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 

The New York Jets can’t ignore the (backup) quarterback problem much longer

Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too worried about it, but the New York Jets’ backup quarterback situation creates an eerie offensive aura.

Rejoice, New York and New Jersey, for it’s officially summer in the metropolitan area.

Don’t turn your calendar to June 21 just yet. It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t run to the ice cream truck for a Choco Taco. Summer in the city is often welcomed not by the beach, blockbusters, and burgers…but rather a New York Jets quarterback controversy.

Now, rest assured, Jets fans, you who have been granted legitimate hope in the form of Zach Wilson. The second overall pick of April’s draft is the latest (and, the Jets certainly hope, last for a while) name chosen to lead Gang Green into the 21st century. Time will tell if he lives up to his status as the long-awaited passing prophet absent since Joe Namath hung up his helmet adorned with a green oval, but there’s no doubt that he is the man the Jets envision starting in three, five, ten years from now.

This time around, however, the problem lies behind Wilson.

As New York commences their minicamp proceedings this week, three quarterbacks reside on the current passing ledgers. Wilson is far and away the top option, with James Morgan and Mike White sitting behind him. There’s not much in common between the three, with the glaring exception that they all have the same number of regular season passes in the National Football League: zero.

The goose egg is a startling contrast to the last few attempts the Jets have made in providing insurance, both mentally and physically, to their would-be backup quarterback. Todd Bowles’ tenure began with Ryan Fitzpatrick set to mentor Geno Smith before an infamous training camp altercation thrust the bearded Harvard alum into the starter’s role (and deeper into the hearts of the American football fan). After being used as a stopgap the year before, Josh McCown was re-signed with the purpose of being the Yoda to Sam Darnold’s Luke Skywalker. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco took over the role last season, though it was clear to the Jets that there was no saving Darnold from the Adam Gase era, leading to Wilson’s selection. Years beforehand, Mark Sanchez earned some of his final football hours thanks to the late-career efforts of fellow two-time AFC finalist Mark Brunell.

New York Jets, Mark Sanchez
NY Jets quarterback #6 Mark Sanchez runs off the field with Mark Brunell after the Jets win 17-16. The New York Jets defeated the Indianapolis Cols 17-16 in an AFC Wild-card game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN, January 8, 2011. ***** ALL NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS OUT —- ALL NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS OUT ***** (Photo by Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Mar

 

Flacco switched his shades of green in the offseason, moving on to Philadelphia to mentor (and possibly compete with) another young hopeful, Jalen Hurts. For the three weeks between the Darnold trade and the draft’s opening night, Morgan and White were the only quarterbacks on the roster before Wilson heard his name called in Cleveland.

Yet, Jets coach Robert Saleh doesn’t sound overly enthused about bringing in a backup any time soon. Speaking after the Jets’ minicamp proceedings on Monday, Saleh seemed to hint that bringing one in at this point in time wouldn’t have much of a purpose at this point in time.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Aside from helping him with rehab…and study habits, which I think Zach and that entire quarterback room is already ahead of the curve on how they handle their bodies and study, I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if the crap hits the fan you have a veteran who has played football. It’s more of a comforting feeling rather than working your ass off to develop the quarterbacks who are already in the building.”

The role of the backup quarterback may well be the most underrated job in professional sports. Sometimes, the role proves to be bizarrely rewarding. Fitzpatrick, for example, has built a 17-year NFL career through quasi-Winston Wolf endeavors, solving starting quarterback problems in various locales. He’s spending the 2021 season in Washington, which is still buzzing from the antics of Taylor Heinicke, the Old Dominion legend who viral for playing respectably during the NFC Wild Card playoffs against Tampa Bay last winter. Charlie Whitehurst, he of a Christ-like physical appearance and nearly 400 pass attempts over 11 NFL seasons, earned a cult following as “Clipboard Jesus”.

In these modern NFL Sundays, dominated by the social media behemoth of Twitter, it doesn’t take much for overzealous fans, even facetious supporters looking for engagements, to start calling for the backup’s name. Once he’s in, the primary directive is simple: do not be the reason your team fails to prevail. For instance, Heinicke (26-of-44, 306 yards, 46 rushing yards, 2 total scores, 1 interception) was far from the primary reason that Washington fell to the eventual Super Bowl champions, and it convinced the Football Team to bring him back on a two-year deal. The same couldn’t be said about, say, 2019’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who failed to keep up the same offensive production with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges after Ben Roethlisberger went down.

