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The New York Jets’ no-brainer at No. 1: Trevor Lawrence over Sam Darnold

Trevor Lawrence, Joe Douglas, Sam Darnold
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Right now, it’s a no-brainer for the New York Jets if they wind up at No. 1: Trevor Lawrence is the guy over Sam Darnold.

Sam Darnold’s friend and offseason quarterback mentor, Jordan Palmer, recently (and privately) backed his pupil, yet again.

Palmer responded to a New York Jets fan on Twitter reaching out in quest of Darnold truth.

“People have no idea how good Sam is,” Palmer replied. “I’ll take him over Trevor (Lawrence) and I love Trevor. I’ll take Sam over most. You can’t play this sport by yourself.”

While the final line is as true as anything in this sport, Joe Blewett summed it up perfectly:

Save for the real psychopaths who’d have most mothers disappointed, truer words have never been spoken. Palmer wouldn’t say or do anything to hurt Darnold’s public persona—especially during such a down period.

In the end, it doesn’t matter to fans. Darnold was delivered in 2018 as the savior of the franchise. A third-overall pick whose collegiate tape offered NFL giddiness couldn’t have disappointed in the long run. Such an impossibility has to hold true, right?

One quick glance at Jets Twitter provides a stern answer. Remember, though, it’s Twitter, social media, the place that encourages and glorifies extreme points of view. Adam Gase is a problem, therefore, nothing is Darnold’s fault.

A wise man once said this: it’s impossible to get to the truth if unwillingness exists on the part of criticizing both sides. Two things can be true at the same time, and Darnold—despite the sideways path that’s unfairly thrown him in this spot—has arrived at this unsavory point in his career.

Trevor Lawrence is a no-brainer for the Jets.

Obviously, discussing the No. 1 pick in early October is a hell of a thing. A quick glance at the 2019 season offers much-needed wisdom at this moment. Not only did the 0-4 left-for-dead Jets finish 7-9 in the end, but the supposedly tanking Miami Dolphins didn’t find themselves in the one-hole—the place the entire NFL thought they’d end up.

Secondly, Lawrence is the no-doubt-about-it best option right now. A lot can happen between now and January. As seen a year ago, Darnold’s Ghost Game led him into a downward spiral that was eventually overcome with solid performances against the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers.

If Palmer’s kind words about Darnold suffice as hard evidence, Peyton Manning‘s backing of Gase should qualify as well. Then again, listening to outside sources too confidently tends to get organizations into terrible trouble.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 13: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers warms up before the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the LSU Tigers at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The LSU Tigers topped the Clemson Tigers, 42-25.
(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Joe Douglas needs full control, and with it, he’d most likely take Lawrence for one legitimate reason: the salary cap.

Lawrence would represent a 21-year-old kid (turning 22 on Oct. 6, 2021) being paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $36 million over four years (with an expensive fifth-year club option). Comparing that to Darnold’s four-year, $30.247 million deal makes sense, but Lawrence’s 2021 cap hit will most certainly provide savings over Darnold’s $9.794 number.

The real crux of the matter deals with Darnold’s fifth-year team option.

Under the old CBA, the fifth-year team options for first-rounders dealt with draft position. Now, under the new CBA, those options are determined by productivity. Still, even at Darnold’s current performance, the price tag will be outrageous.

Darnold will most likely be categorized as a Level 2 player—playing at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps without a Pro Bowl appearance. The number is currently best-guessed at around $20 million for that fifth-year option, something that is neither deserved nor smart on the part of the organization.

May 3 was the 2020 deadline for teams to exercise 2021 fifth-year options—just several days after the draft, which is usually the case. It would obviously make no sense to exercise the fifth-year and draft Lawrence. They could let the fifth-year go, continue to roster Darnold and draft Lawrence, but that’s not exactly ideal either.

Passing on Lawrence and sticking with Darnold benefits the health of the overall depth chart. Another position could be selected or a trade-down scenario helps Douglas build things even more properly. But if the quarterback isn’t the real deal, what’s the point?

How could any logical football mind argue to keep Darnold and punt on Lawrence after the tape that’s been put forth this season? The USC product isn’t just missing open players; he’s absolutely jittery and impatient in the pocket.

Against the Denver Broncos, Darnold flat-out missed open target after open target. It began early in the game, too (after he transformed into Steve Young for a 46-yard touchdown run). Here, he fails to pull the trigger on a Lawrence Cager dig that’s beautifully set up with a zone play-action:

That’s a gimme at the NFL level, as is this Jeff Smith middle-of-the-field miss a little later in the contest:

Again, it matters not how Darnold arrived at this point. This is where he is and these two examples are just two of way too many.

Trading Darnold and drafting Lawrence are the side-effects that come with swallowing a bitter pill. Once again, the Jets have to “start over,” an idea that deserves unwanted medicine. Unfortunately for bad teams, starting over happens frequently when the start is executed poorly.

The Jets’ last 10 drafts (since the Mike Tannenbaum-Eric Mangini duo) have firmly put the active general manager behind the eight-ball. It’s led to wild free-agent spending at times and poor salary-cap management (see Le’Veon Bell, C.J. Mosley, Darrelle Revis, etc.).

The time has come to give Douglas full freedom to do what he thinks is right, which would undoubtedly be drafting Lawrence in the one-hole. As a value-driven decision-maker who learned from one of the best, Ozzie Newsome, opening a four-year window under Lawrence’s rookie deal is by far the more legitimate route than throwing crap against the wall in the hope it sticks.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

Assume Darnold is as good as Lawrence. In such a bizzaro world, Lawrence is still the right choice. Salary-cap management is that important, and building a team while the thrower is on that value-driven deal is a tried and tested strategy (see the Seattle Seahawks with Russell Wilson, the Los Angeles Rams with Jared Goff, the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes and the Philadelphia Eagles with Carson Wentz).

It has happened: the New York Jets didn’t get it done under the Darnold rookie deal. Not acknowledging such a fact would only damage the franchise further.

At this very moment, it’s a no-brainer: Trevor Lawrence is the pick at No. 1 and Sam Darnold‘s fifth-year option is an easy thing to decline.

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3 years ago

It really is sad. Unfortunately the bottom line is not the players, not the coaches, not the GM. The unfortunate reality of being a Jet’s fan is having an owner who is clueless. Until that is rectified, this team will be dysfunctional.

At the very minimum, everything should flow through JD. Having the coach at the same level as the GM, both reporting to the owner, simply won’t work. Not with an inept coach and a clueless owner…..and rarely ever does.

verge tibbs
3 years ago

Just so goddamn sad. Pathetic. As long as JD keeps building the team properly then its fine, imo, if we wait another year for a qb. Would be excellent and smart to give JD FULL control but the johnsons arent that