Joe Flacco could help the New York Jets’ offense salvage its season

Joe Flacco’s return allows the New York Jets a chance at offensive development and reconciliation for its young core.

At best, Joe Flacco’s New York Jets tenure will be commemorated when Twitter users facetiously play the “legends” game. Favorite examples amongst users in the tri-state area, for example, include “Boston Bruins legend Brian Leetch”, “Orlando Magic legend Patrick Ewing”, or “Los Angeles Sparks legend Teresa Weatherspoon”.

Even if his destiny lies in competing with Brett Favre and Michael Vick for a roster spot on the “Wait He Played for the Jets?!?!” team, Flacco is back for more metropolitan endeavors. After 11 publicized and discussed seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII is now making his fourth move in three years. His latest was confirmed on Tuesday, as he’s going back to the Jets in a trade that sent a conditional sixth-round pick to his former employers in Philadelphia.

Flacco arrives just in time to potentially save the Jets’ 2021 season.

Allow me to go full Mora before you flock to the comment section: don’t talk about playoffs. Ending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought was a remote possibility when this season started and it’s probably a downright impossibility now. Despite another pre-Halloween elimination, the Jets (1-5) are once again offered a macabre gift: a de facto extension of the preseason.

Their remaining 2021 slate features 11 consequence-free opportunities to get the ball rolling on the future. These games, starting with Sunday’s visit from the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET, CBS) are experimental research and development sessions, auditions to see who can stay for the supposedly good times ahead. If they win, it’s a pat on the back. Losses are no big deal as long as the effort was high and draft position is gained.

Such an opportunity would’ve been a godsend for a struggling rookie quarterback like Zach Wilson. Lowered stakes would provide much-needed relief from his freshman season, one where he could make mistakes in a relatively controlled environment. He could take chances, throw deep, and find ways to build chemistry with a young, developing group of receivers without the burden of a potential playoff trip weighing him down.

Then came the injury.

Wilson will miss the Jets’ immediate future after leaving Sunday’s disastrous visit to New England early with what was originally described as a knee injury. The ensuing MRI revealed a sprained PCL that came with a two-to-four week timeline for his return. Under the supervision of backup Mike White, the Jets’ offense got off to a promising start, scoring on two of his first three possessions. Alas, White’s NFL debut spiraled out of control as New England’s lead widened, and he ended the day with 202 yards and two interceptions as well as a touchdown on his first professional pass to Corey Davis.

White performed admirably for someone who was, realistically, never supposed to see a regular season snap. But the 2018 draftee did nothing to vindicate the Jets’ rather bizarre decision to draft to retain him as the primary backup. It’s not like White was a touted college prospect (chosen by Dallas on the last day of the 2018 draft), had a heroic preseason (a career 71.5 passer rating over three summers), or had a connection to the new coaching staff.

mike white, michael carter, jets

There were plenty of opportunities for the Jets to bring in a veteran understudy that could double as a mentor: Brian Hoyer was brought in for a workout but re-upped with the Patriots instead. Nick Mullens worked with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco as a serviceable fill-in but he went to the Eagles and now lingers on Cleveland’s practice squad. The Jets brought in the well-traveled Josh Johnson in the late stages of the summer, but he’s been relegated to the practice squad and holds no gameday value to Wilson.

Simply put, the Flacco rearrival is making up for lost time.

A backup quarterback has two purposes on an NFL roster: hold an off-field role in terms of creating learning opportunities and chemistry and provide emergency services if the unthinkable happens to the starter. Simply put, do not be the reason the team loses a game. Such a gambit has been an awkward endeavor for the Jets, who haven’t had anything of value to play for in a long time.

The closest thing they’ve had to glory days in the new century have been complemented by the veteran contributions of guys like Mark Brunell and Josh McCown. Their statistics weren’t legendary but they left a sizable impact on the would-be franchisee men in front of them. Brunell formed a strong bond with Mark Sanchez while the best numbers of Sam Darnold’s career were earned under the supervision of McCown.

But wins and losses weren’t at stake for the Jets at this point in time. The real concern is the development of their young weapons set to lead them into the next generation. With Flacco, there’s hope that they can get some forward momentum.

The Jets spent this offseason stocking their offensive arsenal in preparation for Wilson’s arrival. Bringing in the big guns like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Hunter Henry was probably out of the question for a two-win team but they nonetheless acquired a talented group of both veterans (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) and rookies (Elijah Moore). Questions can be raised about how the Jets have used these weapons…Denzel Mims’ 2021 season, or lack thereof, has been particularly ridiculous…but if New York wants to make any offensive progress with Wilson out, White wasn’t going to be the answer.

While White is the likely starter for Sunday’s visit from the Bengals (and, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the planned thrower until Wilson gets healthy), it’s more likely that any professional impact he’ll make will come in another XFL/USFL reboot rather than the NFL. An experienced, accomplished name like Flacco can work with these young receivers and help their development stay on course.

It’s not like Flacco is an inactive slouch as he reaches the twilight of his NFL career. We’re certainly no longer having the infamous “Is Joe Flacco Elite?” debate, but he was arguably responsible for the Jets’ best offensive outputs of the 2020 season. Of note, Flacco’s 128.7 passer rating tallied during a Monday night defeat at the hands of the Patriots last November was the best earned by a Jets quarterback since the 2016 season. Though the Jets lost each of his starts, Flacco at least helped the team gain some offensive traction.