But when a rookie quarterback, an anointed franchise man, joins the fold, the backup takes on double duty: serving as a mentor or even holding down the fort while the freshman gets his NFL legs.

The latter concept is an endangered species. Kansas City’s gambit…remaining in immediate contention with effective incumbent Alex Smith before turning the reigns over to future champion Patrick Mahomes…probably bought it some time. The Los Angeles Chargers were set to roll with such a strategy before a medical emergency forced the chosen veteran, Tyrod Taylor, to vacate the starter’s role in favor of eventual Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. Miami partially employed it, but never truly committed to Tua Tagovailoa last season. When thrust into a surprise playoff run, they turned to, who else, Fitzpatrick.

Right now, neither of the understudies on the Jets’ roster seems capable of fulfilling those roles. The fourth-round selection of Morgan was bizarre when it happened (especially when Gabriel Davis went to Buffalo three picks later) and was made even more puzzling when the Florida International alum couldn’t even earn a dressing during a meaningless two-win season. White, a fifth-round pick in Dallas back in 2018, at least has the benefit of a couple of preseasons under his belt, but those numbers (68.5 passer rating over eight contests) aren’t inspiring.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 08: Nick Foles #9 of the Chicago Bears passes under pressure from Devin White #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field on October 08, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Bucs 20-19. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Jets have actually had ample opportunities to address the area this offseason, but have curiously passed on each one. Brian Hoyer, another thrower who has extended his career through sizable backup endeavors, was brought in for a workout but he chose to continue his third tenure in New England. Nick Mullens, a former pupil of the Jets’ new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur back in San Francisco, seemed like another prime candidate before he joined Flacco and Hurts in Philadelphia. The free agent market is relatively shriveled at this point, with the best option perhaps being a trade with Chicago, inquiring about Nick Foles. Flacco’s fellow Super Bowl MVP is a popular entry in the backup quarterback Mount Rushmore who won the 52nd alongside current Jets general manager Joe Douglas, the latter then residing in the Eagles’ front office. He’s expendable in Chicago through the arrivals of veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields.

Between Saleh’s words and the logistics and protocols involved with a new entry, it’s probably not wise to assume that Jets (who have a decent amount of extra draft picks to barter with) will be welcoming Foles to their minicamp proceedings this week. But they’d be better off trying to solve the situation sooner rather than later.

As the Darnold era quickly proved, the Jets can hope all they want that a certain prospect will pan out, but they need to have both guidance and insurance working with the rookie. Darnold would routinely mention that his best days came under the watch of McCown, years after Mark Sanchez built a strong relationship with Brunell. Otherwise relatively quiet on the football timeline, the early summer months can be a perfect time for Wilson to work with a mentor. By neglecting this area for so long, they’ve wasted some valuable time in Wilson’s development.

One can have the highest hopes and dreams for Wilson, and it’s abundantly clear that the Jets have such fantasies in store for him. However, when the prized rookie comes in and is somehow tied for the title of the most experienced man in the room…that’s a controversy.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

How the Chiefs-Ravens trade could affect the New York Jets’ draft plans

Baltimore and Kansas City’s deal might give the New York Jets some extra clarity at the 23rd overall pick in Cleveland next weekend.

A deal between contenders could have ripple effects on a team that’s desperate to join them.

The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs swapped assets and names on Friday, six days before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be staged in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Pro Bowl-nominated blocker Orlando Brown Jr. will join the refurbished wall in front of Patrick Mahomes while four picks, including the 31st overall choice on Thursday, move on to Baltimore. Two Raven draft picks also come over with Brown, the first of which will be a second-rounder on Friday.

One can argue that a trade between a pair of playoff teams should have little effect on the New York Jets, who are ready for a potentially franchise-changing weekend. But New York will turn in three draft cards within the first 34 selections next Thursday and Friday. The Chiefs and Ravens’ gambit could set them up for what they plan to do with the latter pair.

The Jets’ first pick, second overall on Thursday, is more than likely accounted for: unless they plan on starting James Morgan or Mike White in September, they’re taking a quarterback. But debate rages on in what they’ll do with the 23rd overall choice, obtained from Seattle last offseason. The Ravens also own their regularly scheduled pick in the 27th slot, giving them two picks before the Jets pick again at No. 34, the second pick of the second round.

