For the New York Jets and new head coach Robert Saleh, let the speculation games begin.
If being the man tasked to turn around one of the most dysfunctional franchises in professional sports isn’t hard enough, Saleh, his assumed offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, and general manager Joe Douglas also have the future of Sam Darnold and the Jets quarterback position directly in their hands.
The 23-year-old drafted third overall in 2018 regressed mightily in his third professional season, the second and final under head coach Adam Gase. He was 2-10 in 2020 as a starter, sporting a 59.6% completion percentage with 2,208 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
Now with the No. 2 pick in hand, the option exists that the Jets could take a quarterback like Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson after the Jacksonville Jaguars nab Clemson standout Trevor Lawrence at No. 1. Just three weeks ago, this seemed more likely to be the case.
But ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported on Sunday that both Saleh and LaFleur have “watched a lot of tape” on Darnold and believe he has “untapped potential.”
Of course, that opens the door for the possibility of Darnold returning and working closely with LaFleur, who spent the last four seasons working on the same staff as Saleh in San Francisco.
Working with a competent offensive mind compared to an ill-proclaimed “guru” like Gase could revitalize Darnold’s career and get him back on track as the Jets’ franchise quarterback.
The Jets could then use that No. 2 pick to address another area of need — such as Alabama wide receiver and Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith — or they could trade the pick to build an arsenal of draft capital.
The other motive behind such comments, however, is that Saleh and the Jets are attempting to rebuild Darnold’s value on the trade market.
Dealing him wouldn’t provide the same kind of war chest as swapping the No. 2 pick, but it clears a path for the next supposed franchise quarterback to step in seamlessly.