Despite his limited time in green, before temporarily changing his shade for the summer and early stages of fall, Flacco left an impression on the New York landscape.

“I think you saw it, I think everyone saw it, how well he throws the football,” then-Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with the Arkansas Razorbacks, said after the New England game in a postgame report from Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com. “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…That’s why Joe was brought here.”

Even before Wilson got hurt, 2021 was meant to be a year of development, growth, baby steps for the fledgling Jets. The injury puts them in danger of losing that as well. With Flacco arrives the rare chance to pick up a win, even if the rewards aren’t immediately reaped.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets reacquire QB Joe Flacco

In the aftermath of Zach Wilson’s injury, the New York Jets have brought back Flacco, last year’s backup who was stationed in Philadelphia.

The New York Jets have welcomed back quarterback Joe Flacco through a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Flacco, 36, was the Jets’ backup quarterback last season before moving on through free agency.

This Monday deal was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who says that the Jets sent over a sixth-round draft pick that could become a fifth depending on Flacco’s playing time.

Flacco’s return comes in the wake of a Zach Wilson injury suffered in Sunday’s 54-13 loss at the hands of the New England Patriots. The second overall pick of last year’s draft underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a PCL sprain. Head coach Robert Saleh confirmed that Wilson will miss two-to-four weeks during his Monday statements, per notes from the Jets. Mike White finished out the game, completing 20-of-32 passes for 202 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. The Jets also have well-traveled veteran Josh Johnson on their practice squad.

The Super Bowl XLVII MVP and Audubon, NJ native now returns to the tri-state area. Partly brought in for his potential as a veteran mentor, Flacco appeared in five games for the Jets (1-5) and made four starts after Sam Darnold missed time with a shoulder injury. He served in a similar capacity in Philadelphia (2-5) as he was listed as the top backup for Jalen Hurts, though he did not appear in any games. Garner Minshew will likely take over that role in Flacco’s place while the team also signed Reid Sinnett off waivers from Miami. Flacco was Denver’s opening day starter in 2019 after 11 years as the Baltimore Ravens’ franchise quarterback.

Flacco posted respectable numbers in New York after coming off neck surgery, tallying 864 yards and six touchdowns against three interceptions. That included a 262-yard, three-touchdown performance in a Monday night contest against the New England Patriots in November.

It remains to be seen if Flacco will be able to start for the Jets’ next contest, as they battle the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS). A Thursday night tilt in Indianapolis awaits after the Bengals’ visit.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Ex-NY Jets QB Geno Smith ready for chance at prime time redemption

Geno Smith, New York Jets

Smith, once the future of the New York Jets, has a chance to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career in a new opportunity in Seattle.

No matter what happens during the remainder of his NFL career, Geno Smith will go down as the answer to a trivia question asked by those who cycle through MetLife Stadium’s gates, no matter whether they wear green or blue.

For New York Jets fans, Smith is the last green thrower to toss a perfect game on the gridiron (a 158.3 passer rating) and the only one to do so in the 2010s. In the realms of New York Giants history, he’s the man who ended Eli Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive starts under center.

Smith is finally free from the incessant spotlight of quarterbacking in the metropolitan area, one that has slightly hardened him as he tries to carve out an extended NFL path. While Smith had settled into a backup role in Seattle, a rare injury to Russell Wilson (one expected to keep him out for at least the next three weeks after he was placed on injured reserve) has thrust him back into the gridiron mainstream. His path starts on Sunday night as the Seahawks (2-3) start the process of salvaging their season in prime time against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

The visit to Pittsburgh will be Smith’s first regular season start since his infamously historic single outing as the Giants’ primary man in December 2017. The trust bestowed in Smith to help the Seahawks in their most desperate hour in a long, long time is the highest vote of confidence since former blue head coach Ben McAdoo controversially inserted Smith into the woebegone Giants’ starting lineup once they were among the earliest eliminated from the 2017-18 playoffs. McAdoo did in spite of only Manning’s streak but the prescience of then-rookie Davis Webb, who had been the Giants’ highest selection at quarterback since the instantly-traded Phillip Rivers went fourth overall on a fateful spring afternoon in 2004.

At the time, a respectable performance (21-of-34, 211 yards, a touchdown, and two lost fumbles in a 24-17 to the Oakland Raiders) wasn’t enough to withstand the fury of Giants fans eager to see their Super Bowl hero go out on any semblance of a “right” note. When McAdoo was ousted, one of the Giants’ first moves was to re-establish Manning as the top passer.

McAdoo had a parting gift for Smith upon his firing after the Oakland debacle.

“When Coach Mac was let go and left the building, I talked to him before he left, and he had told me he felt like I deserved to play the rest of the season,” Smith told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News after his metropolitan departure in 2018. “He believed in me. A lot of people did. Guys wanted me to do well. But there are some things that are out of your control.”

“I’m not going to cry cry over spilled milk over things I can’t control. That’s only going to hinder my success or progress. It just added fuel to fire, made my offseason workouts interesting because I’m working harder. That opportunity was taken away from me for whatever reason, so every time I step on the field or in weight room, that’s my motivation.”

Going into Sunday night’s crucial contest, Smith is slightly more laid back, yet still enthusiastic, as he believes he’s made the most out of the past two-plus seasons through watching Wilson work.

