Once upon a time, and not that long ago, the phone would ring in the office of Jets general manager Joe Douglas, and a GM from another team might initiate a conversation that would go something like this:
“Hey Joe, congrats on the new gig. … Uh, wondering if Sam Darnold might be available (nervous laugh).”
Fast forward to now:
“Hey Joe, we’re in the QB market, can we talk about Sam?”
“Sure can! We have no untouchables on our team, not after a 2-14 season. We still love Sam, make no mistake about that, but go ahead, make me your best offer, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Sam Darnold, the would-be savior of the Jets three short drafts ago, is twisting in the wind these days, resigned and reduced to waiting on Douglas to make his franchise-altering decision on the quarterback decision.
Douglas on Wednesday: “I will answer the call if it’s made.”
It means Darnold is in a different boat than three of his 2018 quarterback classmates. The Bills will not answer the call if it’s made on Josh Allen. The Browns will not answer the call if it’s made on Baker Mayfield. The Ravens will not answer the call if it’s made on Lamar Jackson. Darnold is in the boat with Josh Rosen.
“Our stance on Sam hasn’t changed,” Douglas said.
Nice try, Joe.
Yes, it has.
“He’s an extremely talented player, he’s very smart, very tough. … We have no doubt that Sam is gonna achieve his outstanding potential,” Douglas said on Wednesday.
That is GM-speak, of course, designed to inflate his asset’s value for would-be suitors. Because (wink, wink) that outstanding potential can be achieved in a different uniform.
“Obviously we’re in the process of gaining as much information as we can leading up through free agency and the draft, but our stance on Sam has not changed,” Douglas said.
Again, GM-speak designed to keep the poor kid hopeful he can resuscitate his career with the franchise that drafted him.
The NFL can be such a cruel business. It was just 11 months ago, prior to the 2020 draft, when Douglas said:
“When I first met Sam’s parents in the first preseason game [August 2019], I promised them I was going to do everything in my power to take care of Sam with protection and playmakers.”
Alas, even with left tackle Mekhi Becton, Sam required more protection, and even with injury-ravaged wide receivers Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman, he needed more playmakers (and less Adam Gase), and here he is now:
Wondering whether Douglas will use the second-overall pick on BYU’s Zach Wilson, or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and reset the quarterback financial clock, and trade Darnold.
Wondering whether Douglas will enter the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes should the Texans cave and entertain his trade desires, and trade him.
Wondering whether Douglas will trade out of the second pick and build around him with his two first-rounders this year and six of the top 98 picks … not to mention a pair of first-rounders in 2022.
For Darnold, it must feel like a nerve-racking game of musical quarterbacks knowing only that he won’t be left without a chair, but maybe not the chair he prefers.
It seems a lifetime ago that former GM Mike Maccagnan and his staff took Darnold out to dinner in Morristown a week before the 2018 draft and left deflated because they were convinced the Browns would use the first-overall pick on him.
It seems a lifetime ago when then-coach Todd Bowles named Darnold the opening-night starter in Detroit and euphoric Jets fans began their “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!” chant behind the Lions’ bench after the kid shook off a pick-six on his first NFL pass and engineered a 48-17 victory. And then hugged his proud parents outside the visiting locker room.
Finally, the long-lost answer to Broadway Joe Namath.
Sam The Man.
Mononucleosis wasn’t going to stop him.
Gase was going to be his quarterback whisperer.
No one imagined he would be seeing ghosts on national television against Bill Belichick.
No one imagined he would regress in his third season (nine touchdowns, 11 interceptions, head-scratching decision-making) and see his career TD-INT ratio fall to 45-39, and his win-loss record to fall to 13-25.
Nothing gives a fan base more hope than a young franchise quarterback.
Sam Darnold was the Golden Boy.
He has no idea whether he still is.
Wilson’s Pro Day is March 26. Fields’ Pro Day is March 30. The Jets will be at both in force.
Douglas’ phone will be ringing. The GM will be answering the call.
As well he should.
If Douglas has the same conviction on Wilson or Fields that Maccagnan had on Darnold, he should draft him.
Watson will cost a boatload, but is worth it, and Douglas has plenty of draft capital, and $80 million in cap room.
March Madness for Sam Darnold. And maybe beyond.