Darnold: Retain for Future or Start Fresh?

The New York Jets have been waiting for years to find a franchise quarterback. They had the perfect opportunity to do that in the 2018 NFL Draft and elected to try. With the third overall selection, the team selected quarterback Sam Darnold from the University of Southern California

Under Todd Bowles as a rookie, many were uncertain if Darnold would start Week 1 as many rookies tend to sit back and watch veteran quarterbacks play earlier in the year. The team also signed Teddy Bridgewater to a deal, so they thought he was a potential Week 1 starter. However, Head Coach Todd Bowles gave Sam Darnold the green light to start in Week 1 at the Detroit Lions

Darnold’s first game as a Jet excited many lifelong fans. After throwing a pick-six on the opening play, he led the team to a 48-17 win, throwing for two touchdowns. Since then, it has been mainly downhill for Darnold. Especially in 2020.

This leaves the Jets with a huge question this offseason. Do you trade Sam Darnold and draft a quarterback or retain him? Let’s talk about how this situation unfolded.


Darnold Set Up to Fail in 2019

Heading into 2019, Darnold’s second year under center as the teams quarterback, expectations were that Darnold would break out in Year 2. Unfortunately, with a lack of pass-catchers and horrid offensive line play, he only threw for 19 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.

The Jets offensive coaching in 2019 was awful. First-year coach Adam Gase developed a strong relationship with Darnold, but his playcalling and decision making were bad. After the Jets Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Darnold was diagnosed with a sickness called mononucleosis and was out for a month. When he came back, the team went 1-3 in four games and hit a new low after falling to the previously winless Miami Dolphins in Week 9, falling to 1-7. During this stretch of games, Darnold’s worst game was when he infamously said “I’m seeing ghosts” in a 4 interception performance against the New England Patriots

There was hope for 2020 however, as Darnold went 6-2 in his final eight games of 2019 as the Jets finished 7-9. He had a promising season with arguably the worst offense around him.


2020 Regression 

After finishing 7-9 in 2019, the Jets imploded in 2020 and finished a woeful 2-14. While the incompetent head coaching is to blame mainly for this, Sam Darnold’s regression cannot be ignored. After finishing 2019 strong, he ended up throwing 9 touchdowns in 2020. The third-year quarterback threw for 11 interceptions, making his total number of interceptions higher than touchdowns.

Even though his supporting cast wasn’t much better than in 2019, regression from a young quarterback is not a promising sign. Additionally, his decision making was terrible all year long. From missing wide-open targets to displaying poor pocket presence, Darnold may be on his way out.

Below I will discuss reasons Darnold should stay and go.


Why Sam Darnold Should Stay

Even with many question marks, there are still positives to keeping Sam Darnold for the 2021 season. First, with a new and improved coaching staff, Darnold can use his natural talent much more than he did when he was under Gase. This is due to Gase’s limited playbook for him. Additionally, with an offensive mind or an experienced coach, he can be taught how to properly take risks in big moments.

Darnold is still 23 years old, which is the same age as the Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. While he has three years under his belt, he has yet to play a full 16 games, due to sickness and injuries. In 2020, Joe Flacco started four games in Darnold’s place due to two injuries he suffered.

The 2021 Draft Class and Free Agent class has several options to help Darnold out. Since he has lacked a great #1 receiver through his first three seasons in the league, the team should try and sign an elite receiver. Names that come to mind are Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay. If one of them is signed, Darnold should have an array of pass catchers. The 2021 NFL Draft has a list of solid receivers too. Players such as Jaylen Waddle, Rashod Bateman, and Chris Olave may be on the board for the Jets #23 pick.

Lastly, COVID-19 was a difficult experience for the NFL in 2020. In most games, teams played without any fans in attendance. Typically, over 75,000 fans are in attendance at Metlife Stadium, the home of the Jets. This may have been an unusual season for Darnold. With the vaccine becoming available in more places, there may be fans in attendance for the 2021 season.


Why Sam Darnold Should Go

Although Sam Darnold hasn’t been an ideal situation early in his career, the Jets may be looking in a different direction. After a 2-14 season, Gang Green holds the second overall pick in the 2021 Draft. They are in a prime position to select a new quarterback. Either BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields are top options for Joe Douglas.

Even with a below-average supporting cast, there were several times where Darnold had his full arsenal of receivers healthy. With all his targets, he still couldn’t produce. That is a huge cause of concern moving forward. Other young quarterbacks in the league can make the best out of a bad situation, such as Deshaun Watson. This is something Darnold has been unable to accomplish.

There have also been times in Darnold’s interviews where he says “I will watch the tape and fix my mistakes”. However, that may not be working as Darnold regressed as 2020 went along, with the exception of a few games late season. That is a sign that he may be mentally exhausted.


My Thoughts

With all the risks of keeping Darnold for another season, I think the Jets should trade Darnold and move on. There are several teams in need of a quarterback and would most likely take a young quarterback in Darnold. The Steelers, Colts, and Saints are options where I believe Darnold has the best chance to succeed.

Starting with a new coach and quarterback will give the Jets the best chance to turn the franchise around. For the Jets, there are certainly brighter days ahead of them.




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