights may be more preferable to watching the Jets (0-10) attempt to conjure up a victory.

Even the most die-hard, live-or-die Jets fan would be hard-pressed to list reasons to watch the Jets’ final six games of the 2020 season for non-masochistic reasons. The trek starts on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS), where even the surefire tradition of tailgating has been erased by the distancing mandates. All but one of the adversaries they’ll face would either be in the playoffs if they began immediately or would lose their spot through a tiebreaker. Miami (6-4), for example, is locked into a three-way tie with Las Vegas (another future Jets opponent) and Baltimore for the final AFC wild card spot.  Jets fans have more or less resigned themselves to the idea of forming an unholy trinity with the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns in “earning” 0-16 records throughout the course of NFL history. The primary consolation stems from the fact that an 0-16 record would secure the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, where a plethora of gridiron talent, primarily of the throwing variety, will be available. If seeing their name atop of the big boards means there has to be a goose egg in the win column, so be it, the fanbase has seemed to declare.

But the already ludicrous concept of tanking fails to take into account the human aspect involved in the game. Livelihoods could well be on the line as the Jets play out the stretch. For some players, primarily the depth options that have been propelled to the starting lineup through injuries and transactions, strong showings over the next six weeks could well be the difference between suiting up in the NFL or waiting for the XFL to come back.

Then there’s Sam Darnold.

When a team lands into No. 1 pick territory, fans often comfort themselves through knowing a collegiate hero is likely on his way over. That savior is, more often than not, a quarterback, and the pomp and circumstance doubles when a New York team holds the pick in question. Joe Namath, for example, earned his “Broadway” moniker from a Sports Illustrated cover published two months before he threw his first NFL pass. The Jets’ propensity for chaos and football eccentrics is also attached to the quarterback no matter what he does. Darnold has undoubtedly been a victim of kookiness…just look no further than the sophomoric response to his mononucleosis diagnosis last season. The team’s seemingly perpetual rebuild has done little to help matters, as Darnold spent his first two seasons behind a flimsy offensive line racked with turnover.

Yet, in the midst of chaos, Darnold was able to provide ever-so-brief flashes of brilliance that will no doubt be spoken about in anecdotes across the tri-state area. The oncoming December rush could bring forth conversations of his rookie campaign, Darnold leading a game-winning drive in Buffalo during his first meeting against fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen. Two weeks later, a Festivus Miracle from the Green Bay Packers did nothing to hide the fact that Darnold went head-to-head with Aaron Rodgers and lived to tell the tale. When Darnold returned from his illness last season, he led the reeling, winless Jets to a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. He later gave Jets fans temporary bragging rights over their East Rutherford domicile by outplaying Daniel Jones in a battle with the blue metropolitan team.

The 2020 season was never about making a playoff leap, even with expanded capital. Instead, it could’ve been a throat-clearing year for Darnold, a not-so-subtle warning to the rest of the NFL that the Jets were finally ready to rise. It was to be a year of chemistry and bonding, as a new era was underway with general manager Joe Douglas in tow. One of the first moves Douglas made upon his mid-offseason arrival was to trade for Alex Lewis and convince Pro Bowl staple Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. That latter move didn’t pan out, but it showed that Douglas was willing to fix the offensive line, whose treatment under predecessor Mike Maccagnan could be described as negligent at best. Douglas spent his first full offseason at the helm building the wall in front of Darnold, drafting Mekhi Becton at No. 11 overall, and adding veterans George Fant, Greg Van Roten, and Connor McGovern. He would partially bolster the skill position slots as well, draft Denzel Mims in the second round to go with free agent Breshad Perriman and returning slot man Jamison Crowder. Many of the additions like Perriman, Fant, and Van Roten, were granted one-year deals or out clauses for 2021. Thus, the 2021 season had the aura of an audition or screen test with a blockbuster star.

Yet, like countless other 2020 happenings, things have not according to plan.

The fact that Darnold has missed four games is concerning, but should not be held against him. Football is a violent game, and one should not be criticized for missing games due to their health. But Darnold is making decisions that would be out of place for a rookie franchise quarterback, never mind the man in the proverbially crucial third year. There have been the trademark flashes of brilliance…such as that long touchdown run in prime time against Denver…but there have been far-too-many head-scratching moves. His 1,045 yards and three touchdown passes are on pace to set career-lows. His numbers currently have him situated in the same category as backups like Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel. Miami’s rookie thrower Tua Tagovailoa has played three fewer games than Darnold but has already doubled his touchdown pass tally. 

What’s made Darnold’s decline even scarier is that the offense was appearing to gain traction under the supervision of backup Joe Flacco. It didn’t lead to wins, but the numbers are troubling from a pro-Darnold concept. The 614-yard, 55-point output against the Chargers and Patriots are the Jets’ respective best tallies over consecutive games. Flacco also threw five touchdown passes in that span, tied with several others…only Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger threw more. Perriman had his best game of the season (5 receptions, 101 yards, and a touchdown against New England), while Chris Herndon broke out of a slump to score his first touchdown of the season against Los Angeles, where Mims also set an infantile career-high in yardage (71 yards on three grabs).