“It’s not like I haven’t been playing football at all. The difference is now, it’s physical reps,” Smith told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. “I’m getting all the reps. You always take mental reps and prepare that way, but this is about physical preparation as well, more than just the mental side of playing quarterback. This week was different because I’m taking physical reps, as well.”

Sunday’s return to the spotlight is nearly four years in the making: Smith spent a year as Rivers’ backup with the Los Angeles Chargers before settling in Seattle in 2019. Wilson’s durability has made the job of Pacific Northwest understudy a bit of an afterthought: Sunday night will mark the first time since New Year’s Day 2012 that someone other than “Russ” will start under center for the Seahawks (that honor going to the late Tavaris Jackson).

Yet, Smith had shown enough, primarily through his lasting starting endeavors with the Jets, that he could be a reliable contingency plan in case of an emergency. The West Virginia alum, after all, had his fleeting flashes of brilliance of green, including those earned in a prime time setting. For example, the second-round pick threw three touchdowns and engineered a game-winning field goal drive in a Monday night triumph in Atlanta as a rookie in 2013. While ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of the standings, Smith managed to provide temporary solace to the tumultuous teams of the 2010s, sending Rex Ryan out on the right note with a 37-24 win over Miami.

Seattle was partly rewarded when Smith allowed them to keep pace in yet another nationally televised instance: as the Seahawks struggled to keep pace with the mighty Los Angeles Rams, the departure of Wilson could’ve been damning.

Instead, Smith rose to the occasion, keeping the increasingly desperate Seahawks in the game through a 131-yard performance that yielded 10 points over his first two drives in the fourth quarter. The affair ended in heartbreak…Smith was forced into a Nick Scott interception when intended receiver Tyler Lockett fell down on a route…but it was enough to keep the faith amongst Seattle brass.

“If Geno is going to play for us some as Russ comes back, you know, he showed that we’re in good hands,” Carroll said in the LA aftermath, per Liz Mathews of Yahoo! Sports. “I was just proud for him and the fact that he hung with us all this time and believed in being part of this program. Then when he got his chance, he did really. That was pretty good.”

“I went right to Geno afterwards and said, you been waiting a long time for your opportunity,” Carroll told reporters. “The faith you’ve shown in our program and us to stay with us, so proud that when he got in there, he did great. He really looked good. He’s been working for that. He’s a talented football player.”

Smith now gets to prove such acument on a long-term basis. The opportunity provided in Seattle affords him a rare chance as a high-profile washout (a status granted through factors partly beyond his control) to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career and perhaps get back on the radars of teams searching for starters.

But Smith appears to be embracing this chance with a sense of healthy abandon, one set to savor every moment of this comeback.

“I’m fresh, I feel like I’m 21 years old. I’m ready!” Smith said during Pittsburgh prep, per Rapoport. “The moment is what it is. We have a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. It’s one night, not the rest of my life. Mostly, it’s a game I love to play, a game that I’m passionate about. It’s one that I prepare for and am ready for whether I get to play or not. It’s not a chance to showcase anything, that’s how I see it. I’m not going to change my stripes. I’m just looking forward to playing football.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such fingering is misdirected.

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

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

 Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

The New York Jets could come to regret not adding an experienced QB

The New York Jets’ backup quarterback conundrum was thrust back into the spotlight when Zach Wilson struggled in Sunday’s home opener.

Two games into the Zach Wilson era, the New York Jets are once again embroiled in a quarterback controversy.

Rest assured, this isn’t a call to usurp Wilson from the Jets’ passing throne, even if many Gang Green supporters potentially did so (even facetiously) after being granted entry to MetLife Stadium for a regular season game for the first time since December 2019 on Sunday. Sam Darnold’s strong early returns in Charlotte have done nothing to quell the storm surrounding Wilson, whose 56.1 passer rating ranks dead last amongst 33 qualified NFL passers.

A four-interception outing during the Jets’ 2021 home opener, a 25-6 defeat at the hands of the Patriots, caused the statistical sinking. The road gets no easier with a visit to the Rocky Mountains to battle the undefeated Denver Broncos and their third-ranked defense (251.5 yards allowed) per game looming this coming Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Even the most naive and optimistic Jets fans had to know that Wilson’s rookie season was going to feature some growing pains. But it’d help if Wilson had some form of on-field assistance and guidance to work through them. Yes, the Jets prepared for Wilson’s arrival by replenishing their offensive cabinet (Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Alijah Vera-Tucker, etc.)…but they need a veteran backup thrower.

As Wilson’s Sunday passer rating continued to numerically resemble the bullpen ERA of New York’s woebegone baseball squads, some began to ponder if leaving him in to clean up the mess his turnovers created was the right move. It was prudent to keep Wilson in the game as the score worsened, as it presented a rare chance for him to build confidence in a consequence-free situation. But Wilson probably could’ve used a veteran voice in his ear to help him work through his tumultuous first taste of NFL regular season action.

Even if the Jets wanted to remove Wilson from Sunday’s carnage, it’s hard to say their current contingency plan would’ve beautified the situation. Mike White appears to be stuck in some sort of gridiron limbo, a quarterback whose first professional passes (in the regular season, anyway) are more likely destined for the third iteration of the XFL than Sundays in the fall. Even if the Jets were to mount an unlikely playoff push, White isn’t exactly the best option in case of a Wilson medical emergency. The South Florida/Western Kentucky alum’s NFL experience has been exclusively limited to preseason work and even that (71.5 passer rating over three summers with New York and Dallas) hasn’t been inspiring.

