The New York Jets’ No. 1 objective this season — aside from, you know, winning games — is to put quarterback Sam Darnold in position to have an Eli Manning-like run in New York. You could certainly make a case that Darnold’s development is more important than the record. Either way, the powers that be should err on the side of patience when deciding his Week 1 role. To borrow a line from Aaron Rodgers …
There’s no need to rush him. While it might be tempting to show off their golden boy to the football-watching world, the Jets should remember that nobody hands out an award to the first team that promotes its highly-drafted rookie to the starting lineup. It’s a long season and there will be ample time to give Darnold the game experience he’ll need to overcome the inevitable growing pains.
He still has a good chance to win the job — that’s the sentiment at One Jets Drive — but there needs to be a big-picture perspective. Darnold played only three-plus seasons of quarterback in high school and college, which he noted Thursday night after his start against the Washington Redskins. It was an astute and mature comment for a 21-year-old. He knows he’s green, but it also fills him with optimism about his future.
The tortured souls who call themselves Jets fans have every right to feel the same way because he shows intriguing promise, but there are three very good reasons why the team should tap the brakes.
1. They have options. This isn’t 2013, when the only healthy quarterback was rookie Geno Smith. This isn’t 2009, when the only competition for rookie Mark Sanchez was the marginally talented Kellen Clemens. The Jets have two starting-caliber quarterbacks in Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, a couple of wise heads who could hold the fort until the Darnold era commences.
Coach Todd Bowles always says he will start the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win now. That’s “the main factor,” he said. Based on that premise, Bridgewater should be the guy. He was terrific in the first two preseason games, bringing energy, poise and production to the offense. His surgically repaired knee felt so good Thursday night that he actually didn’t mind getting banged around by potential tacklers, prompting a funny remark from an incredulous Bowles.
“I told him I have a neighborhood where he can go and get hit quite a bit if he wants to get hit,” Bowles said.
Bridgewater’s candidacy is atypical because there’s a chance he could get traded. If the Jets are comfortable with Darnold and McCown, they will listen to offers, perhaps hoping to flip Bridgewater for an enticing draft pick.
Even though he’s only 25, Bridgewater can’t be the Jets’ future because they’ve invested so much in Darnold, so it’s a one-and-done situation. If they can secure a third-round pick from a quarterback-needy team, they should make the trade and open the season with McCown, who has shown no signs of slippage in limited practice and game action.
McCown and Bridgewater are here for a reason. It would be shortsighted to ignore them.
2. The offensive line is scary. The worst thing you can do to a rookie quarterback is expose him to a weekly beating behind a porous line — and the Jets could be in that position. They’re down two starters — left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right guard Brian Winters, both of whom are expected to miss the rest of the preseason. Even if they’re back for Week 1, the offensive line will have played a grand total of zero snaps together. By the way, they’re also learning a new blocking scheme. It’s a recipe for disaster.
• Packers’ fun camp story looks like keeper
• No reason to second-guess Tyrod trade
• Paxton Lynch’s last stand with Broncos?
• Minnesota trip emotional for Sparano Jr.
• Hidden reason behind Saints’ success
Do you want Darnold in that situation?
In 2004, the New York Giants waited until Week 10 before promoting Manning, in part, because they had pass-protection issues that needed to be ironed out. In essence, they used Kurt Warner as a stunt double, letting him take the hits until it was safe for the rookie. The Jets could be in the same predicament. They can feed McCown to the Detroit Lions, their first opponent, knowing he has the savvy to recognize blitzes and avoid hits whenever possible. He could stabilize the situation for Darnold.
3. The schedule isn’t fit for a rookie. Thanks to a Monday night opener and a Thursday night affair in Week 3 (both on the road), the Jets have three games in 11 days — a mentally taxing stretch for any quarterback, let alone a rookie. Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who would dial up a blitz against his grandmother, would unleash his entire playbook at Darnold in Week 3. McCown or Bridgewater (if he’s still around) would be better equipped to handle that challenge.
“It’ll be a tough choice,” Bowles said of his QB quandary.
The Jets have waited decades for a true franchise quarterback. A few extra weeks won’t hurt them.