Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence should accept the New York Jets quarterback challenge for a variety of heroic reasons.
Fans of the NFL in the early 1990s remember the Quarterback Challenge. Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Warren Moon and so many others gathered annually at a picturesque place (i.e. the Cayman Islands) to showcase their skills.
Never before had fans experienced so much quarterback talent in one spot. Wildly popular at its height, the video game Quarterback Club (1994) even featured the event.
While the NFL ultimately canceled the Quarterback Challenge in 2007, some teams suffer through their own, much more negative version. One such team is the New York Jets.
The Jets’ quarterback challenge is alive and well. Not since Joe Namath has the organization employed a bonafide great player at the position, something Trevor Lawrence should immediately aim to change.
And that’s where things get interesting. Change, Namath, legend. A Lawrence-driven New York/New Jersey area with the idea of a dominant Jets team is something tough to match.
Many pundits argue Namath’s overrated nature any chance they get. When glancing at the NFL’s all-time quarterback greats, the Beaver Falls, PA native ranks much higher on the all-time QB list than he probably should.
Interestingly, he shouldn’t be overrated due to overall statistical production. Modernizing his stats to compare to today’s game makes it obvious that his 172-220 touchdown-interception ratio isn’t as big of a deal as the critics make it out to be.
Instead, it’s about the name itself. Namath. It was created by the greatest city in the world.
Joe Willie’s name has gone down as one of the most important in not only football history but in pop culture history as well. New York was his playground and the kid often played the field. Granted, 2020 is a much different world than the 1960s, but Namath used his geographical location to help propel him as one of two athletes to break through as the first pop culture athletes (Muhammad Ali).
Namath’s guarantee is, of course, the other (and probably much greater) reason for his unbelievable name value.
Guaranteeing the first Super Bowl victory for the AFL while facing such tremendous odds is more than enough to shake pro football’s foundation, but to also follow through on that promise and do it while playing for a New York team made it a worldwide affair.
Everything’s just bigger in New York (in spite of technology’s role in disseminating information so rapidly). A fearless Lawrence would help conjure up those fearless Namath days in a way that tends to overrate name-value—no matter how good the player might be or may have been.
Does it even have a chance of happening? Some have their doubts.
The chance that a Lawrence-to-New York marriage happens is all the rage at the moment. Earlier this week, Lawrence spoke to the media and discussed his future in a way that had everybody talking about the woeful Jets.
“Obviously, I have the option to do either one,” Lawrence told reporters. “Kind of my mindset has been that I am going to move on. But who knows? There’s a lot of things that could happen.”
Naturally, everybody lost their minds. Also naturally, there’s really nothing to see here.
How often does a collegiate player tell the world his mindset has been that he’s going to move on? And how often does that happen while he’s still playing in-season? It’s an incredible statement often overlooked by the pundits who want to encourage the kid to avoid the Jets or promote the idea that he’s ready to stay at Clemson for his senior season.
Hey, maybe he’s just a kid who hates the idea of tanking. Perhaps he loves the NFL and doesn’t want to see any of these teams purposefully losing for his services. Either way, the story surrounding Lawrence intentionally avoiding the Jets in the 2021 NFL draft is entirely blown out of proportion.
Rarely does a player put on a pre-draft power-play. In the rare event it has happened (John Elway, Eli Manning), the NFL draft was a much different thing. Since the Sam Bradford draft class a decade ago, the rookie wage scale has helped eliminate some of the circus-like moves operating behind the scenes.
Players enjoyed negotiating with their drafted teams because it often meant much more money than some of the veteran stars already playing. Back in the old days, teams would intentionally pass on players because they already knew a negotiation would be next to impossible (thanks to pre-draft information flowing so slickly in the background).
The rookie wage scale has brought sanity into the fold. If anybody wants to play games, they risk dropping in the draft order which would mean an automatic pay cut. In Lawrence’s case, that’s tough to imagine. If he publicly denounced the Jets, he wouldn’t drop out of the one-hole; instead, the Jets would trade out of the pick to a team that suffices.
It all boils down to a much more critical factor than what’s simply in the ether. What’s important to smart quarterbacks is not which organization they may be headed to, but rather who’s running the organization.
For Archie Manning, it was never about the San Diego Chargers. While we’ll never truly know, as Archie denies involvement and Eli has never revealed the reason, it’s theorized that the Manning camp didn’t like who was in charge at the time.
A.J. Smith was entering his second season as Chargers general manager. A relatively unknown scout-turned-GM, Smith believes the perception of him and his current head coach at the time had a lot to do with the Manning decision.
“They wanted no part of San Diego, because of me — I was a scout that was a novice GM and ‘he doesn’t know what he’s doing right now; he just got there,'” Smith said in 2019 via SB Nation. “Head coach [Marty] Schottenheimer was there and Tom Condon was his agent and my sources told me that he knew [Schottenheimer] wasn’t long for the place.”
Tom Condon, Manning’s agent at the time, was the powerhouse NFL agent during that era and had no problem playing behind-the-scenes games. Marty Schottenheimer was barely hanging on as head coach at the time and never enjoyed the greatest track-record with quarterbacks.
“[Condon] certainly didn’t like how [Schottenheimer] handled quarterbacks,” Smith said. “He certainly didn’t like the way he handled Drew Brees. He certainly didn’t like that [Schottenheimer] benched him, and he just had a long list. LaDainian Tomlinson was there — a bona fide star that was growing leaps and bounds in San Diego and the NFL — so Tom thought, ‘I’m not going to place someone there.’”
Adam Gase certainly doesn’t have a stellar quarterback track-record himself, but will he still be around by the time the draft arrives? On top of that, while Joe Douglas is in a similar position as Smith was then (second-year GM), he’s widely-respected around the league and his eye for personnel is starting to become apparent—even as general manager.
A lot will hinge on who Lawrence chooses as his agent, but a new coach and a respected general manager highlight the positives that contrast with the often misguided perception that there’s nobody worse than the Jets.
It comes down to the people running the organization, not the organization itself. As long as Lawrence can see past perceptions that exist in the NFL’s ether—one that has legitimate legs yet is incredibly overblown—he doesn’t fight a Jets selection at No. 1. Besides, which organization in the running is more deserving? The Atlanta Falcons? The Jacksonville Jaguars? Eli’s New York Giants? There is no Bill Walsh at the top of this draft.
Elway had to battle his draft-day decision for a long time. He was forced to wait for Terrell Davis to swoop down and save his Super Bowl dreams. The pressure on Eli from day one was ramped up thanks to his pre-draft power-play, and while it worked out for him and the Giants, the organization the Mannings so desperately wanted in 2004 now resides near the bottom of the NFL on a year in, year out basis.
The New York media sure does make it difficult at times. Attempting to turn around a franchise that hasn’t won a chip since 1968 adds pressure. But openly accepting the New York Jets quarterback challenge—one that has haunted a franchise for five decades—provides the kid a clear shot of immortality while simultaneously alleviating pressure thanks to a fearless decision.
Trevor Lawrence can be great anywhere. In New York, he has the shot to become a guy whose name value blows past the competition decades after he hangs his cleats up for a final time.
Just ask Eli Manning about the big city and his (slightly) overrated legacy for having fearlessly chosen it. (Just don’t ask him about how well his power-play turned out.)
That’s just what New York does for a player. You’ll either fall harder or rise forever. There is no in-between, and if Trevor Lawrence is the real deal, he’s already giddy at the prospect of taking on the New York Jets QB challenge and turning around the franchise.