Not everyone believes the Jets need a new quarterback in 2021. Sam Darnold continues to have the backing and the support of the coaches who have worked with him the last two seasons.
"I have a lot of faith in the kid’s talent and ability," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "I think without a doubt he’s a franchise quarterback."
Loggains isn’t alone in thinking it’s too early to cut bait with Darnold after this difficult season. Adam Gase also staunchly and vehemently defends the quarterback. But the people who will decide whether Darnold remains a Jet are general manager Joe Douglas and their next head coach.
It’s pretty clear that Gase won’t return in 2021, and in all likelihood, most of his staff will be gone as well. The new coach will want to bring in his own coaches and maybe his own quarterback to mold and develop.
The Jets, who will end this season Sunday against the Patriots, are locked in at No. 2 in the NFL Draft. Because they lost out on the No. 1 pick and a shot at drafting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence by winning the last two games, there is at least a chance that Darnold will return.
Douglas and the new coach will decide whether to pick a quarterback and trade Darnold or build around the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft.
"I absolutely believe my best days are ahead," Darnold said. "I’m going to continue to work and put that work in to get better and improve every single year."
That’s what Douglas primarily must ask himself — is Darnold with different coaching better than a rookie with a high ceiling?
Douglas probably already has a good idea after being with the Jets for the last 24 games Darnold has played.
The Jets have gone 9-15 and Darnold has thrown 27 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions.
But he’s only 23. If his decision-making improves — and the players around him do, too — he might become the quarterback the Jets hoped he would be.
Darnold said he hasn’t had any discussions with Douglas about his future, nor is he looking beyond Sunday’s finale.
"I’m just one day at a time," he said. "We’re trying to get a win in Foxborough this weekend. I’ll worry about that after the season."
Darnold said a couple of weeks ago that he hoped to be a "Jet for life." That didn’t draw a positive reception because the Jets were 0-13 and heading to Los Angeles to play the Rams. The odds of remaining winless were high, which meant Lawrence would be theirs. But Darnold has led the Jets to upset wins over the Rams and Browns the past two weeks, and the narrative has changed a little.
There still is the possibility that Sunday will be his final game in a Jets uniform. He won’t let his mind go there, though.
"I’m a Jet now," Darnold said. "I know we all like to think of hypotheticals and what-ifs. I’m a Jet now. I love being here. I love the guys in the locker room and I love going to work every single day here."
Darnold has thrown three touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past two games. He hasn’t thrown a pick in three straight games, the longest stretch of his career. Loggains and Gase pointed to that as signs of growth. "I love the fact that he can say, ‘I’ve gone three games and I haven’t turned the ball over,’ " Gase said. "I think that’s a big stride."
Said Loggains, "He knows: Put the cape away. You don’t need to be Superman. Execute the offense and if it’s there, take it. If not, throw the ball away, run, check the ball down."
Darnold has been impacted by all of the injuries at skill positions and on the offensive line and all of the turnover. It’s hard to build chemistry and cohesion without stability.
"It’s about the consistency but it’s also the consistency with the guys around you," Gase said. "When you’re a young player, you need to have a nucleus of core guys around you that you can grow with and that can help you grow as a player. At the quarterback spot, if you don’t have that, it’s really tough to make the strides you need to make."