This de facto Baltimore sandwich…including the 31st pick from Kansas City traditionally bestowed to the Super Bowl runner-ups…only strengthens the case that the extra metropolitan first-rounder could behoove the Jets to address their offensive issues with each of their first two selections.

Baltimore is at an interesting point on its franchise timeline. They’ve earned at least 10 wins in each of the last three seasons and won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 in the Wild Card round in January. Barring a jaw-dropping transaction, they’re set with Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Their ground game enjoyed a significant jolt with rookie JK Dobbins working with Gus Edwards (1,528 yards, 15 touchdowns combined).

 Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

With Jackson’s great power comes even greater responsibility (wrong city, we’re aware). Jackson is capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground (1,005 rushing yards). His mobile prowess, however, leaves him open to sacks and injuries. The trade of Brown, a blindside blocker, leaves a mediocre offensive line (16th in Pro Football Focus’ final 2020 rankings) in somewhat dire straights. Former All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is expected back, but he’s coming off a brutal ankle injury suffered in November.

Additionally, Baltimore may also look to surround Jackson with more weaponry. They’re set with the young pair of Dobbins and Edwards in the backfield but their receivers leave something to desired. Is there a No. 1 receiver in this bunch? Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has potential (58 receptions, 769 yards, 8 touchdowns) but even if the Ravens want to roll with him, major questions reside behind him. Second receiver Willie Snead left for Las Vegas, leaving behind the unproven Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay. Veteran Sammy Watkins was welcomed in this offseason, but he’s not somebody who’s going to be the difference in wrangling away control of the AFC from Kansas City or Buffalo.

Thus, it’s very possible that the Ravens could be going offense with each of their first two picks. From a Jets standpoint, it’s thus less likely they can afford to wait until Friday to address a non-quarterback need. Had Kansas City kept Thursday’s penultimate pick, it was more likely to see them addressing their pass rush woes. It’s quite possible Baltimore could go offense with each of their Thursday couple. Several teams between 23rd and 34th (Pittsburgh, Green Bay) already appear to be leaning toward an offensive pick as well. Baltimore’s extended prescience should at least help narrow the Jets’ choices. Several defensive talents should still be around by the time Friday’s proceedings start, but some elite blockers (Tevin Jenkins, Alex Leatherwood, Christian Darrisaw, Landon Dickerson) and weapons (Travis Etienne, Rashod Bateman) could be gone with another offense-seeker injected into the fold.

New York Giants, Rashod Bateman
 Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Granted, the Jets are working so far from behind that there’s almost nowhere to go but up when it comes to day one of the draft. But while the Jets will likely have to address defensive woes sooner or later, they’re about to put a big investment in one of the non-Trevor Lawrence passing talents of a strong 2021 passing class. Whether it’s Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or an unknown party, they can’t lead the Jets’ resurrection on their own. They need help, namely on the offensive line after not doing too much to upgrade over the offseason.

Secondary and edge help will be around in the second round. Thursday should be a day dedicated to the new quarterback and getting him as comfortable as possible before the hard part begins. Giving him a more attractive offensive depth chart to look at before he makes his Florham Park entrance requires an offensive mindset in the earliest stages in Cleveland next week.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three ways to avoid the failures of the Sam Darnold era

The New York Jets will welcome in yet another passing savior next week. How can they avoid the pratfalls of the prior era?

The New York Jets have answered the question of “what” when it comes to the second overall pick in next week’s NFL Draft (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Through trading Sam Darnold, it’s all but assured that the Jets will be taking a quarterback, but the lingering quandary is “who”? Many expect it will be BYU passer Zach Wilson, but New York management continues to do its due diligence on non-Trevor Lawrence prospects like Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones.

For Jets fans, this process has become distressingly familiar. It’s been a long time since the team had any form of consistency in the franchise quarterback role, a spot plague by turnover on both the field and depth chart. The new century has been particularly cruel: would-be saviors found in the first two rounds have fizzled out, doomed to obscurity or inclusion on the yearly all-time bust lists that accompany draft weekend. Darnold was the latest unfortunate name added to that list through the trade to Carolina after three years of general inconsistency.

