NEW YORK — Happiness means packing up your belongings, cleaning out your locker and getting as far away from this Black Hole as possible. Growth means learning from a capable teacher in a stable environment. Evolution requires competence.
The Jets have failed Sam Darnold in unimaginable ways, sending their young quarterback to weekly duels with a Super Soaker. They have tried their damnedest to ruin such a special talent without even realizing it.
Darnold doesn’t need to prove anything to the NFL’s tin-standard franchise in the final nine games. He should keep his fingers crossed that he gets traded this offseason to a place where up isn’t down, black isn’t white and Bizarro Superman isn’t the superhero of record.
It’s Darnold’s best chance to become the difference maker that he would already be if not for the dysfunction around him.
“The Jets are crazy if they let Darnold go,” one NFL head coach with a stud quarterback told me Monday.
The real shame is that the people running the show on 1 Jets Drive have unwittingly made everything so much worse for the 23-year-old quarterback.
There aren’t enough fingers to point out the culprits. It takes a village to mess things up this badly. The usual suspects played a big role though.
A) The lame-duck snake oil salesman who landed the mentorship gig and another monster payday.
B) The fella temporarily in charge while his big brother serves at the pleasure of the President.
C) The new guy — who’s not so new anymore — who stockpiled the roster with a bunch of stiffs this offseason.
Darnold was never set up to succeed like the litany of young signal callers across the league thanks to institutional negligence. So, he found himself fighting an unwinnable fight, playing with the Washington Generals in games with seemingly pre-determined outcomes.
The Jets have become a punchline in league circles, lampooned for their weekly failings. They’re not the only winless team in the NFL by accident.
Hiring Adam Gase set in motion a string of blunders that will be talked about for generations. Rather than surround Darnold with as much help as possible, Gase’s first order of business was to insulate the quarterback from voices that might actually aid in his development.
So, the head coach brought along his old pal and refused to hire an experienced quarterbacks coach to improve Darnold’s mechanics. Gase wanted his voice — and only his voice — in Darnold’s ear rather than risk his star pupil being influenced by another — and almost certainly smarter — teacher.
Joe Douglas compounded the problem by infusing the roster with sub-standard players after cutting the cord with players who could actually help the Jets win.
Put aside the Ryan Kalil and Jamal Adams debacles. Douglas whiffed in his efforts to improve the offense this offseason. He let Robby Anderson, who is second in the NFL in receiving yards, walk in free agency. He cut perennial Pro Bowler Le’Veon Bell because Gase had no clue how to properly use one of the best offensive weapons in the past decade.
Douglas also made life harder for Darnold by building one of the worst offensive lines in the sport. Four of the five Jets starting offensive linemen rank in the top 15 in pressures allowed and top 18 in hurries allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
Right tackle George Fant is tied for eighth among tackles in quarterback hits allowed, ninth in pressures allowed and 12th in hurries despite missing one game.
Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten are tied for fourth among guards with 17 pressures allowed. Only one center has given up more pressures than Connor McGovern, who has allowed the most hurries and hits at his position, per PFF.
To compound the problem, Douglas didn’t even create quality depth up front. Top reserve interior lineman Josh Andrews has allowed 10 pressures, seven hurries and two sacks in just 70 pass-blocking snaps. And the Jets thought so little of reserve tackle Conor McDermott that they bypassed him to throw Mekhi Becton back into the fire four days after getting hurt.
The offensive line disaster is a clear indictment on the general manager. Darnold was sacked six times and hit 10 times in Sunday’s loss to the Bills.
“It was collapsing quick on him,” Gase said Monday of the terrible pass protection against Buffalo. “He was trying to get the ball out. He didn’t have much opportunity. The few times that he did, it was a tight window… But it was really tough. There were a lot of bodies coming at him. There were some free guys. There was some leakage. Things weren’t that clean. He did not have a lot of time to figure out where to throw the ball.”
Although good coaches can scheme ways to mask offensive line deficiencies, Gase isn’t a good coach and the line has way too many holes to cover up. Darnold suffers, but hey, at least Douglas promised the quarterback’s parents that he would make sure their son would be protected.
It’s sad to witness what has happened to Darnold, who looks nothing like the player trending to the sun in the final month of his rookie season.
Has Darnold regressed in his third season?
“It depends (on) what you’re looking at,” Gase said Monday.
Although Gase insisted he sees things that Darnold does better in practice than last year, every objective observer knows the quarterback has taken a step back.
Darnold is too classy to do what his head coach and others in the organization have done behind the scenes to explain his struggles. But he’s also not about to drown in this sea of ineptitude.
So, he provided a window into his thoughts last month with an unsolicited mention of Gase when asked directly what gave him confidence he could still be the franchise quarterback despite the early-season struggles.
“At the end of the day people judge me and the head coach on wins and losses,” Darnold said on Sept. 24. “Those are the only things that matter to me. So, anything else, it just doesn’t matter.”
Darnold is 11-20 as a starter. Gase is 30-42 as a head coach, including 7-16 as the HC of the NYJ.
Time might be running out here, but Darnold will succeed elsewhere. If the 0-7 Jets wind up with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, everyone will be happy. Gang Green will get Clemson star Trevor Lawrence.
And Darnold will be lucky enough to escape this broken place.
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