This is a piece about Sam Darnold, but it needs to start with Teddy Bridgewater. I want the former Vikings first round pick, the 25 year old that’s seen as much as a decade long veteran, one of the most likable players in the NFL, to win the comeback player of the year award.
Would that be absolutely fantastic under Todd Bowles, a head coach that has endured the Geno Smith punch heard ’round the world, the Ryan Fitzpatrick rollercoaster, the draft picks that most knew never had a chance in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg? Yes, it would be stellar.
In the big picture view though, that’s not very likely for the New York Jets. They made a splash in March when they paid a hefty price to jump from the sixth pick to the third. They rejoiced when their top ranked quarterback in Sam Darnold fell to them. Even the owner instantly came out to declare that he was going to be the player to turn things around for a franchise with a rain cloud over their quarterback position.
In a realistic world, there isn’t going to be a wait on that. The Jets guaranteed Bridgewater $500k on a one year deal. A flyer on a player that clearly, most NFL franchises did not believe could rebound from a devastating knee injury two years ago.
It’s still August, but boy do they look wrong.
And this ‘problem’ the Jets are facing? They could not be happier about it. A $500k gamble could net them a draft asset this Summer, one they sorely need after parting with a 2019 second round pick in the Darnold trade. There’s still plenty of holes on their roster and free agency dollars can’t fix everything.
Is it insane for a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who at the moment have all of their chips invested in Blake Bortles, to surrender a mid-round pick for Bridgewater? They are a team not only loaded with young talent after impressive draft classes, but also one with Super Bowl aspirations.
If Bortles struggles or gets injured their season is in the hands of Cody Kessler or Tanner Lee. It’s nearly impossible to challenge for the playoffs with one of those two under center, let alone an actual postseason game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are without Jameis Winston for the first three weeks of their season. Even with Jason Licht getting one year added to his deal, it’s safe to say him and Dirk Koetter are on the hot seat entering 2018. I’m willing to bet he would have a lot of success there right away with playmakers around him.
There are destinations that make plenty of sense for Bridgewater and he’s more than deserving of the opportunity to start again. Even after shining against both Atlanta and Washington, he only received two reps with the first-team offense in practice on Saturday. It almost seems as if the Jets have made up their minds.
That brings me back to Sam Darnold, who I truly believe will have a lesser season over the course of 16 games than Bridgewater, but still is the most sensible option to start. The big picture view is about him, not the 2018 season, where the Jets appear to be a six or seven win team.
Getting him game action instantly builds on 2019, 2020 and 2021, the latter two years where the Jets should at a minimum be expected to contend in the AFC. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates isn’t going to throw him into the fire by designing plays that will set him up to fail. The offense might seem conservative at times, but that’s how it often goes when a rookie quarterback is under center behind a mediocre-at-best offensive line.
Darnold’s timing and placement has already flashed at times, specifically on third downs:
It’s a simple throw with a design that creates room for wide receiver Tre McBride. With that being said, Darnold sells McBride going over the middle with his eyes (that clearly check on Bilal Powell in the flat as well) and a subtle pump, then allows him to work back outside where he has a freeway to move the sticks.
More importantly, how much improvement will there be when wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and tight end Chris Herndon return? At their positions on the Jets roster, each stand atop the depth chart in terms of ability to make something happen after the catch. For how spectacular Robby Anderson has been, the following failed third down conversion was a good display to where the offense misses Enunwa:
The coverage doesn’t surrender the sticks, but more importantly easily tackles Anderson in space before he can lunge to the marker. No one directly deserves blame, but it shows how vital a player with Enunwa’s skill set can be for a quick passing offense.
The 21 year old quarterback has flashed plenty of times that show he’ll be ready to run the Jets offense this year. There will be speed bumps, road blocks and even fender benders along the way, but those are vital for the growth of a young signal caller.
It’s not a postseason make or break season for Gang Green, it’s about laying the building blocks over a foundation that’s been set. That’s why Sam Darnold will be the Jets starting quarterback – and that’s okay.