But it wouldn’t be fair to pin all of the Jets’ struggles of the past three seasons on Darnold. New York has made their share of mistakes that any quarterback would have trouble overcoming. How can they ensure a smoother transition for a new quarterback this time around? It won’t be easy, as the Jets’ problems won’t automatically be over once the newcomer takes over. ESM has three ways to avoid embarking on yet another passing search…

Build a Wall

Darnold was officially credited with a career-best 217 rushing yards last season. But if his scrambling was accounted for, he might’ve rivaled Derrick Henry’s final tally…OK, maybe Dalvin Cook, but still.

With D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold long gone, the Jets have spent the past few seasons paying dearly for the sins of the Mike Maccagnan era, where upgrading blocking was more of a suggestion than it was a requirement. Poor blocking can derail a young quarterback’s career before it ever truly begins. The most blatant case is the cautionary tale of David Carr, the first rookie chosen in Houston Texans history who was sacked an NFL record 76 times in his debut year. He (and the Texans as a whole, for that matter) was never able to get his NFL career back on track. Darnold fortunately never reached those dubious heights, but he was sacked 98 times in three seasons…and he missed ten games due to injury and illness.

To his credit, Joe Douglas has tried to make up for the neglect, even if the Jets’ 2020 renovations have left something to be desired. His first moves as general manager were to convince Ryan Kalil out of retirement and trade a draft pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis. He brought in veterans like Connor McGovern, George Fant, and Greg Van Roten and passed on elite receiving talents to draft Mekhi Becton. Thus far, only Becton looks like a long-term piece. It’s great to see that Douglas recognizes the importance of blocking, but talent evaluation will be vital over the next few years.

Remember It’s a Team Game 

There is the occasional, once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime passing talent that is able to single-handedly change the game. Legends like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have probably extended the careers of countless receivers. But putting the pressures of New York is too much to bestow on a rookie quarterback and it’s downright harsh to expect any newcomer to be an instant fix for a team that’s nursing a decade-long playoff drought.

We’re still not sure who’s going to line up under center for the Jets come September, but he’s going to be blessed with a relatively warm situation. The Jets brought in a proven multi-talented weapon in Tevin Coleman to headline a run game working with three younger projects. Big play talents Corey Davis and Keelan Cole were added to receiving corps that welcomes back Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims.

Patience will nonetheless be the name of the game. Again, any quarterback short of de-aged Joe Namath isn’t going to thrust the Jets back into relevancy. There are simply too many holes that even next weekend’s draft won’t fully plug and too many established contenders in the AFC to get by. The newcomer’s first season should be about establishing a rapport with his new weapons and coaches. Any extra wins that happen to emerge (the Jets’ o/u is currently 6 at the William Hill sportsbook) can be considered extra credit.

Taking in Robert Saleh as a head coach was a good way to start things off. Sure, a defensive mastermind like Saleh seems unconventional when a team is trying to groom a long-sought-after franchise quarterback. But this time around, it’s not the hot-take artists that are praising the hire…it’s the players. Saleh’s arrival and promotion has earned positive reviews from players both domestically and abroad, a welcome change compared to the relative indifference from on-field participants that plagued Adam Gase’s arrival. Hometown players buying into what Saleh has to offers and outsiders expressing jealousy should help present an ideal emotional setting for a quarterback taking his first NFL steps.

Stay Awhile

No quarterback is an island. Even the most impactful quarterbacks in league history have a name, nor names, forever spoken in the same breath as their own. Brady had Julian Edelman and still has Rob Gronkowski. Manning had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Namath fulfilled his legendary guarantee in Miami with the help of longtime rushing collaborator Matt Snell, not to mention future Hall of Fame electee Winston Hill on the offensive line.

Now consider what Darnold dealt with in modern New York: by the time Week 1 of the 2020 season rolled around…his third and final season in green…the 2018 draftee had no receivers leftover from his rookie year with the exception of tight end Chris Herndon (whose sophomore campaign was effectively wiped out by injuries and a suspension). The offensive line was likewise completely different from even one year prior. Darnold took his snaps from three different starting centers (Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison, and McGovern).

Simply put, all will seem relatively well once the new quarterback is on the roster. But once he’s secure, it will be all about building gridiron camaraderie with the rest of the roster. That doesn’t only apply to the offense either: building a strong defense can help keep the game manageable for a youngster while good special teams can help turn the field in his favor. Endless amounts of turnover will only lead to chaos for a young man that is already facing one of the most stressful jobs on the face of the Earth: NFL franchise quarterback. Darnold and the Jets learned that the hard way.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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