Sam Darnold deserved better.
We all did.
I was inside MetLife Stadium when he was drafted. The Jets were about to secure their long-coveted franchise quarterback and I needed to be there the moment it happened.
I watched the screen in the corner of the end zone, with my dad, as Sam put that crisp draft day Jets hat on for the first time. We finally had “our guy!” He was instantly the most promising quarterback prospect the team had selected since Joe Namath. I was giddy just thinking about all the possibilities…and…this was only the beginning!
That night, Sam gave me something I rarely have as a Jets fan.
That night, Sam gave me hope.
Unfortunately, the Jets never gave Sam any in return.
On Monday, the New York Jets traded Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, without ever giving him the proper tools to Take Flight.
They failed Darnold in every way imaginable.
Long before any pandemic, Jets personnel should have been wearing masks while they robbed Sam of his opportunity in New York.
The organization had a responsibility to give their young quarterback everything he needed to win while still on his rookie contract. Instead, they gave him nothing. They surrounded him with a shoddy supporting cast and never built an offensive line to protect their most valuable asset. They never even thought to hire an accomplished coordinator or QB coach to cultivate his unique talents and help him reach his potential.
Their most damning decision was to hire an historically incompetent head coach to be Sam’s “Quarterback Whisperer.” Adam Gase was never the right coach to entrust the most critical years of Darnold’s development to. He could never “coach football to where it was going.” He was a football charlatan with a toxic personality and an archaic offensive scheme.
Everyone knew it from the day he was hired. Everyone saw it. Players, media, fans, opponents…everyone knew. That is, everyone except the one man on the planet who had the authority to make this decision: acting owner, Christopher Johnson.
At times, it felt as if Johnson sat around and purposely hatched a plan to systematically stunt Sam’s growth.
To be fair, Darnold didn’t do anything to help himself out. His completion percentage was always too low and his interception totals were always too high. On the field, he made plenty of bad decisions. It’s just that his team’s decisions were always far worse.
The way the Jets failed to support their young QB was nothing short of football malpractice. No QB in the league could have succeeded in the cesspool Darnold was stuck in.
Other teams like the Bills, Browns and Ravens invested heavily in the pieces around their young stud QBs. As a result, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson are all thriving members of the same QB class of 2018. The Jets were negligent with Darnold from day one, and watched his window of opportunity close without ever getting a proper chance to see what kind of player he could be.
Through it all, the classy Darnold never pointed fingers. He blindly defended Gase and always supported the organization’s position. He consistently took the high road, even when he should have put his car in reverse. He never made excuses, but he had plenty of them.
There was his nagging sprained foot in 2018, his Mono diagnosis in 2019 and busted shoulder early in 2020. There’s no telling how any of these setbacks impacted his play because, well, he would never be caught telling anyone about them. A true leader, Darnold shouldered all the blame instead.
Monday’s trade ends months of speculation. Still only 23 years-old, and now fully healthy, Sam escapes New York and gets to work with a roster more talented than anything he ever had with the Jets. He’ll finally get his shot to work with elite offensive weapons like Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore and old buddy Robby Anderson. He’ll have Head Coach Matt Rhule on his sideline and a true offensive guru, Joe Brady, in his ear.
Meanwhile, the Jets are certain to use the #2 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft to take Sam’s successor – likely Zach Wilson of BYU.
Wilson is young, gifted and exciting. He is incredibly accurate and has all-world arm talent. He is also a perfect fit for the new west coast offensive Matt Lafleur will run under Head Coach, Robert Saleh.
Should Wilson be the pick, his arrival would give me something I rarely have as a Jets fan.
Zach would give me hope.
For his sake, the Jets must handle the critical early years of his development much differently than they did Darnold’s.
After all, Wilson deserves better.
We all do.Follow @ByJasonKlein