One of the more unfortunate parts of the affair is that the Jets are actively employing a quarterback who has been there and done this before, a veteran with a multitude of professional experience under his belt. Alas, Josh Johnson has been stashed on the practice squad, his services open to any team in need of an emergency veteran option.

What’s even more puzzling about this situation is that the Jets know just how valuable a veteran backup quarterback can be. Head coach Robert Saleh has repeatedly declared his reluctance to add a veteran backup for tradition’s sake. But recent history should’ve pushed the Jets in that direction.

Darnold’s finest New York hours, for example, came in the shadow of another well-traveled veteran: Josh McCown. Brought in as an emergency starter in 2017, McCown took Darnold under his wing during the latter’s rookie season and put him on a path to success. Darnold credited a sterling stretch at the end of year one (99.1 passer rating, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception, a comeback win over Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills over his final four freshman games) to observing and working with McCown.

“(I watched) the way he went about studying the plays that are in the game plan, it’s literally everything, walkthrough, practice, how he treated everything,” Darnold told reporters of McCown’s impact in December 2018. “I think it was just awesome to be able to learn (from) and watch him.”

A similar situation served as a subplot in the Jets’ most recent glory days: in helping the Jets reach the latter of consecutive AFC title game appearances, Mark Sanchez had the therapeutic services of Mark Brunell, the architect of Jacksonville’s conference championship game visits toward the turn of the century. Under Brunell’s watch, Sanchez posted the finest numbers of his career. In the five years after Brunell’s retirement, the rest of his career was anchored down by 31 touchdowns and 38 interceptions over 32 games in New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Washington. With Brunell behind him, he had 43 touchdowns and 31 interceptions over 32 starts, posting a 19-13 record as a starter in that span.

Sanchez would later fulfill a similar role with the Cowboys during the 2016 season, helping oversee Dak Prescott’s breakout freshman season in the absence of the injured Tony Romo.

Even in the fickle, hard-to-please world of NFL quarterbacking, Sanchez was happy to embrace the role of a mentor. The pair partook in a 13-win season for the Cowboys, matching their best victory tally in the new century.

“I don’t want to cloud (his) head, but from my experience, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what happened to me,” Sanchez said at the time, per Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News. The former Jet went on to recall a humorous incident during Dallas’ October visit to Green Bay, in which he heard that a “crazed fan” attacked Prescott after leading a 97-yard, 33-second scoring drive just before the half. That lunatic turned out to be Sanchez, the afternoon’s backup and the first person to greet Prescott following the game-changing drive, which ended on a 20-yard scoring pass to Brice Butler.

Shortly before that possession, Dallas was reeling from a pair of Prescott fumbles (one lost, one forcing America’s Team to resign itself to a field goal) that allowed Green Bay to linger in a crucial NFC showdown. Cameras caught Prescott in constant contact with Sanchez after the miscues, which accounted for some of the first blemishes on his NFL ledger. Prescott had entered that anticipated matchup with just a single lost fumble to his name.

Not only did that drive of recovery permanently shift momentum into Dallas’ corner (taking a 17-6 lead into the halftime break en route to a 30-16 triumph) but it arguably sealed Prescott’s destiny as the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback.

“I jumped on him because I was so just happy for him, because you talk about coming back from adversity and he hadn’t really faced it yet,” Sanchez said in Hairopoulos’ report. “On the road, they’re trying to call timeouts to get the ball back and he takes it (97) yards. That was awesome.”

That’s quite an impact for a guy with 18 passes with a star on his helmet to leave on an organization.

Barring injury or an absolute meltdown…say, consecutive games with an imperfect 0.0 passer rating…it would be foolhardy to bench Wilson at any point this season. The Jets’ current situation enured that the playoffs were a long-shot right from the get-go. but this season still offers a bittersweet gift in the sense that he (and the rest of the fledgling Jets) gets 17 consequence-free opportunities to find himself and crack open the dangerous yet euphoric puzzle box that is passing success in the NFL.

Unless the Jets miraculously convince the Kansas City Chiefs to send Patrick Mahomes their way, no one wants to see anyone other than Wilson under center for the Jets this year. This is his time to work things out, to build confidence for the road ahead.

The Jets has spent the last five decades search for the long-sought successor to Joe Namath. Their failure to add a veteran, on-field quarterback in these vital hours of development only eliminates more clues and landmarks toward ending that hunt.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

BREAKING: Zach Wilson, New York Jets agree to rookie contract (Report)

zach wilson, new york jets

The next generation of New York Jets football can officially begin, as Zach Wilson has reportedly signed his rookie contract.

Gang Green has coughed up the green.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the New York Jets have agreed to terms of a rookie contract with second overall pick Zach Wilson. Schefter’s report reveals that the BYU alum will receive a fully guaranteed four-year deal at $35.1 million, which includes a $22.9 million signing bonus.

Wilson is expected to partake in the Jets’ Friday activities after missing the first two sessions, leaving his primary passing duties to Mike White and James Morgan. His Instagram story hinted that he was still in his home state of California during the holdout, but Schefter said that Wilson arrived in New Jersey today, having taken a red eye flight from Los Angeles.

