Saving Sam Darnold

The New York Jets have somehow managed to ruin 3 “franchise” quarterbacks in less than 10 years.  No one will argue that Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, or Christian Hackenberg were destined to be anything special, but when a quarterback is drafted in the first 2 rounds you expect them to at the very least stabilize the franchise.  Instead, Sanchez never developed into anything more than a below average game manager, Smith never earned the respect of the locker room (as evidenced by him getting his jaw broken by a teammate when he refused to settle a $600 debt), and Hackenberg never even saw the field.  These players all failed and have set the Jets back years.  The Jets desperately need Sam Darnold to be the quarterback they expect him to be and lead this team to success for the first time in nearly a decade.

All things considered, Sam Darnold has played well in the first half of the season.  He may not be putting up the best stats and he does make some bonehead decisions, but he’s currently playing with practice squad level players and is being haunted by middle school level play calling.  To expect anything more from Darnold this year would be unfair.  The bottom line is that drastic changes need to be made to avoid turning Darnold into Mark Sanchez 2.0.  The Jets need to clean house and start with a fresh slate in 2019, and that starts with finding a new General Manager and Head Coach.

General Manager Mike Maccagnan and Head Coach Todd Bowles were hired after the 2014 season and the Jets have a 23-33 record under their regime.  Maccagnan has done a terrible job both drafting and using salary cap space to build a winning team, and Bowles just looks lost on the sidelines every game.  The Jets will be entering the 2019 offseason with over $100 million in cap space and Maccagnan should not be the one who spends that money.  Maccagnan failed to address the most serious needs for a team with a rookie quarterback by leaving the wide receiver group as is and by signing fringe offensive linemen when he had over $90 million in cap space this past offseason.  The Jets would be wise to allow a fresh face to completely overhaul this roster.

Todd Bowles, on the other hand, is a defensive minded head coach who is clueless when it comes to the offense.  Bowles installs conservative game plans that don’t allow Darnold to throw the ball downfield.  Instead, we constantly get runs up the middle for no gain, tight end screens, roll outs, and 7 yard passes.  This is not the way to develop a franchise quarterback.  Let Darnold throw the ball downfield, let him make mistakes, let him learn.  These conservative game plans do not help anyone on the team.  Sam Darnold is getting the 2009 Mark Sanchez treatment — playing to protect their rookie quarterback and prevent him from making mistakes.  The difference between the 2009 Jets and the 2018 Jets is that the 2009 team had the best rushing offense in the NFL and a top defense; the 2018 Jets are not even close to the same level.

Michael Owens-Getty Images

Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky have both benefited greatly from having a young, offensive minded head coach after being stuck with out of touch coaches their rookie years.  Jared Goff escaped Jeff Fisher after his rookie year and with Sean McVay leading the way, Goff and the Rams have arguably the best offense in football.  Trubisky only had to deal with one year of John Fox, and now the Bears, under Matt Nagy, are suddenly a legitimate threat in the NFC North, just one year after having one of the worst offenses in the NFL.  Sam Darnold has the skill set to turn the Jets around, he just needs the right coach to develop him into one of the league’s best quarterbacks.  Todd Bowles will stunt Sam Darnold’s growth and turn him into yet another failed franchise quarterback for the Jets.

There are a number of intriguing, young, offensive-minded guys who will be interviewed for Head Coach openings throughout the league this offseason.  Names like Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor, Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, and Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter are all names that should be on the Jets radar if they decide to do the right thing and move on from Todd Bowles after this season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-Training Camp
Brad Rempel – USA TODAY Sports

Sam Darnold does not look like a bust.  He still needs to develop before the Jets become serious playoff contenders again, but that is something that can happen as soon as next year.  It will only happen next year, however, if the Jets get a new Head Coach (at the very least, they should be searching for a new General Manager too).  Keeping Bowles beyond this season will jeopardize the development of Sam Darnold and the Jets will once again become the laughing stock of the NFL.

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