There are high-powered fans of Sam Darnold inside the Jets organization who believe they should keep the 23-year-old quarterback and give him a chance with a better team around him. And there are those who believe it’s time to move on to a rookie, like Zach Wilson, and restart the franchise quarterback financial clock.
At some point, Jets GM Joe Douglas is going to have to make a decision between those two choices.
Unless he decides to choose both.
It may seem crazy at first glance, but there’s been some growing talk around the NFL that the Jets might just keep Darnold AND draft Wilson at No. 2 when the NFL Draft kicks off on April 29. It’s mostly speculation and some reading of the tea leaves, but based on what the Jets have and haven’t done in recent weeks, it’s a theory that appears to have some merit.
Because the Jets have clearly signaled a strong interest in Wilson, the BYU quarterback and likely No. 2 overall pick in the draft, and other teams seem to believe the Jets have no interest in trading down from that pick. But there’s also been no indication that they’re even interested in engaging in serious talks about trading Darnold, despite a flurry of quarterback trades and signings over the last month.
Obviously a lot can change, and it can happen in an instant. But even if the Jets wanted to trade Darnold, the market for him has thinned to the point that some around the league wonder if the Jets could even get a second-round pick for him now. And with potentially five Top 10 quarterbacks in the draft, a quarterback-needy team like Carolina (at 8) might not feel a desperate need to move up. And in fact it might be telling that, once the 49ers made their big trade from 12 to 3, that the Panthers haven’t already reacted.
So if Douglas can’t, or won’t, trade either the pick or his quarterback, here’s the big question:
Could keeping Darnold and his successor on the same team actually work?
It’s a situation that has obviously happened many times before, whether with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay in the mid-2000s or with Kurt Warner and Eli Manning on the Giants back in 2004. There’s some merit to letting an untested rookie watch and learn behind a veteran before he’s ready to take over the job.
Of course, that situation usually happens when there’s an older veteran involved. Darnold is only entering his fourth NFL season and still trying to establish himself as a viable NFL starter. So this would be much more like a competition of young quarterbacks. And since, in this scenario, the Jets would almost certainly decline to pick up Darnold’s $18.8 million fifth-year option for 2022 (a decision has to be made by May 3), it’s an unfair competition Darnold would enter knowing he’d eventually lose.
That could make it untenable, as quarterback controversies in New York often are. At the first sign of struggles for Darnold, there would be a clamoring among fans and media for Wilson to play, ready or not. And as much as coaches always say they can control quarterback controversies, they have a way of affecting their teams.
Keeping both quarterbacks also means the Jets will run the risk of losing Darnold at the end of 2021 for nothing when he becomes a free agent, which doesn’t seem like a smart move. But that’s only if the Jets end up keeping Darnold for the entire season.
Consider this: In March, 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off hiring Doug Pederson as their new head coach, re-signed their starting quarterback, Sam Bradford. Less than two months later, the Eagles made a blockbuster trade to move up in the draft so they could select quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick.
Then they kept both of them into training camp and planned to start Bradford over Wentz in the season opener. But when then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury in late-August, the Eagles were able to trade Bradford to the Vikings for a first-round and a conditional fourth-round pick – far more than they could’ve gotten for Bradford before the draft. Bridgewater’s injury changed the equation and the Eagles were able to capitalize on their desperation.
The Eagles’ vice president of player personnel back then? Joe Douglas.
So keeping both quarterbacks is possible. Douglas has done it, and he’s seen it pay off – though he knows that another team getting desperate for Darnold over the summer is far from guaranteed. There is risk. He could end up with nothing but a messy quarterback situation – something that rarely works out well for the team involved.
At the moment, though, it’s only a possibility – but one that seems to be gaining some steam. And if the Jets can’t get a big offer for Darnold in the next few weeks, it’s a possibility they might have to consider when it’s their turn to draft.