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The New York Jets’ greatest strength lies in their quarterback mystery

Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ greatest strength this offseason lies in their quarterback mystery, something that deserves a tip of the cap. 

Just imagine the water cooler exchanges in a world that still featured office water coolers—not to mention a world that still featured people commuting to work.

Herman from accounting believes Sam Darnold is king. There’s no world that features his beloved New York Jets moving on from the third-overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft. Adam Gase‘s tenure is more than enough to know the USC product will turn his career around in 2021.

Besides, ESPN’s Kyle Orlovsky told him. It’s Orlovsky’s relentless Darnold material that keeps the pro-Darnold hope alive. Throw Jets fans such as Rich Eisen and Mike Greenberg into the mix as well, for both men remain conflicted on Darnold’s future.

Jenny from the human resources department spits out her water. She’s appalled. How Herman could even think a kid who struggled so mightily over his first three seasons should return is beyond her comprehension.

She already knows what the Jets are going to do this offseason. Zach Wilson is in her future. After all, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has been steadfast in his belief that the Jets will snag Wilson No. 2.

Butch from the mailroom shouts out Deshaun Watson, while the CEO of the company, Nancy, is holding out hope for a Russell Wilson shocker. In essence, this water cooler has turned into a battle zone for Jets opinion.

Confusion not only from a fan standpoint but from a media perspective is the point. It’s … good. It’s exactly what Joe Douglas wants. It serves as a strength in the team’s quest to improve the roster this offseason.

The mystery surrounding the Jets’ quarterback situation can only be described as … non-Jet-like?

In a previous Jets episode, 1 Jets Drive resembled a busted pipe. Leaks would occur left, right and sideways. Are Mike Maccagnan and Gase not getting along? Backpage news. Is Le’Veon Bell unhappy with his current situation? Of course he is—no matter where the truth lies.

Rewind the clock two years. Everybody knew Maccagnan was in on Kirk Cousins. Not only was it a disaster of a decision to target the pricey veteran quarterback, but the overwhelming word-on-the-street about the topic was apparent. Not even the Jets’ $90 million could convince Cousins to reject the Vikings’ $84 million.

Everybody knew the Jets were in on Bell two offseasons ago. The wave of fan momentum that surrounded the possibility felt as though only one result was inevitable: hurt the team’s salary-cap situation for a high-priced veteran running back when the offensive line was not yet ready for primetime.

The leaks that flooded Florham Park and Morristown, NJ since Rex Ryan’s arrival can only be described as legendary. Although the current regime entered post-2019 NFL draft, it immediately got to work. Slowly but surely, the Douglas regime settled things down to the point that nobody knows what the Jets are thinking.

What a brave new world.

Something new head coach Robert Saleh preaches is “the process.” Football coaches care far less about the results than they do the actual process for how those results are achieved. A beaten cornerback who does everything right is a winning play compared to the lazy cornerback who catches up to a 9-route thanks to a severely underthrown ball.

The process also carries over into the front office and trickles throughout the building.

As we read our news on this day, Thursday, March 11, 2020, just days away from the start of free agency, nobody knows what the Jets plan to do at quarterback. More impressive is the idea that nobody knows what they plan on doing next week in free agency.

Not only does it deserve a tip of the cap, but it’s also a strategy worth recognizing.

A year ago, New York’s public plan was to make Jamal Adams a “Jet for life.” The organization’s public stance never wavered—in spite of a growing sense that something needed to be done.

Long story short: The Jets sent Adams to the Great Northwest for a king’s ransom. The public and league-wide notion that the Jets considered sticking it out with the disgruntled safety allowed more possibilities to materialize. Trade-conversation leverage starts at a much more beneficial level when everybody else doesn’t have a handle on “intent.”

It’s why Jets’ new front-office strategy features words that muddy the “intent waters.” How else does somebody explain Douglas’s recent words on Darnold? How else can Douglas get away with telling the NFL world to call him about Darnold while also stating that their stance on the kid as a player hasn’t changed?

Uncertainty creates opportunity. Opportunity creates greater options in terms of quality and quantity. New York, the team everybody loved to heckle in 2020, missed out on Trevor Lawrence. Yet does anybody even know if the Jets favor Lawrence over Wilson?

The odds are against such a thought process. That is unless you’re Chris Simms and the growing number of pundits who think Wilson is the true No. 1 in the available player pool.

The uncertainty the Jets carry into free agency will need to stretch a bit longer if they plan on maximizing the No. 2 pick’s value. But hey, they’re already ahead of the game.

Darnold, a kid who threw for 2,208 yards and nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions in 12 games this past season has been rumored at a late-first-round/second-round value. First round … for that production? While there’s no doubt today’s quarterback-crazy league has helped that come to fruition most, the Jets’ process has also helped it along.

Remember the Adam Schefter report that kicked off the Jets offseason?

Well, it’s been refuted many times over since—even with a little backpedaling by Schefter himself.

ESPN’s Field Yates has predicted the Jets will trade Darnold to the Chicago Bears.

The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin reported in late February that there’s “growing buzz” the Jets will hold on to the USC product.

MMQB’s Albert Breer snagged the scoop that eight teams have already called the Jets about Darnold’s services. Although Breer didn’t specifically get into the prediction business on this one, the fact that he got the scoop over any of the local guys says something about the organization’s newfound buttoned-up nature.

It’s tougher to stop the national guys from picking up and reporting rumblings. It’s also easier to reach a mass audience when a team wants something to go out (hint, hint, wink, wink).

Nobody knows what the Jets are thinking. As frustrating as it may be for fans and media members, that’s a tremendous thing for the team’s future.

There will soon come a time in which a hand must be played. Whether it happens after Joe Douglas and the talent evaluators get a look at the rookies on their respective pro days or not, it’s coming. Besides, if a Darnold trade is in the cards, it’ll have to be pulled off before his return value starts to decrease (post-free agency serves as the first marker in that category).

If the organization can hold on to this quarterback uncertainty until a final decision is made, it’s increased its chances beautifully.

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