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Jets' quarterback situation offers an interesting dynamic

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold passes the football during

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold passes the football during training camp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on Wednesday, Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Florham Park, N.J. – Yes, Sam Darnold wants to be the Jets’ starting quarterback on opening day. That’s a no-brainer for any athlete who cares enough to compete, especially a No. 3 draft pick who’s considered the potential savior for a franchise that has been searching for a Super Bowl winning passer ever since Joe Namath’s final days in green and white.

So it’s no surprise Darnold answered in the affirmative on Wednesday that he’d love to have the ball in his hands when the Jets open the season Sept. 10 in Detroit.

“The competitor in me, yeah, I want to start,” Darnold said after finishing his second practice since ending a three-day holdout on Monday. “But at the same time, it’s about whatever’s best for the team.”

The day likely will come when Darnold gets his wish and the Jets turn the ball over to the former USC star. You don’t spend this much draft capital and invest this much money in a quarterback, only to have him remain on the bench for a prolonged period. It’s getting from here to there that’s the tricky part.

Darnold begins his NFL career buried on the depth chart behind incumbent starter Josh McCown and No. 2 Teddy Bridgewater, a former first-round pick with the Vikings. And it’s readily apparent that’s where he belongs for now, because McCown and Bridgewater have a much greater command of the offense than a rookie who hasn’t even gotten to his first preseason game. But rest assured the Jets’ coaches will do everything possible to make sure Darnold gets in the lineup at the earliest possible time.

“If coach (Todd) Bowles and (offensive coordinator Jeremy) Bates feels like Josh or Teddy or myself is the best fit for the starting job, then that’s just how we roll,” Darnold said after an uneven practice in which he looked alternately solid, but also occasionally beleaguered. He was 8 of 16 with one interception while getting some time with the first team.

It’s a complicated dynamic, to be sure. There is the temptation to simply throw Darnold in right from the start, let him take his lumps early and hope he can play his way through the inevitable rookie mistakes. Or you can go with the more experienced hand in McCown, who did a serviceable job last year once it became apparent that neither Christian Hackenberg nor Bryce Petty was up to the job. The other option is to see if Bridgewater, who returned late last season after nearly two years away from the game with a knee injury, is ready to resume his career as a starter.

There are advantages and risks to each scenario, and how Bowles and Bates manage the quarterback situation will be critically important. There’s nothing wrong with the current setup of McCown going in as the starter, especially with an opening month that features three games in a 10-day span to start the season (opener Sept. 10 in Detroit, Sept. 16 home vs. Miami, Sept. 20 in Cleveland), then a road game Sept. 30 in Jacksonville.

But those plans can change if it becomes apparent as the preseason progresses and either Bridgewater or Darnold shows enough progress to warrant the No. 1 job. Bridgewater has shown a nice touch through the offseason and into training camp, and there is reason to believe he can get back to the form that once made him a franchise quarterback in Minnesota. That could mean McCown is the odd man out, but he’s known coming into the season that a 38-year-old’s hold on the starting job in this league is hardly assured. If Bridgewater does end up starting, he can potentially attract trade offers, which would still leave the Jets with Darnold and McCown if GM Mike Maccagnan gets a deal he can’t resist.

It’s an interesting scenario where the Jets are dealing from a position of strength at the most important position on their roster. And when’s the last time you could say that about a team that has struggled to find quarterback stability for decades? Answer: Almost never.

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