Another Sunday, another day for Sam Darnold to watch his team play while recovering from a shoulder injury.
Darnold and Jets coach Adam Gase insist the quarterback will return later this season, but really, what’s the point? At 0-9 and going nowhere, Darnold runs the risk of not only reinjuring his shoulder but damaging his long-term prospects.
Darnold may or may not be back next season as the Jets face the possibility of a complete overhaul — starting at quarterback.
He once was looked to as a stabilizing presence at the sport's most important position, someone who could spend the next dozen or so years here and potentially win a Super Bowl. But his play has slipped this year, his surrounding cast has been unreliable, and there is a legitimate possibility that the Jets will move on to another quarterback.
With Gase having little to no chance of returning in 2021, the next head coach likely will be involved in drafting another quarterback — potentially Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, Justin Fields of Ohio State or Mac Jones of Alabama — and begin anew.
What would be next for Darnold? Well, he’d have plenty of options. For starters, it’s almost impossible to see him back in 2021 to serve as a mentor for a highly drafted quarterback. Entering his fourth season, Darnold will be looking for a new contract, and the Jets would be foolish to sign him to a big deal knowing he isn’t their long-range answer at the position.
The most likely scenario: He gets traded, and general manager Joe Douglas ends up with even more draft capital to rebuild the roster.
Douglas already got two first-round picks for disgruntled safety Jamal Adams. He easily can net a second-rounder — possibly even a first-rounder — for Darnold.
A look at the teams with potential interest:
Colts: Indianapolis is in the playoff hunt thanks in part to Philip Rivers, who was signed to a one-year deal after the Chargers released him. But Rivers, who will turn 39 next month, isn’t the long-term answer, and his play has slipped the last two years. He has 11 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this year. Translation: The Colts need a more permanent solution, and Darnold could thrive in Frank Reich’s offense.
Bears: What a nightmare in Chicago. The Bears largely have given up on Mitchell Trubisky after trading up to get him at No. 2 in the 2017 draft. Trubisky lost his job this year to Nick Foles, who also has struggled to generate points. Darnold would be a massive upgrade over both, and Chicago’s defense would be a boon for the young quarterback. The Bears also seem desperate enough for an upgrade at quarterback to make it worth Douglas’ while in a trade.
Saints: Darnold’s potential value in New Orleans could be determined in the next few weeks when Taysom Hill, who is signed through 2021, gets a shot to start now that Drew Brees is out with rib and lung injuries. Sean Payton is enamored of Hill’s versatility, but the coach also believes he can be a capable starter. With Brees already mulling retirement before the 2020 season, he soon could call it a career.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is having a remarkable year after returning from elbow surgery and is in contention for MVP honors. And while he has given no indication about being ready to retire, he will turn 39 in March and Pittsburgh might need to think about life after Roethlisberger. The feeling here: If Roethlisberger believes he can play another two or three years, the Steelers won’t be in the market for Darnold.
Patriots: The Jets have no appetite for trading a quarterback to their AFC East rival, and chances are slim that they would trade within the division. But Cam Newton is on a one-year deal and has slowed considerably since his prime years in Carolina.
Jaguars: Jacksonville may very well earn the first overall pick and win the Lawrence sweepstakes. Even if the Jaguars don’t, they’ll likely start over with a top rookie quarterback. Darnold’s value presumably would not be as high in Jacksonville as elsewhere, so we’ll pencil in the Jaguars as a team of last resort.
Washington: Ron Rivera has all but given up on 2019 first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The coach prefers Alex Smith, 36, who has returned from a horrific ankle injury in 2018, as his starter. There’s no way Smith can be the long-range answer, so Washington could be in the mix for a young quarterback like Darnold.
49ers: Coach Kyle Shanahan said this past week that he expects Jimmy Garoppolo, who is out with a sprained ankle, to return next year as his starter. Notably, Shanahan used the word "expects" and not "will be" when discussing Garoppolo. Darnold certainly has a skill set that would appeal to Shanahan, and being around a quarterback-friendly coach could do wonders for Darnold.
Diversity history to be made
The NFL’s increasing push toward diversity hiring will take a notable step forward in Monday night’s Rams-Buccaneers game in Tampa, when an all-Black officiating crew will work a game for the first time in league history.
