FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Some NFL teams start training camp with an established new coach, a 37-year-old probable future Hall of Fame quarterback, a superstar receiver and a plug-in ready rookie running back with charisma of his own.
Other teams are the Jets, who showed up for work here on Thursday with nothing like any of the above. But that’s OK. It’s more than OK, actually. It’s a blessing.
The Giants are coming off a 3-13 season and must win now, or else — No. 1 on the or-else list being second-guessing of their decision to take Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft rather than Eli Manning’s potential successor.
The Jets are coming off a 5-11 season, and if they reach .500 and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold looks like the long-term solution at the position, their fans will take it.
The point here is not that mediocrity is OK as a goal, but rather that the Jets’ evolving young core — headlined by the new quarterback — buys them time to set a path that might pay off at the turn of a new decade.
This season? Signs of improvement will be enough after a year in which they were in contention most weeks and yet lost seven of their last nine games.
The Jets brought out six men to speak to journalists on reporting day — none of whom was coach Todd Bowles or a quarterback — and the buzzword was “excited.”
(Wait until Mr. Positivity himself, incumbent starting quarterback Josh McCown, weighs in on Friday!)
“I feel like we’re very, very, very, very close,” defensive tackle Steve McLendon said. “Now the only thing we have to do is go out there and show up and do it on Sunday.”
Given chances to talk playoffs, everyone was careful not to take the bait and make any guarantees. But they did promise to do a better job finishing games than in 2017, and vowed a fresh start and positive locker room chemistry.
“The time is now,” McLendon said. “Everybody has a clean slate. This is a new year. I know mentally, for myself — tomorrow, yesterday — everything is about right now.”
Well, yes and no. McLendon’s philosophy is a good one for life in general, and for a 32-year-old defensive lineman in particular, but not so much for the Jets’ bigger picture. Everything is about a year or two from now.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as this thing goes as planned and McCown, the world’s highest-paid unofficial assistant coach, and/or Teddy Bridgewater effectively bridge the gap to Darnold.
The short-term fun will be watching Bowles — now the dean of New York-area pro team coaches — navigate a summer, and probably autumn, full of quarterback questions.
Darnold had not signed a contract as of Thursday morning, but his new teammates gave him positive early reviews based on their interactions in the spring.
New center Spencer Long said, “Sam got a lot better. Obviously, he was a wide-eyed rookie when he came in, but that’s how it should be . . . You can just tell he cares and wants to get better every day.”
That’s good to hear. The trick is to string dozens of those days, months and years together. In the meantime . . . patience.
“If we take an ‘L’ we can’t harp on it; we just have to keep moving forward,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “If we take a win, we can’t get too high.”
The Giants are surfing a big wave, with little apparent middle ground between glory and a wipeout.
The Jets are in the kiddie pool. For now, that doesn’t sound so bad. The time for making a splash will come.