Losses ensued nonetheless, increasing the likelihood that the Jets would secure the top overall pick next spring. Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Kyle Trask, among others, will undoubtedly be up for grabs. The trigger-fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever in the new decade. Miami drew controversy last week when they lifted Tagovailoa for performance-based reasons in a loss in Denver. Darnold’s fellow SoCal college football legend Josh Rosen is perhaps more familiar with the concept than anyone in recent football memory. It took the Arizona Cardinals a single to move on from both he and head coach Steve Wilks. If the Jets gain the top overall pick and Darnold’s outputs remain where they are…and possibly a new head coach on top of it all…they’d be almost foolhardy

Thus, every week might as well be a Super Bowl for Darnold, at least from a personal level.

Darnold’s early 2020 game ledgers are head to be printed alongside a sizable asterisk: over his first six starts, the USC alum did not have the top receiving trio that the Jets envisioned him to have throughout the course of the year. Perriman, Mims, and Crowder finally got to take the field at the same time and Flacco reaped in the benefits. But with the trio ready to go for Sunday…barring any issues related to the ongoing health crisis…Darnold is out of excuses (not that he’d make any as is). The Jets are in a position where it doesn’t matter if they, as a team, win or lose. Darnold needs to play with a coordinated sense of reckless abandon. New York will spend part of these final futile weeks making a list and checking it twice for what they need this offseason. Darnold must make sure that “franchise quarterback” isn’t on that list. Even if wins don’t follow, it’s not like the Jets are completely out of luck. There is talent beyond the quarterback pool, well represented by blocker Penei Sewell, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and defenders Micah Parson and Patrick Surtain. It’s up to Darnold to prove that the Jets would be better served fulfilling one of those other needs rather than finding a successor to his franchise throne.

It’s not the type of win-or-go-home situation that Jets fans were rooting for at the start of the season. But if you’re looking for a holiday distraction, Darnold’s quest should prove to be enough of a distraction. Either way, provided he stays healthy, the Jets can earn a win before this year is out: that of clarity.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Does Joe Flacco have a future with the franchise?

Joe Flacco played respectably while substituting for Sam Darnold. It’s possible he can play it into a future with the New York Jets.

Those also writing about Joe Flacco’s NFL career likely won’t be using the word “future” much longer.

That’s no slight toward the New York Jets quarterback. Age is a near-undefeated behemoth that has claimed the careers of countless others before him and, at 35, there’s no denying that Flacco’s time is coming. The polarizing ex-Baltimore Raven has built himself a solid NFL career that turned him into one of the major faces of pro football in the 21st century. But his glory days, like his legendary run to Super Bowl XLVII, are long behind him. Football analysts, amateur and professional alike, will likely view his time in a Jets uniform (as well as his eight-game cameo in the colors of the Denver Broncos) through the same, sarcastic lens of Tom Brady’s ongoing Tampa Bay endeavors.

But if this truly is the end for Flacco, could the final, successful chapters be written in green?

With Sam Darnold set to return on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in a situation where his job as the franchise man could be on the line, it stands to reason that Flacco, a free-agent-to-be, probably won’t take the field again unless the former endures yet another injury. Flacco has started four games for the Jets (0-10) this season, all after Darnold injured his shoulder in a loss to Denver on October 1, an ailment reaggravated a month later in Kansas City.

The intent behind signing Flacco was clear: if the unthinkable happened to the developing Darnold (again), the Jets would have a decent-enough substitution to tread water until the younger thrower came back. Additionally, if there was ever an on-field mentor for Darnold, one could’ve done far worse than bringing in a former Super Bowl MVP used to adversity. Josh McCown was the best of both worlds before he chose a brief retirement. Flacco believed he could still start for another team after his reign upon the Baltimore throne ended with the emergence of Lamar Jackson, but willingly embraced such a role.

“It’s where I am right now and I’m glad to be on a team playing football in some capacity,” Flacco said after his signing in May, per Andy Vazquez of USA Today. “I think it’s going to be huge to get in there and know the guys and develop a relationship with the team and do anything I can to help the team get better and in that process, help Sam with whatever he needs help with.”

It didn’t take long for the overwhelmed Jets (0-10) to call upon Flacco to empty whatever was left in his NFL quarterbacking tank. Asking him to fully flip the Jets’ fortunes was a little too much…the New York issues go far beyond the quarterback…but, in a surprising turn of events, the Jets’ struggling offense looked how they were supposed to look in 2020: a rebuilding team that was slowly but surely getting it together.