"This historic Week 11 crew is a testament to the countless and immeasurable contributions of Black officials to the game, their exemplary performance, and to the power of inclusion that is the hallmark of this great game," said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of operations.
Jerome Boger, a former Morehouse College quarterback who refereed Super Bowl XLVII, will lead a seven-man crew that includes umpire Barry Anderson, down judge Julian Mapp, line judge Carl Johnson, field judge Dale Shaw, side judge Anthony Jeffries and back judge Greg Steed.
"I am proud of my heritage and excited about my participation in this historic game," Boger said in a statement. "The opportunity to work with a great group of Black officials and exhibit our proficiency in executing our assignment is something I am really looking forward to."
Bucs coach Bruce Arians is a major proponent of increased diversity, and his staff includes offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. It’s the first time in league history that a team has had three Black coordinators. The Bucs also employ two female assistant coaches: assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar.
Titans-Ravens rematch may hold clues
Baltimore will host Tennessee on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s AFC divisional playoffs, a game that might underscore what could be the Ravens’ fatal flaw.
The Ravens went into the playoff game as favorites, having secured home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. But the Titans pulled off a shocking upset and possibly created a blueprint for stopping 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. The Titans dominated the Ravens, 28-12, advancing to the AFC Championship Game. Their formula: Use the ground game to keep Jackson off the field and limit Jackson’s running ability, thereby forcing him to throw.
Jackson had only 27 rushing yards and one interception in the first half, and the Titans took control in the second half behind Derrick Henry’s power running and Ryan Tannehill's efficient passing.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta addressed his defensive weaknesses by trading for Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and signing free-agent lineman Derek Wolfe to help nose tackle Brandon Williams with run-stopping duties. But Campbell (calf) and Williams (ankle) are iffy for Sunday’s game.
"It's a challenge no matter who you have," Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale said. "The way we drafted, the free agents we signed, they need to step up and play their role."
Bad blood between Kansas City and Raiders
After the Raiders beat Kansas City for just the second time in 12 matchups in a Week 5 game, the Raiders took a victory lap around the stadium before departing for Kansas City International Airport for their return flight.
Any hard feelings, Andy Reid?
"They won the game," the Kansas City coach said, "so they can do anything they want to do. That’s not our style."
Bulletin-board material? You bet. Even if Raiders coach Jon Gruden says it’s not a big deal.
"I mean, you can find a smart-aleck bus driver in Kansas City who made some snide comments when we got on the bus," Gruden said this week. "Maybe that’s why we drove around the stadium, to tick him off. You know, this is ridiculous. Next question."
Reid may have gotten the last jab on this one, though. Asked if he thought it was tougher for a team to play an opponent the second time after winning the first game, the coach said, "I think they [do], or they wouldn’t have driven the bus around the stadium."
Sunday’s rematch in Las Vegas will feature two of the most impactful quarterbacks in the game, and it could come down to how Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City and Derek Carr of Las Vegas do on third down. Both quarterbacks have been brilliant, with the Raiders leading the NFL with a staggering 50.4% efficiency on third-down attempts and the Chiefs tied for second at 50%.
Around the league
Offenses continue to flourish this season. Through 10 weeks, NFL games average 50.2 points, the highest total to this point in a season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. There have been 812 touchdowns, the most after 10 weeks since 1970 . . . Heading into Monday night’s Buccaneers-Rams game, Tampa Bay is second in the NFL with 32 sacks and the Rams are third with 31. Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald and Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are the only two players with at least seven sacks in each of the last five years . . . The Saints haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 52 straight games, the NFL’s longest streak since the 1970 merger . . . Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, who leads the NFL with six interceptions, is the first player with a pick in five straight games since Reggie Nelson in 2015. The longest streak is six, held by seven players. Jackson is on pace to become the first player with double- digit interceptions since Antonio Cromartie had 10 with the Chargers in 2007 . . . Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is having a so-so season with 15 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, but he hasn’t thrown a pick in his last two games. The Browns will face the Eagles on Sunday in Cleveland . . . Quote of the week: Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow of the Bengals, who are 2-6-1, on how he will measure success the rest of the year other than wins and losses: "Wins and losses." Perfect.