The holdup in Wilson’s New York arrival was reportedly due to language in his contract, namely in offsets that would soothe New York’s financial blow if he was released prior to the deal’s expiration. Under this deal, Wilson will receive his signing bonus within 15 days, while the Jets get their desired offsets.

With Wilson’s signing, every first-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft has been signed.

During his absence, Wilson remained a topic of conversation as the Jets convened for camp. While head coach Robert Saleh regularly expressed faith that general manager Joe Douglas would facilitate a deal, he stressed how important the lost training camp reps would be for Wilson.

“It’s more of a concern for the kid. Every rep is important. So my concern is that it’s two days (off) too many already for him,” Saleh said in video from SNY. “This young man’s got a chance to do something special around here that hasn’t been done in a while and every rep matters for him.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Signing QB Blake Bortles must be the New York Jets’ next move

blake bortles

As the start of the Zach Wilson era hits a bit of a snag, Aaron Rodgers’ arrival allows the New York Jets to right a glaring wrong.

As Moonrise Kingdom, Meatballs, and the never-ending Friday the 13th franchise taught us…what’s summer camp without a little chaos?

The New York Jets’ proceedings, which began Tuesday morning on One Jets Drive contain an aura of slight spookiness. Touted franchise quarterback/savior Zach Wilson has yet to report to the team, the only player on the Jets’ roster who has yet to arrive in Florham Park. Wilson, the second overall pick of last spring’s NFL Draft, is one of two first-round picks that have yet to sign with the team that drafted him, joining fellow thrower Trey Lance in San Francisco. The BYU alum’s Instagram story hinted that he is still in his home state of California as the Jets’ first camp practice looms on Wednesday.

Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, contract offsets appear to be the point of contention between Wilson and Gang Green. Offsets offer a team relative insurance if they cut a high-profile draft pick prior to the end of his original four-year deal. A similar discussion temporarily delayed the start of the Sam Darnold era, as the previous franchise quarterback missed New York’s first three practices before inking his deal.

Head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too concerned about the Wilson situation. Per notes from the Jets, he referred to the Wilson contract talks purely as “business” and that the quarterback is “intelligent” enough to make up for any lost time.

“(General manager Joe Douglas) has a great handle on everything and when it gets done, it gets done,” Saleh said. “He’s got a tremendous drive so when he does get here, I know somehow someway he’ll make up for it.”

The Wilson situation, however, does give the Jets an opportunity to reflect on a rare offseason failure: with Wilson stationed on the other side of the country, the fact that the Jets’ other two rostered quarterbacks (James Morgan and Mike White) have zero NFL regular season passes between them looms larger than ever.

Saleh has never been one to panic over the backup quarterback controversy and continued to keep his cool on Tuesday. He even hinted that quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, who broke Boomer Esiason’s passing records at East Islip High School on Long Island, has a “live arm” and could be called upon in practice in lieu of a veteran backup.

“I do believe that (Morgan and White) got better as camp went on, the two backups, and so we’ll see where they’re at come tomorrow and today for that matter, and we’ll progress through and make a decision as we see fit,” Saleh said when asked if the Jets would seek veteran help. “I got a lot of faith in Joe. So, we’ll see what happens here in the next couple of hours.”

Saleh’s introductory camp comments were made in the midst of the football landscape’s reshaping: nearly a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, Aaron Rodgers channeled his inner Dwight Schrute in a shirt depicting another character from The Office, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone. Rodgers temporarily lifted his shun of the Green Bay Packers and signed on for what appears one last ride in yellow and green. It sent a slight ripple throughout the football world, as the team released backup throwers Blake Bortles and Jake Dolegala.

The release of the former can help the Jets right one of the few wrongs they’ve endured this offseason.

Saleh has made it clear throughout the offseason that he’s not going to add a veteran quarterback for the sake of adding one, reasoning that teaching the Jets’ new offensive to an experienced newcomer would be no different from counseling a rookie (which makes their passing on former San Francisco understudy Nick Mullens all the more puzzling).

But the ongoing Wilson situation shows just how fragile the Jets’ current setup at quarterback is. They’re currently trapped with a questionable fourth-round pick and a 2018 day three pick that has been on and off the New York practice squad. Bortles can help a developing team like the Jets in several ways.

Even taking away the relatively cliched idea of a mentorship role…one that he briefly filled for Jared Goff with the LA Rams…Bortles can prove beneficial to New York’s future. Though it’s safe to say that Bortles hasn’t lived up to his third overall pick billing with Jacksonville (the first quarterback chosen in the 2014 proceedings), the 29-year-old has been serviceable enough to build a lengthy NFL career. Since 2014, Bortles has thrown 103 touchdown passes, one of 24 NFL passers to do so in that span despite minimal playing time over the last two seasons. In comparison, the Jets as a team have thrown only 137 in the last seven seasons, dead last in the league. If Wilson is befallen by an emergency…contract, injury, or otherwise…there are far worse options to install.

When Bortles’ five-year term in Jacksonville ended, then-head coach Doug Marrone didn’t buy into the idea that the Central Florida alum was a bust, despite the divorce. Instead, Marrone saw a leader who defined toughness in more ways than one.

“We as coaches always use that term and people think it’s physicality of how you play the game,” Marrone said in a Bortles retrospective penned by Gene Frenette of Jacksonville.com. “Everyone can see the physical toughness, the shots he’s taken, really putting himself out there. We see and appreciate that.”