Over the last two weeks, the Jets have earned 614 yards and 55 points under Flacco’s watch, each of which are season-highs in consecutive games. Flacco has done his part, particularly over the last two games with five touchdown passes and 467 yards, good for a passer rating of 102.6. That made him one of a dozen quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts with a triple-digit passer rating over the last two games. Only Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger have thrown more touchdown passes than Flacco in that span, with the mark tying him with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert (who had three as his Los Angeles Chargers topped Flacco and the Jets last Sunday).

It’s not like Flacco’s tenure was exempt from 2020 Jets shenanigans; he took a 30-yard sack in a shutout loss in Miami and threw a “really bad” pick-six deep in Jets territory in the most recent defeat in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the undeniable leadership and defacto spark Flacco brought to the lineup was noticed by his teammates and coaches alike.

“It’s been good for the most part,” receiver Breshad Perriman said of his relationship with Flacco after the defeat in Los Angeles, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “Of course it could always be better. But it’s definitely going good.”

Working with Flacco, a fellow former Raven, Perriman has earned touchdown receptions in back-to-back games. Two came in the Jets’ 30-27 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots two weeks ago, good for Perriman’s first 100-yard since last season in Tampa Bay.

“I think you saw it, I think everyone saw it, how well he throws the football,” Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said after the New England game in another report from Vazquez. “This guy, he’s gifted that way, and he did some really nice things for us. He’s really accurate. I do think this guy is a starter in this league, and we’re very fortunate to have the quarterback situation we have right now. And that’s why Joe was brought here.”

. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets have some major decisions to make when it comes to their quarterback spot. These final hours of the 2020 season could mean everything to Darnold, whose status as the face of the franchise could be in major jeopardy if they get the top overall pick in next spring’s draft. Surprisingly, there may be a little more clarity in the understudy role, because no matter who starts at quarterback for the Jets come 2021…be it Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Field, or an unknown entity…is going to need some form of mentorship and stability behind him. It’s highly unlikely the Jets will replicate the Kansas City Chiefs’ idea and sit a potential draftee for a year. Duplicating the strategy that ended Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore, where Jackson came in partway through his rookie season, is equally doubtful. But having a veteran quarterback on the roster is essential on the rookie franchise quarterback shopping list. Protection is a close second, but the Jets have admittedly been doing well in that regard with the Mekhi Becton selection paying dividends thus far. That’s where Flacco comes into the Jets’ future plans.

For all we know, the Jets’ offensive progress stemmed not from Flacco, but from the fact that the Jets were able to use their top three receivers (Perriman, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder) in the same game(s). But if Darnold is willing to carry on the role of the mentor backup, it could be a perfect match and a perfect way to end his career. The role. of a perfect backup quarterback is, if you are pressed into service, don’t be the reason for your squad’s demise. If you can provide mentorship an intuitive sense of know-how to the lineup, that’s an added bonus. Flacco fulfills both of these roles and gives the Jets security for the future.

Flacco, for his part, has not given any indication toward retirement. If he was willing to come back from a neck injury sustained in Denver last season, then mere losses shouldn’t serve a deterrent in advancing things further. If the calling comes, he well could go to a team seeking a quick fix at quarterback to win immediately (the 5-5 Chicago Bears perhaps come to mind as they’re set to revert to Mitchell Trubisky this Sunday night).

But there’s no shame in serving as a veteran mentor to close one’s career. It worked perfectly for guys like Mark Brunell, perhaps one of the most accurate comparisons Flacco will receive. A Super Bowl as a starter was denied to the left-handed Brunell, but he left a lasting mark on the passing antics of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, much like Flacco did back in Baltimore.

After his time in Jacksonville ended, Brunell would later end his career with the Jets and New Orleans Saints, winning a Super Bowl with the former. That followed a stop with the team then known as the Washington Redskins, where Brunell took over in the mid-2000s before overseeing a peaceful transition of power to Jason Campbell. He would later mentor Mark Sanchez during two further seasons in New York.

Even the accomplished veteran Drew Brees knows how valuable a lauded backup can be. Brees was already well known upon his New Orleans arrival, but mentioned that Brunell helped him reach his ultimate heights. The two would go on to win Super Bowl XLIV together, with Brees capturing the MVP honors Flacco would earn three years later.

“You’re talking about a great mentor in so many ways,” Brees told Bill Baker of The Times-Picayune prior to embarking on that championship trek. “He’s started so many games, started so many big games. He’s played a lot of football at a very high level. He’s been to conference championship games before, been to Pro Bowls; he’s done all those things. He’s played in a lot of interesting systems with a lot of great coaches. There’s just a wealth of knowledge that I can draw from.”

Uncertainty continues to loom over the Jets’ quarterback situation, a feeling that has lurked for far too long. Bringing back Flacco, ironically destined for backup duties, would add a tremendous deal of clarity for a franchise in desperate need of it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags