It’s free agency season and the NY Jets have found themselves to be one of the busier teams in the league at trying to scoop up as many quality players as they can.
It wasn’t the fastest of starts to free agency, but even though there has been much left to be desired by Joe Douglas and the Jets front office so far in free agency, the subtle pickups they have made will hopefully pan out for them in the long run.
Carl Lawson, for example, is a name not many people know as a pass rusher in this league as he’s been with Cincinnati the past four seasons and has naturally played second fiddle to Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Sam Hubbard — more like fourth fiddle.
But the addition Lawson is quietly going to wind up being one of the smoother moves made by any team this offseason and the Jets should be proud of themselves for making such a sly move.
A guy nobody was really looking at who can bring legitimate production to a 4-3 base defense, and it was the lowly Jets who grabbed him? Impressive. Lawson will be a key upgrade over Jordan Jenkins.
But that’s the high side of free agency for the Jets. I’m sure many Jets fans out there might not be as stoked about what this team has done over the first couple of weeks of free agency and underneath it all lies a pretty serious problem.
We can talk about the subtle yet brilliant pickups like Lawson or even a Jarrad Davis who’s a very athletic linebacker and was cast aside by the Lions. He still has a lot of game left in him.
But notice two key themes of free agency so far for the Jets. The first is guys just don’t seem to want to sign with this team. Keanu Neal had a shot and he chose Dallas.
William Jackson III chose Washington and they don’t even have a team name. Jayon Brown went back to Tennessee. Kenny Golladay chose the team from across the hall in the Giants.
Why aren’t guys chomping at the bit to sign with the Jets? With a brand new head coach in Robert Saleh and a “nothing to lose” mentality heading into 2021, these are the kinds of teams guys love to jump on in free agency so they can start anew and turn a franchise around.
The reason leads me into the second theme of Jets free agency which is purely centered around Sam Darnold — either his capacity to turn things around, or his inability to get going.
The NY Jets need Sam Darnold more than they think
Corey Davis said he signed on with the Jets with the forethought that Darnold was going to be the quarterback moving forward.
That is a guy who was just playing in Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill who has completely turned his career around since coming to the Titans. Tannehill was playing some pretty good football- MVP caliber football some would say — but a guy like Davis chose Darnold over him.
Or at least, that’s what Davis said. Darnold still has a lot of life left in him according to some portion of players in this league.
But the flip side to it is that other players see how much Darnold has regressed since 2019 and how he has yet to settle himself into the franchise QB role he was drafted to possess.
JuJu Smith-Schuster played with him at USC and they had spectacular moments, yet when it came time, he chose to go back to Pittsburgh and an aging Ben Roethlisberger and fraudulent Steelers team.
Here’s what I think. Sam Darnold is the draw. For better or for worse.
If you keep him as your starter and he improves, guys will be banging down the door to come play for the Jets in record time.
If you keep him and he doesn’t improve, or better yet, you reset the clock and start over with Zach Wilson or some other rookie quarterback, it could be more of the same for this franchise — losing out on marquee names to teams they’d rather go play for than you.
What draws players to come play for your team is hope above all else. Hope to compete and hope to win a championship.
What drew guys like Corey Davis to the Jets was the opportunity to play with Sam Darnold because he feels Darnold can turn it around.
Other guys look at this Jets team and see a talent like Darnold failing to thrive in the system. Either way, the common factor is Sam Darnold.
That is why the Jets need Darnold in order to attract better free agents. Darnold has the star power that a Zach Wilson simply might not have. Darnold can go 7-6 with a terrible offensive line, his receivers on the IR, and battling mononucleosis.
Wilson, at least until he proves otherwise, seems as though he needs things a certain way to succeed. He needs his BYU Cougars, no expectations, and a favorable BYU-style schedule. Darnold won games with Adam Gase.
I’ll fight the losing battle and I won’t apologize for it. Darnold can still play.
The likely move is to take Wilson at No. 2, but even to this day, it still feels to me like this is Sam Darnold’s team and it should be going forward. If it were Trevor Lawrence, maybe we’d be talking a different story, but it’s not.
Guys either want to play with Darnold or are terrified to join up because they see what this franchise has done to him. If the Jets want to turn this ship around and do it fast, they still need Darnold. And they need him to turn up the heat.
The best way for this team to get itself back into relevancy as quickly as possible is to commit to Darnold and make sure he has everything he needs to be the best quarterback he can be.
Once he does that, watch the free agents line up to sign with the Jets.