“The stuff you can’t see is the mental toughness,” Marrone continued. “What I remember from Blake is how he handled himself, standing up there and answering all the questions. Quarterbacks can deflect a lot of issues that occur on the field. Blake didn’t do that. He took a tremendous amount of accountability, maybe more than should have been on his plate.”

Bortles’ one shining moment at the NFL level stands to be his 2017 campaign, when he helped guide the Jaguars to an improbable conference title game appearance (and, arguably, a stolen Super Bowl showing). Signing him would keep up with the theme of big game experience the Jets have created this offseason.

Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is slated to be their top rusher. Another ring bearer, former Philadelphia Eagles Vinny Curry, should help mentor a young front seven. The team already added one of Bortles’ 2017 teammates, receiver Keelan Cole. Fellow newcomers Corey Davis, Sheldon Rankins, and Tyler Kroft have all likewise competed in a conference title game over the last three seasons. That experience can help a team desperate for any sense of direction or positive reinforcement move forward in their quest to a postseason drought that has reached double digits.

The Jets are coming toward the end of an intriguing offseason that can be remarkably classified as macabre yet hopeful: the 2020 season was garish that almost any adjustment would’ve qualified as an improvement. Yet, there are legitimate upgrades on this roster that will help them in both immediately and in the future. Failing to add a backup quarterback was a rare shortcoming that could’ve been avoided.

Rodgers’ return sent ripples throughout the football world and offered the Jets a rare gift. They must do their best to take advantage.

How important is it for the Jets to add a veteran QB like Bortles to the fold? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and keep the conversation going.

New York Jets: Trade for Nick Foles “seems unlikely” (Report)

It’s becoming more likely that the New York Jets will go into camp with James Morgan and Mike White backing up Zach Wilson.

According to a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post, those expecting Super Bowl hero Nick Foles to don a new shade of green shouldn’t get their hopes up.

In addressing the New York Jets’ backup quarterback situation, Costello reports that the team has “had discussions” with the Chicago Bears about adding Foles as the understudy and mentor to incoming franchise man Zach Wilson. However, he acknowledges that such a deal “seems unlikely”.

Foles, who guided the Philadelphia Eagles to a championship in 2018, is projected to be Chicago’s third-string option behind first-round pick Justin Fields and incoming veteran Andy Dalton. With Wilson set to take over, he seems like a perfect candidate to not only serve as a mentor to the rookie but step up in case of an emergency. The 32-year-old Foles posted an 80.8 passer rating in nine games (seven starts) in place of Mitchell Trubisky last season.

However, Costello says that Foles’ salary is the biggest roadblock in the path to getting him in a green helmet. Foles came over from the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020 and restructured his contract to be a three-year deal worth $24 million ($17 million guaranteed). Chicago would be out $14 million in dead money if they were to release Foles, rendering a trade the only likely departure from the Windy City.

It appears more likely that the Jets will go into the season with either James Morgan or Mike White as their backup quarterback. Like Wilson, neither has thrown a pass in a regular season NFL game. Morgan was chosen in the fourth round during the 2020 draft and did not dress in no games last season. White is a 2018 fifth-round pick from Dallas who has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last two seasons.

Head coach Robert Saleh admitted that the team had discussions with former San Francisco backup Nick Mullens (who eventually signed with Philadephia), but he was interested in seeing what Morgan and White had to offer.

“It doesn’t mean that just because (a newcomer is) a veteran it’ll help the (rookie) quarterback,” Saleh said in June, per notes from the Jets. “There’s a match that has to happen, there’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen. If you just bring in a veteran that doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is.”

“I think Zach, and that entire quarterback room, is already ahead of the curve on, with how they handle their bodies and study. I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if something hits the fan, that you have a veteran who’s played football. It’s more of a comforting feeling, rather than trying to work your ass off to develop the quarterbacks that are already in the building.”

The Jets are slated to begin training camp activities on Tuesday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: A training camp battle at every position (Offense)

As the New York Jets inch closer to training camp, ESM looks at the offensive roster battles to watch at every position.

Competition has always been a staple at summer camp. But if you’re headed to Florham Park, leave the archery materials at home.

The New York Jets are eight days away from descending upon One Jets Drive for their training camp activities. Once camp commences, they’ll have several positional struggles to solve before Week 1 kicks off in Carolina. ESM takes a look at each spot on the depth chart, sizing up a major battle that should be solved over camp practices and the coming trio of preseason games.

Our primer begins on offense…

 Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Backup QB: James Morgan vs. Mike White

Barring an epic disaster, the Jets will go into Week 1 with second overall pick Zach Wilson as their quarterback. Sitting the star rookie behind a veteran for a year has become a lost art in the modern NFL, even if Kansas City’s Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes transition kept the concept alive for a few more years.

The Jets, though, are apparently planning to go in the completely opposite direction: no one in their quarterback cabinet has thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game. Immediately thrusting Wilson into the starter’s role is one thing, but backing him up with two veteran questions marks is another entirely. But head coach Robert Saleh apparently doesn’t see an issue.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh told Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “There’s a match that has to happen. There’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen.”

That, of course, begs the question why the Jets didn’t go after someone like fellow former 49ers Nick Mullens, but it’s probably redundant at this point. Until further notice, the backup job comes to Morgan and White.

