The Jets have an enormous decision to make this offseason — what to do at quarterback. Quarterback is the most important position in football, and what the Jets decide to do in the next couple of months will shape the franchise for the next couple of years at the very minimum.
The Sam Darnold era is probably over, but the keyword there is probably. There’s still a chance No. 14 is starting for the Jets come Week 1. There are a few different directions the Jets can go, some more intriguing than others. Here they are, ordered from worst to best.
Sign a free agent
This one is almost certainly not going to happen, but it’s technically still an option so let’s get it out of the way. With Dak Prescott signing a mega-deal with the Cowboys, there are officially no franchise quarterbacks left on the market. The Jets could sign one of Jameis Winston, Alex Smith or Mitch Trubisky, but none of them would be a long-term solution. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick is technically an option, but let’s be honest, been there, done that.
Signing a free agent to start at quarterback in 2021 should not be on the table for the Jets. It would only postpone the inevitable need to either draft or trade for a franchise quarterback and subsequently set the rebuild back another year.
Trade for Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo is by no means a lock to be on the move, but it’s at least rumored to be possible. The 49ers gave Jimmy-G a massive pay-day back in 2018 and have probably not gotten their money’s worth to this point. San Francisco did make it to the Super Bowl two years ago and Garoppolo overall played well, but really, they made it there on the back of an absolutely dominant defense. That was also the only season he played all 16 games, and it was the only time in his 7-year career he’s played in more than six.
Through his first four seasons, three with New England and the last with San Francisco, it was because he was never the full-time starter. He barely played with the Patriots before being traded to the 49ers during his fourth season, and while he quickly won the starting job, he played only six games, making five starts. In 2018 and 2020 though, it was due to injury. He played just three games in 2018 after suffering a torn ACL and played just six games in 2020 due to an ankle injury. Over the past three seasons, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard have combined for just two fewer regular-season starts than Garoppolo.
Another concern? He’s also been rather underwhelming. While he hasn’t been inherently bad, he has by no means been $26.4 million good, the cap hit he carries for the 2021 season. The Jets would likely send Sam Darnold to San Francisco along with a couple of picks — though likely not a first-rounder and maybe not even a second-rounder. So while the price in assets isn’t very high, he carries the cap hit of a much better player while also only being under contract for two more seasons. After that, the Jets would either have to commit to him or let him walk. If they move on, the Jets would find themselves in the same situation they are in right now. Very much like signing a free agent, Garoppolo isn’t enough of a game-changer to pass up on a much younger and cheaper option who also likely has a higher ceiling.
Stick with Sam Darnold
There is a legitimate argument for not giving up on Darnold yet this season. He’s had a really rough go of it through his first three seasons, and with a new coaching regime coming in there’s hope he can finally live up to his draft pedigree. After all, he’s only going to be 24 years old next season, still plenty young. He’s never had good weapons to work with on offense, rarely had even average protection and for the past two years had a coach who actually was a detriment to his development. He’s still talented, so the Jets could stick with him and then use the No. 2 pick to get him some help.
But there’s also plenty to be concerned about. While Darnold hasn’t had much to work with, he hasn’t shown a lot of signs of being able to rise above his situation aside from a few moments here or there. He’s made some excellent plays, but not nearly enough to outweigh the concerns. Frankly, Joe Flacco played better with the same supporting cast last season.
There are also injury concerns — he hasn’t played a full season yet. His missed time in 2019 was due to catching Mono, which is a freak thing that likely won’t happen again, but in 2018 he missed three games with a foot injury and in 2020 he missed four games with a shoulder injury. This might be able to be chalked up to bad pass protection, but there are plenty of other quarterbacks who also take a lot of hits and don’t miss significant time. If a team wants to compete, they can’t have their starting quarterback consistently missing a quarter of the season.
The biggest reason the Jets should move on though is simply because he has just one year left on his rookie deal. They could pick up his 5th-year option, but then he would be making way too much money at that point to justify doing so. That means after this season, the Jets will either have to give Darnold a new contract and commit to him or let him walk and be left in the same situation they are in right now. The only difference is they very well could not be in a spot in the draft to have their pick of the quarterbacks. They do right now (aside from Trevor Lawrence).
Darnold has potential and very well could still succeed, it’s just in the best interest for the Jets to not take that risk and have the experiment happen elsewhere. Who knows, a change of scenery could be just what Darnold needs as well, a clean slate. The Jets should either restart the clock on a rookie quarterback’s deal or trade for a much better and more established one.
Trade for Russell Wilson
This is a better option but not a very realistic one. The word is the Jets are not one of the teams Wilson would waive his no-trade clause for, so this section is going to be short and sweet. While Wilson would certainly be a major upgrade, he’s also on the wrong side of 30 with a huge contract attached to him. Would he still be great and probably play at a Pro-Bowl level? Sure, that’s why this option ranks where it does. But the question is for how long. Besides, it’s probably not even on the table, so no use spending any more time on it.
Draft Zach Wilson
There are going to be a lot of first-round caliber quarterbacks for the Jets to choose from at No. 2, but Wilson is the best fit. Not only is he the best fit, but he’s probably just the best of the quarterbacks after Lawrence. He’s got a cannon for an arm, but unlike a lot of prospects with big arms, he’s accurate as well. He’s also relatively mobile — he’s no Lamar Jackson — but he’s also by no means a statue. In today’s NFL, that almost has to be a prerequisite.
The main concerns with Wilson are surrounding the level of competition he went up against. He’s a BYU product, which is an independent school, so he has never really gone up against the top echelon of college football programs. Still, it’s hard to ignore 300-plus passing yards per game, 33 passing touchdowns, 10 rushing touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Justin Fields out of Ohio State is the other realistic option at No. 2, and there’s a lot to like about him as well. He’s also got a great arm and is plenty mobile, and he has more of a track record than his BYU counterpart. Wilson was more of a one-year-wonder type of player in college, and while he started nine games in both 2018 and 2019, he never came close to the level of success he had in 2020. For Fields, it’s a bit of the opposite. He was outstanding in 2019, averaging 233 passing yards per game with 41 touchdowns and just three picks. However, his 2020 was a different story, and while his yards per game rose, he threw just 22 touchdowns and six picks through eight games. That’s by no means bad — it’s just not at the same level as his 2019.
Wilson has fewer red flags in his game and more recent success. While you couldn’t necessarily fault the Jets if they go with Fields, Wilson right now looks like the better player. Still, if they end up taking a QB at No. 2, it’s a great step in the right direction. It’s also probably the most realistic path, and the only thing ahead of it on this list can probably be classified as a pipe dream.
Trade for Deshaun Watson
Yup. Watson has made it very clear he wants out of Houston. He has no interest in playing for the Texans anymore, and the Jets have the draft capital to trade for him. Now, it’s going to take A LOT of draft picks, with any deal almost certainly including the No. 2 overall pick, at least two more firsts (maybe three) and a few more Day 2 picks.
Watson is worth it. He’s a top-three quarterback in the NFL and still just 25 years old. He should be just entering his prime, with nowhere to go but up for years to come. He’s a bonafide superstar, a franchise quarterback who is well worth his price-tag and more. He’s someone to build a team around for the next decade. The Jets should have a decent offensive line and solid (still not great, but improved) receiving corps in 2021, and Watson will only elevate the offense. Wilson or Fields would cost less, but they’re still just prospects. Watson is a proven commodity. If the Jets have the chance to get him, they can’t pass it up.