Are you a fan who remains curious about Sam Darnold‘s New York Jets future? Don’t be. Nobody knows, and that’s how Joe Douglas likes it.
OK. Robert Saleh has arrived. He’s here. It’s time to move on to the good stuff that’ll distract you at work while you play out thousands of mock drafts.
When the boss heads your way, change the browser window before he gets to your cubicle. If your employer can see your laptop activity, break out that second machine while you lazily pretend everything coming across the Zoom meeting is sinking in.
It’s now NFL draft season. The possibilities are limitless. It’s why anybody believing he or she knows what the New York Jets will do with Sam Darnold is simply entrenched in the game that publishers hope never ends.
It started with ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) January 15, 2021
“I think the plan would be to proceed with Sam Darnold as the quarterback for the New York Jets in 2021,” Schefter said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “I think that Joe Douglas and this staff believe in him — Robert Saleh believes in him, and I think they’d like to give Sam Darnold an opportunity for a full season — when he’s healthy, with a new staff to see what he can do.
“I would be surprised if Sam Darnold were not the starting quarterback on opening day.”
Those who took that Schefter segment and ran with it to the point that it’s “likely” Darnold returns as the starting quarterback just haven’t been paying attention to the way Joe Douglas conducts his football business.
It’s Jan. 16, 2021. Three and a half months remain before the start of the 2021 NFL draft (Apr. 29). That’s nearly one-third of an entire calendar year, and we’re supposed to believe the Jets, who have just brought on the new head coach with plenty of coaching holes to still fill, have already made up their mind on the quarterback?
I don’t think so.
Sure, Douglas can be leaning a particular way. And sure, there are plenty of reasons to bring Darnold back while passing on a quarterback at No. 2. But to think the plan is concrete at this stage of the game is to have been in hibernation over the last two years.
Douglas won’t tip his hand. Period.
From day No. 1, one of Douglas’s objectives was to drastically decrease the number of leaks coming from 1 Jets Drive. The leaks were plentiful with Mike Maccagnan and Brian Heimerdinger leading the way. In all fairness to that duo, it wasn’t a new thing. Operating out of the top media market in the world presents certain challenges.
Douglas has done a lot to eliminate those leaks. Not only that, but the man has thrown away emotion when operating the Jets football business. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his players and coaches; rather, when speaking publicly and working under the salary cap, football decisions in today’s game cannot be influenced by emotional ties. That’s especially true when speaking publicly.
Upon taking over for Maccagnan in early June 2019, Douglas spoke on the futures of some prized free agents that were recently signed, particularly Le’Veon Bell. Despite the firm idea that Douglas never would have signed such a luxury (NFL running back) with the offensive line still in shambles, his words were vocalized clearly.
“We’re excited about Le’Veon,” Douglas said. “Le’Veon’s been a great teammate. I can’t tell you how great he’s been. I had a great conversation with him at the end of the season exit meeting. I know he’s been working hard down in Miami [training]. I know he’s excited to get back. And we’re excited to have him.”
That doesn’t mean he would have signed Bell. At this point, he’s simply playing the required game all worthwhile general managers must play.
Jamal Adams was next. Throughout the entire Adams saga, Douglas never once tipped his hand. While it was clear the Ozzie Newsome protege had no intention of signing the strong safety before the correct timing presented itself, the status quo held strong. He publicly expected Adams to be a Jet for life.
Douglas maintained that he’d get together with the Adams camp to discuss possibilities following the 2020 NFL draft process. He even didn’t shy away from making it known that he’d listen to all calls for the kid’s services.
“I’ve made it known that the plan would be for Jamal to be here long term,” Douglas said during a pre-draft conference call in 2020. “I’ve also made it known that I have to do what’s in the best interest of this team. If other teams call and talk about players, I’ll listen. Going into this draft, my intent isn’t to move any players. But if a team calls, we’re going to have conversations.
“I don’t view it as hedging. I view it as doing my job.”
How could any general manager say one thing about a star player’s future yet not fully commit financially? It’s an idea some on the Jets beat weren’t used to, yet it’s also something that wins in today’s NFL.
Keeping options open as long as possible is the name of this game. The hard salary cap is a monster in the way it limits a team’s future. Never can an organization feel comfortable for more than a few years from a specific date. It’s a tool that deals with parameters much more than it does actual money, and it’s one that helps parity thrive in the league.
Emotion has no place in such an unforgiving setup. It’s why the emotionless, calculated and business-as-usual approach is the only way from a front office perspective. The moment a Rex Ryan-type is handed personnel control is the instant things go up in smoke.
Through patience, Douglas snagged a king’s ransom from the Seattle Seahawks after Adams torched the organization. Through patience, nobody makes a huge deal over the idea Douglas told the world Adam Gase is part of the Jets solution at this mid-season state of the union.
Joe Douglas on if the Jets can get to where they want to be with Adam Gase as head coach:
"The hope is that we can fix these problems together and be here together for a while"
Does Douglas think Gase is part of the solution?
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) November 3, 2020
As disingenuous as his words might be in real-time, it’s the only way. What’s a general manager to do when he knows the head coach is a goner after the season? A GM who throws his current head coach under the bus in-season is a guy who clearly allows emotions to overtake objective thinking that keeps the franchise on the right path.
As it relates to Darnold, the same pattern exists. Douglas spoke highly of the kid upon accepting the job. He even promised Darnold’s parents that he’d protect him. If you asked Douglas what he thought about the kid today, the general manager wouldn’t blink: Of course he loves Darnold as a football player.
That’s the public genius of a great NFL general manager. What does Douglas care if reports are taken so seriously that other teams start to buy into the narrative? It can only be viewed as a positive, a way to move the consensus in a certain direction. A general manager’s own misinformation just helps the overall misinformation that allows the number of options to increase.
Nothing about Darnold’s play over the first three seasons—and especially this past season—suggests he can be the man. The Jets GM offered up his most important words on day No. 1: “It starts with the quarterback and both lines.” Douglas understands how critical the position is. Moreover, he understands how the position fits in with today’s rigorous salary cap.
If he sticks with Darnold, 2021 would be year No. 4. A fifth-year club option would pay Darnold massive money in 2022, and that decision will need to be made around draft time. Zach Wilson or Justin Fields at No. 2 would mean the rookie quarterback window starts over. Either of the two would make $7-9 million each of the next four seasons and the rest of the roster has more money at its disposal over the next four years.
In that vein, it’s a no-contest: go grab the rookie quarterback.
There are, of course, plenty of reasons to back Darnold as the guy in 2021. The Jets could let the fifth-year option go buy and enter the season with Darnold on his final year at manageable money. Perhaps Douglas can’t pass up Oregon’s Penei Sewell at No. 2. Maybe he trades down to collect more draft capital.
Either way, it’s tough to believe any one concrete plan exists in Florham Park, NJ at this very moment.
There’s no question Douglas is probably leaning one particular way. You’ll never know it, especially on this early date. Too much can happen over three and a half months.
Does Schefter actually believe Douglas has already chosen Darnold without having gone through the draft process. Does anybody believe that’s true without an offensive coordinator officially in place and much of the staff still up for grabs? I mean, come on now; meeting with Wilson and Fields is sort of a big deal in the upcoming process. Getting to know what’s in between the ears and how each kid is built sort of means the world when evaluating talent and deciding on such an important issue.
Remaining flexible, emotionless and calculated is the name of this NFL general manager game. If you think Joe Douglas and the New York Jets have already made up their mind in mid-January, you just haven’t been paying attention.