FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Days numbered? Sam Darnold‘s chances of returning in 2021 seemed to improve with the hiring of coach Robert Saleh, who spoke of the quarterback in glowing terms (privately to friends as well). Now, 46 days before the 2021 NFL draft, those chances appear to be fading.
General manager Joe Douglas all but posted a “For Sale” sign when he recently admitted he is open to fielding trade inquiries. Since then, nothing has changed with regard to Darnold. The Jets are listening. This month, Douglas will be a fixture on the QB/pro day circuit. It kicked off Friday at North Dakota State, where he scouted Trey Lance, a likely top-10 pick.
The smart money is on Darnold, 23, being traded, assuming BYU’s Zach Wilson — widely regarded as the draft’s QB2 — checks the important boxes during the pre-draft process. (The medical check on Wilson bears watching because of his surgically repaired throwing shoulder.)
There is a market for Darnold, based on supply and demand. Here are potential trading partners, including each team’s premium draft capital:
- Washington Football Team: They’re desperate for a starter, and they have picks 19, 51, 74 and 82.
- Chicago Bears: They’re reportedly hot for Russell Wilson. Failing that, they could turn to Darnold. They have picks 20, 52 and 83.
- Seattle Seahawks: The idea of trading Wilson is just plain dumb, but the rumblings persist. Carroll, who coached at USC long before Darnold arrived there, is a fan of the quarterback. Before the Jets-Seahawks game in December, Carroll said Darnold is “really talented. … It’s just a matter of time. Sam’s going to be a really big-time QB.” It’s worth noting the Jets and Seahawks have a history of trades. Problem is, the Seahawks’ highest pick is 56. Their first-rounder (23) belongs to the Jets from the Jamal Adams trade.
- Houston Texans: No matter what they say publicly, the Texans will trade Deshaun Watson. Bet on it. If the Jets make a bid, they could try to include Darnold in a package.
- San Francisco 49ers: They own picks 12, 43 and 102. There are plenty of ways the Jets could work a trade if the 49ers decide to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, although that seems unlikely as this point. Cam Newton’s return to the New England Patriots could have an indirect impact; the Patriots were thought to be a potential landing spot for Garoppolo.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who believes the Jets would be better off in the long run by dealing Darnold and drafting Zach Wilson, raised an interesting possibility. He said the Jets could package Darnold and their second-round pick (34) to acquire a pick in the top half of the first round. He mentioned the Carolina Panthers (8), Denver Broncos (9) and 49ers (12) as potential partners.
“Now you’re the Jets and you’re dancing up there with those picks,” Jeremiah said.
In his scenario, the Jets would have three first-round picks.
2. Potential Wilson fallout: Jets fans have a keen interest in Seattle’s Wilson drama. If the Seahawks trade him, they figure to take a step backward. And that means their 2022 first-round pick, which belongs to the Jets (Adams trade), would be higher than expected.
3. Recruiting problem: A potential downside to the quarterback uncertainty is how it might affect the Jets’ ability to attract free agents, specifically wide receivers and tight ends.
One agent who represents a free-agent wide receiver called it “a concern.” Another agent said the QB question would come into play “only after the economics factor,” adding it could be a tiebreaker. A third agent said it’s important for a free agent to pick a team with a supporting cast that will allow him to thrive, pointing to Le’Veon Bell’s decision to sign with the Jets in 2019 as an example of what not to do.
“Careers get killed,” the agent said.
In 2019, the Jets used Darnold as a selling point for potential head coaches and free agents. Two years later, they can’t even tell their own players whether Darnold will be their quarterback. If they go shopping for a high-end receiver or tight end, they can sell the new coaching staff and the new system, but those are intangibles — and intangibles can’t throw a back-shoulder pass in the end zone.
4. Perfect match? The 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk grew up in Ohio and played college ball at Harvard, but he was a Jets fan and had an “obsession” with Wayne Chrebet, he once said. Maybe, just maybe, Juszczyk will get a chance to finish his career with his idol’s former team. The Jets need a fullback and Juszczyk is a pending free agent. There’s also this connection to the area: He married a woman from Long Island and lives on Long Island during the offseason.
Juszczyk and the Jets seem like an ideal match, especially with Saleh and several assistants having spent the past four years in Frisco. Juszczyk, who has made five straight Pro Bowls, won’t come cheaply. Would they spend decent money for an almost-30 fullback?
Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones make up the best quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
5. Saleh targets: Most of the attention has focused on cornerback Richard Sherman, but he’s not the only 49ers free agent worth tracking. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, defensive end Kerry Hyder Jr. and slot corner K’Waun Williams also are thought to be on the Jets’ radar. Williams and Hyder were Saleh favorites in San Francisco and could step into immediate roles. All coaches like to be surrounded by “their guys.” Defensive end Ronald Blair III, released Friday (failed physical), is another. Look for Saleh to bring a few with him. Heck, he’s turning the Jets into San Francisco East.
6. Think big: The Jets need to address the interior of the offensive line. The free agents to watch are Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley and New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney, ranked 10th and 12th, respectively, on ESPN’s top-100 list. Both would be significant upgrades, but it’s fantasy football to expect the Jets to land both.
Thuney alone is projected to score a $15 million-per-year contract. Linsley, coming off his first All-Pro season, might be a better scheme fit because he has played in a system similar to that of the Jets. He could be the subject of a LaFleur brothers recruiting battle — Matt (Packers coach) versus Mike (Jets offensive coordinator). If the Jets sign Linsley, they can move center Connor McGovern to right guard, where he played at the start of his career.
8. Did you know? This is one for the “draft-a-quarterback” crowd. Darnold has posted a Total QBR of 46, 46 and 40 in his first three seasons. Since QBR began in 2006, Eli Manning (2016-18) is the only other quarterback to post three consecutive seasons with a sub-50 QBR (min. 300 attempts).
9. Important news: At the end of the 2019 season, Douglas promised a deep dive into the rash of injuries. That year, the Jets had a league-high 28 players on injured reserve, per Spotrac. It was more of the same in 2020 — 36 IR cases, tied for fifth. This week, they took decisive action, replacing most of the strength-and-conditioning staff and creating an Athletic Care and Performance Department. All told, they made five hires, four of whom have doctorate degrees.
In recent years, players had begun to lose trust in the organization with regard to injuries and treatment. There were a few public disputes that made the Jets look bad, most notably the Kelechi Osemele controversy in 2019. Kudos to them for addressing the problem.
10. Jonesing: Former NFL head coach June Jones, who studies college quarterbacks closely, is a big fan of BYU’s Wilson and Alabama’s Mac Jones. He likes them better than Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence because of their deep-ball accuracy. Jones told ESPN, “I’ve graded quarterbacks every year since I got to the pros and I think of all the guys I’ve watched since 1983, I think [Mac Jones is] the most accurate down the field of any that I’ve graded.”
Jones, who offers a certification course on the run-and-shoot offense on CoachTube.com, has seen plenty of quarterbacks. The stats are telling. On passes of at least 20 air yards, Wilson (62.3%), Ohio State’s Justin Fields (61.3%) and Jones (61.2%) were 1-2-3 in the country in completion percentage, per ESPN Stats & Information.
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