Morgan probably has the inside edge, if only due to his status as a Joe Douglas draft pick. Chosen in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft, the Florida International hasn’t even worn a game jersey yet due to the cancellation of last summer’s preseason. White entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last three years. By going with someone inexperienced, it’s clear the Jets aren’t going with the “mentor” route for their backup quarterback. The winner will be judged on late summer showings and their performance in preseason games could be particularly intriguing.

 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Spell RB: Ty Johnson vs. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams

The primary rushing duties could become a battle as the season goes on. Veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman will probably at least start as the top option before giving way to rookie arrival Michael Carter. It’s fair to assume that Coleman, who worked with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, has the early edge though Carter has reportedly impressed New York brass during his first spring sessions.

In training camp, however, there are more immediate, desperate matters to attend to, namely answering the question of who will be the third back.

Behind the Coleman and Carter tandem lies a trio of young projects that could’ve gained more clarity had Adam Gase not become obsessed with a Frank Gore farewell tour. Though injuries and a late placement on the COVID-19 list turned Perine’s rookie season into a wash but Johnson and Adams, spare parts from Detroit and Philadelphia respectively, impressed when called upon, uniting for 411 yards on 83 carries, good for an average of nearly five yards an attempt.

The battle between this trio isn’t a matter of playing time, but will determine roster spots. Even though he’s a Douglas draft pick (also chosen in the fourth round), Perine could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His north/south style may not fit in  LaFleur’s preferred systems that value agility and athleticism, creating a wrong place at the wrong time situation. Meanwhile, the re-signed Adams has worked with Douglas before, sharing a single season with the Eagles.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Top Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore

Over the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been far and away the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon. Through that endeavor, he has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot options. But does the fact he’s been a reliable weapon in woebegone New York say more about Crowder or just how dire the Jets’ situation has become?

Douglas and Co. spent the offseason upgrading their receiving corps and that included the slot depth chart. Drafting Moore with the second pick of the draft’s second day was seen as a steal by many and he seemingly arrived at the perfect time. The Jets were due some sizable cap savings upon Crowder’s release or trade and they could’ve easily had Moore take over. Instead, they restructured the final year of Crowder’s deal to focus on guaranteed money and will keep both of them in tow for Wilson’s first deal.

Crowder faces a bit of an uphill battle to get his snaps back, as he missed almost all spring activities during his contract dispute. There should still be an opportunity for him amongst the Jets’ revamped receiving corps but it’ll be tough to hold off the rise of a touted rookie.

. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Starting TE: Chris Herndon vs. Tyler Kroft 

Entering his fourth year in New York, Herndon is a rare relic in green. Nothing, however, has lived up to the production of his rookie season (502 yards on 39 receptions) as the more recent stages of his career have been beset by a suspension, injuries, and inconsistency.

Though Herndon somewhat began to resemble his rookie self in the latter stages of last season, the Jets sent him a message this offseason. While they avoided the pricier options on the free agent market (i.e. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), they added goal line option Tyler Kroft from Buffalo and re-upped with Daniel Brown. During minicamp, Herndon saw his first team reps go to Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Connor Hughes of The Athletic claimed that Herndon “struggled” to adjust to the new offensive playbook, playing a role in his demotion.

It’s been a while since Kroft was the primary option at tight end, last doing so in Cincinnati during the 2017 campaign. The Rutgers alum re-established himself as a reliable short-yardage and red zone target last season in Buffalo. Time will tell if the Jets turn over the full-time tight end reins to Kroft, or even give Griffin, Brown, or undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah (11 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Temple and Ole Miss). But If Kroft’s signing even merely lights a fire under Herndon, it will have been well worth it.

 Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: RG Greg Van Roten vs. Newcomers

A Long Island native (Rockville Centre, to be precise), Van Roten was destined to make a difference in New York. While he endured a bit of an up-and-down season in terms of production, he partook in literally every snap over the Jets’ first 11 games and emerged as a leader and voice of reason when the team’s 2020 affairs became particularly dire.

With the Jets’ left side fortified with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the focus turns to the right. Morgan Moses is a reliable one-year solution on the outside, while Van Roten appears to have a good grip on the interior. But the Jets brought in some interesting depth options, including the New York Islanders’ most celebrated new fan, Dan Feeney. Incumbent top left guard Alex Lewis is also set to move over to the right side, while one also can’t forget Cameron Clark, a 2020 fourth-rounder who spent last season preparing to make the transition from tackle to guard.

But Van Roten, who has shockingly tallied only a single accepted penalty in his NFL career, believes that the arrival of Saleh and LaFleur should help provide stability.

“They hire Saleh and it just feels like a weight has been lifted and hope has come back into the building,” Van Roten said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “All we ask for is a fresh start in this league and no one is happier than the Jets. Now we’re on page one, so let’s write this year’s chapter.”

Which offensive training camp battles will you keep an eye on? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Quarterbacks

new york jets, zach wilson

ESM looks back on a fateful offseason for the New York Jets, starting with the big changes at quarterback.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. We start off at the quarterback spot…

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws on the run against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The Jets’ offseason centered around a puzzling conundrum: the NFL future of Sam Darnold. Conventional stats (as well as the fact they held the second overall pick in the draft) more or less implored the Jets to move on: Darnold ranked 40th in competition rate (59.8) and 41st in passer rating (78.5) amongst 42 quarterbacks (min. 500 attempts). Yet, there was a tantalizing case to prolong his New York career, a major temptation to answer a question Jets fans have asked and continued to ask…what would Darnold look like in a system that wasn’t overseen by Adam Gase?

