FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jets fans breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief Monday afternoon when rookie quarterback Sam Darnold signed a four-year, $30.25-million contract and ended a three-day holdout.
The reaction from Todd Bowles was decidedly more muted.
After Darnold jogged onto the field about 10 minutes into warmups and was greeted with a sarcastic slow clap from his teammates, Bowles greeted the No. 3 overall pick less enthusiastically.
“I told him you’re late,” Bowles deadpanned after practice.
Even if Bowles was delighted deep down to get his prized quarterback on the field, there’s no way he would let him — or the rest of the team — know it. After all, when you are a coaching descendant of Bill Parcells, you treat rookie quarterbacks with an attitude just barely above contempt.
With Darnold beginning his apprenticeship, you can expect more of the same from Bowles. Just as Parcells coached Phil Simms with a firm hand, Bowles will do the same with Darnold.
As well he should.
Even with a terrific college pedigree and a fabulously lucrative contract, Bowles understands the difficult road ahead for his young passer. This is a cruel league that churns up players regardless of their draft status, and only a demanding regimen will do for a quarterback barely 21 years old.
Darnold’s arrival changed nothing in Bowles’ mind, other than that he can see him practice. The depth chart remains the same.
“Josh [McCown] is No. 1, Teddy [Bridgewater] is No. 2 and Sam is No. 3,” Bowles said.
The order likely will stay the same for at least a few weeks, as the 39-year-old McCown has the early advantage over the Vikings’ former first-round pick and Darnold.
“The competition has been underway,” Bowles said. “It just didn’t start today. It started Thursday when we reported for camp. [Darnold’s] got some work to catch up and do.”
Darnold practiced like a guy who had just shown up after missing some time. His accuracy was off on several throws, and his first was intercepted. But he did have two touchdown passes and flashed the kind of comand the Jets hope to see consistently.
How did Darnold feel about his first NFL practice? Don’t know, because the Jets didn’t make him available to the media.
The Jets open the preseason Aug. 10 against the Falcons, and there’s a chance Darnold will see some action. Bowles believes the quarterback situation will play itself out over time, but he’s not making any assurances.
It’s too soon to know when Darnold might be ready.
As Parcells often said, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” and that undoubtedly will be the case. But quarterback development has sped up considerably since the former Giants coach won Super Bowls with Simms and Jeff Hostetler, and Bowles doesn’t have the luxury of time the way coaches once did. The best-case scenario for most NFL teams now is to have young quarterbacks progress as quickly as possible and build a quality team around them before their rookie contracts expire and the salary-cap constraints kick on second and third contracts.
That means Bowles must decide sooner rather than later when Darnold is ready to take over. There’s no rush, and McCown is as good a mentor as there is. But if the Jets scuffle over a prolonged period with McCown, the pressure will mount for Bowles to go with Darnold and let him play his way through the inevitable mistakes every young quarterback commits.
That day is still a long way off, so Bowles will continue to withhold praise for Darnold and make sure he earns his way into the lineup. Darnold is clearly the future for the Jets, and how he progresses will determine how they will do in the coming years and also how long Bowles remains the coach.
So Darnold shouldn’t expect many pats on the back for now. Those will come only after he demonstrates he’s ready to lead the Jets to the kind of success that’s expected of a No. 3 overall pick.