On April 26th, 2018, I woke up in the shower.
Not because I was getting myself ready for school: I legitimately slept-walked into the shower at 3:00 AM because I couldn’t sleep the night before the NFL Draft.
If that story doesn’t describe the absolute thirst that Jets fans (like myself) have to find their franchise Quarterback, I don’t know what does.
So how did we end up here, nearly 3 years later, with Sam Darnold in Carolina Panthers’ blue?
The answer is the perfect storm that only the Jets could produce. I hate this phrase more than anything, but Sam Darnold’s tenure with the Jets was the ultimate butt-fumble.
If we rewind once again to the Spring of 2018, previous GM Mike Maccagnan opted to trade a package of first rounders and more to Indianapolis, in order to gain the No. 3 overall selection in the NFL Draft where they eventually selected Darnold. I nearly forgot that the Jets chose to roll with a rookie QB over Kirk Cousins that offseason, who earned a massive deal with Minnesota after leaving Washington.
In hindsight, I would have made the same set of moves 10 times out of 10 if I were the GM of the Jets. The issue wasn’t the Darnold selection: it was the mindset that finally gaining their franchise QB would magically solve all of the Jets’ problems.
The Jets failed to protect him up-front, as Sam ran for his life on a weekly basis. The receivers were always bottom-tier outside of some flashes of Robby Anderson’s potential, as he now reunites with Darnold in Carolina. The defense was never good enough to keep Sam’s offense from playing desperate catch-up from a deficit, and the kicking game imploded after Jason Myers departed to Seattle. The team was a disaster.
But worse than any roster construction was the coaching. The marriage of Darnold and defensive-minded HC Todd Bowles was extremely bland, and the same could be said about his relationship with former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
Then, the Jets infamously hired Adam Gase — the supposed offensive mastermind — to be their next Head Coach and work side by side with Darnold to bring him to the next level.
Forget about Gase’s overall incompetency as a Head Coach. There is no disputing that since he is currently unemployed.
What frustrated me the most was watching the forced marriage between Sam Darnold and Adam Gase. They were never meant for each other, and the Jets absolutely ignored that fact when they hired Gase. The Jets weren’t hiring a Hall-of-Fame HC here. They absolutely should have looked more into the relationship between their valuable QB and HC, because there wasn’t a moment across the Gase tenure that I saw chemistry between the two sides.
The Quarterback and HC/OC relationship is the most underrated factor for success in football. Forced marriages rarely work, and this was a crystal-clear example.
Unfortunately for Joe Douglas, he was basically forced to keep Adam Gase, because giving Darnold a third HC in three seasons would have been a disaster as well. The Jets were doomed regardless, and Sam Darnold was the unfortunate victim.
Luckily, Douglas has learned from the mistake of his current franchise, and many others, as he effectively hit the reset button this offseason by cleaning the coaching staff and opening up a spot for his own rookie QB choice at No. 2 in the upcoming Draft. It is looking like OC Mike LeFleur (brother of Matt LeFleur, Packers HC) will be paired with BYU’s electric Zach Wilson, who will fit in his scheme like a glove. Douglas also learned that the Head Coach needs to be a leader of men, and not a “QB specialist”, which prompted him to make the fantastic hire of Robert Saleh to lead a team of men, and not just 1 Quarterback.
To cap off the stories of bad luck, nothing encapsulated Darnold’s time in New York more than catching mononucleosis, which has to go down as one of the most bizarre absences in sports history. The focus shifted from Darnold’s potential breakout season in 2019, to his odd recovery from a condition that we’ve never seen a Quarterback go down with. He played in Week 1 at around 70% strength, was out for several weeks, and took even more time to get back into game shape. Only to Sam Darnold and the New York Jets, right?
I’d be crazy not to remind everyone that the first throw of his career was a pick-6… just perfect.
Speaking of themes, nothing sums up Sam Darnold’s Jets tenure more than excuses. Has that not been the basis of this entire article so far? I will be the first to admit that fact, and so will most Jets fans and Darnold-truthers.
While the excuses are absolutely legitimate, his performances in NY were inexcusable, especially this past season where he was basically outplayed by backup QB Joe Flacco, who was far from good, but still showed more flashes in limited playing time.
Sam did have his highs. He played fantastic down the stretch of his rookie year after returning from injury and finding his groove. He was also fairly solid towards the end of 2019, but a lot of that can be attributed to an easy schedule. But 2020 was an absolute disaster of a season. Sam was simply dreadful.
Admitting that Sam was a failed experiment was a tough pill to swallow for Jets fans, but instead of bashing Jets fans even more into the ground, refer back to the opening lines of this article. Jets fans have been starving for a Quarterback, and are sick of the constant cycle of hope and failure. In other words, have some sympathy.
Shifting gears to the trade, I absolutely love this move for Carolina. Sam Darnold is still 23 years old! That is younger than Joe Burrow, for reference. The Draft capital was extremely reasonable, and will look like an absolute bargain if Matt Rhule, Joe Brady and co. and figure out how to revive Darnold’s career and unleash his potential.
Personally, I think this is going to work out very well for Carolina. If Sam Darnold is able to press his own reset button, I have faith that he will figure it out.
The majority of his mistakes came from bonehead throws off his back-foot, which is an extremely correctable aspect of his game, especially if they are able to calm his game down, and let Sam do his thing. His failures were mental, clearly not physical since we have seen some unbelievable throws from the dude since his days at USC.
This isn’t Dwayne Haskins or Ja’Marcus Russell who we are dealing with here.
Taking a chance on Sam is a much better move than another season of the NFL’s most boring QB, Teddy Bridgewater, who is shaping up to be a career-long “bridge-QB” (see what I did there).
And for the Jets, this move was necessary for so many reasons.
First and foremost, dealing with a distracting QB-controversy (if they kept Sam, and drafted a rookie QB) would have been a terrible idea for the first-time HC Robert Saleh, especially with the New York media all over it.
Both sides needed a reset more than anything, and I truly believe the Jets organization, and fans, want to see him succeed. New York was unfortunately not the ideal spot for Sam Darnold, and instead of forcing the relationship once again, it is time to move on.
The pressure now shifts to GM Joe Douglas, as his career depends on the anticipated rebuild of this roster, and the success of his new Quarterback.
On behalf of all Jets fans: Sam, let’s just be friends.
Photo Credit: Elsa (Getty Images)