For all the offensive malarkey the Jets had gone through in the Gase era, Darnold has still provided momentary flashes of brilliance that eeked through the endless layers of green gridiron gloom. Some felt that Darnold had the necessary skills to survive in the NFL, he just needed the proper support staff. There was only so much Darnold could’ve done while working in a Gase system and his top options being first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and current lacrosse stars pulled out of New England’s antique pile (Chris Hogan). In March, the Jets added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, a pair of consistently reliable talents looking to make a bigger impact. Had Darnold been kept aroud for the eventual drafting of Elijah Moore, it would’ve been the most talented receiver class Darnold ever had to work with.

Darnold’s support problems were not limited to his receiving arsenal. The crucial developmental stages of his NFL career were staged in the midst of constant rumors surrounding Le’Veon Bell, who was a discount version in everything but his price tag ($52.5 million). That big contract and several other factors (i.e. general negligence) delayed any plans to bolster the offensive line. Darnold, after all, went through three different primary centers over his first three NFL seasons. To their credit, the Jets seemed to finally be seeing the light in the late stages of Darnold’s tenure, passing on elite receiving talent to draft Louisville blocker Mekhi Becton and later trade up with Minnesota for Alijah Vera-Tucker.

As for the backup quarterback spot, the Jets had the right idea when it came to Joe Flacco. The cheap deal signed late in the offseason (one-year, $1.5 million) and Flacco’s own words made it clear that he wasn’t meant to be any long-term backup solution. It was a contract that gave Darnold a year under Flacco’s watch while the one-time Super Bowl MVP (who truly sought a new area to take over the QB1 role) had a chance to prove to new suitors that he could still be a serviceable NFL option after enduring a neck injury during his previous stop in Denver.

new york jets, zach wilson

How It’s Going

Ultimately, the Jets sent Darnold south, trading him to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for three draft picks, one of which was a second-round choice to be used next season. Even before Darnold was shipped off to Charlotte, the Jets spent the offseason in the thick of the quarterback discussion. Not only were they present at all major rookie quarterback showcases, but they were said to be in the thick of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes before assault allegations ended that conversation.

Those factors all but assured that the Jets were going to use their premier pick on a non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback, eventually revealed to be Zach Wilson when the league converged on Cleveland in April. With the selection of Wilson out of BYU, general manager Joe Douglas has officially etched his signature onto his New York mosaic. He now has his own head coach (Robert Saleh) and quarterback running the show after working with the used parts of the Mike Maccagnan era’s final days.

As expected, Flacco moved during the offseason, joining a curious passing situation in Philadelphia that has been implied to give him a chance to compete for the starter’s spot. Despite several serviceable backup candidates emerging (i.e. Brian Hoyer, Nick Mullens), the Jets curiously opted to stick with their current backup situation of James Morgan and Mike White.

Dec 24, 2019; Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) celebrates with teammates after running in a touchdown against the Hawaii Warriors in the second half of the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

One could have, and probably still can, make the case for Darnold staying in New York. The temptation to see him with a new support staff could’ve allowed the Jets to either use the second overall pick on one of their many other areas of need or even trade it to further reinforce those positions.

Ultimately, though, trading the Darnold was the best move for all parties. There’s no use in comparing Darnold and Wilson right now, especially when the latter has yet to throw an NFL pass (Lord knows the post-Week 1 discourse following the Jets and Panthers’ meeting in Charlotte will be arduous enough). But wondering whether Darnold’s issue was simply a coaching thing was a question the Jets couldn’t afford to answer anymore, especially when holding a draft choice that allowed them the pick of the non-Lawrence litter in Cleveland.

For Darnold, this move works on a personal level as well. He can now try to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career in relative obscurity in Carolina, a stark contrast to the constant tabloid attention in New York and the meme makers that pounce on the slightest green controversy on the internet (let’s face it, if the “I’m seeing ghosts” thing happened anywhere else, it’d be forgotten in a week). Time will tell if Wilson is the long-sought answer under center after decades of false prophets, but the Jets at least deserve some props for knowing when to cut ties and go back to the drawing board.

The Jets’ backup situation remains rather curious, however. As it stands, the Jets’ trio of quarterbacks has zero NFL regular season passes between them. New York is obviously pinning its future hopes and dreams on Wilson’s development. Holding minicamp with Wilson as the primary man more or less guarantees that the Jets aren’t practicing the “Kansas City model” a la Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes.

But that shouldn’t mean that Wilson immediately must become the most experienced quarterback in the room. Even if one claims that adding a veteran to mentor the rookie (Chicago’s Nick Foles, perhaps?) is a passing cliche at this point, the Jets should at least bring on some insurance in case of an emergency. The team was 0-10 in the three-year Darnold era when backup quarterbacks had to step in. There’s no evidence that White or Morgan (who didn’t even dress for a game in his rookie year) are capable of breaking that trend if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. The playoffs remain a tall ask, but that doesn’t mean the Jets should punt on 2021 contests.

The Jets were right to kick off a new era of football, efficiently hitting the fast-forward button in their franchise timeline. But that doesn’t mean he should have to do this alone, especially in his own position room.

Final Offseason Grade: C+

Did the Jets make the right move in drafting Wilson? Or should they have stuck with Sam? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags