FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Sam Darnold era officially will begin on Monday in Detroit.
Todd Bowles made the worst-kept secret in the NFL known when he announced that Darnold will be the Jets’ Week 1 starting quarterback. Bowles said he informed Darnold and last year’s starter, Josh McCown, of his decision before telling the media after practice Monday.
At 21 years, 97 days old, Darnold will become the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. He’s also the only quarterback from his draft class to be named a Week 1 starter.
“It was close, obviously,” Bowles said. “Sam had a good preseason. We weren’t holding him back. We weren’t rushing him. He still has some things to learn, but he was poised in the pocket and the way he grasped the offense coming in right away. He gives us a very good chance to win.”
The Jets traded up from sixth to third to position themselves to draft Darnold, who starred at USC for two seasons. Now he will get the opportunity to lead a team that has been looking for a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl win a half-century ago.
“We’re going to play Detroit with 52 other guys,” Bowles said. “It’s not just him by himself. We’re trying to help the team win. We feel like he gives us a good chance to win. We’re not starting him because he’s a rookie and he’s not ready. We’re starting [him] because he gives us a chance to win the game.”
It came as no surprise that Darnold was tapped to start after he impressed the Jets with his maturity, mobility and skill set. He made plays when the pocket collapsed, and he can throw on the run.
During the last few weeks of practice, Darnold worked almost exclusively with the first-team offense, and he started the second and third preseason games with that group. Overall, he was 29-for-45 for 244 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
McCown, 39, started the fourth game, playing with the second-team offense and players who were cut Saturday.
“I think I can win with both,” Bowles said. “Sam’s growth gives us a chance to win with him right now. That’s why we’re going with him.
Sam’s got feet to get himself out of trouble. He’s got a good pocket feel. He’s probably a little quicker than Josh at this point. Josh is smarter, playing in the league longer. But Sam picks things up very well. It’s good to have a quarterback that can throw and move his feet.”
If there were any doubt that the Jets would hand the keys to the franchise over to Darnold, it was removed last week when they sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints for a third-round pick.
Bridgewater arguably was the best quarterback in camp, but Darnold was always the future of the franchise. Now he’s the Jets’ present, too.
“I’m excited for the team,” Bowles said. “He’s earned that right to start. So we’re starting him.”
It’s the third time that the Jets will begin the season with a rookie quarterback. The others were Geno Smith in 2013 and Mark Sanchez in 2009.
Sanchez was the last quarterback to lead the Jets to the playoffs — in January 2011 — and his four postseason wins are the most in franchise history. But the expectations are that Darnold will turn out to be the Jets’ best quarterback since Namath.
“It’s going to be really fun for a long time here in New York,” Darnold said.
McCown has handled this situation like a consummate professional. Darnold said it’s been “a blessing” to have McCown help teach him about football, being a professional and life. That mentoring will continue and has helped prepare Darnold for what’s ahead.
Before Bowles’ announcement, Darnold said:
“If I do get the start, I’ll be very confident. I’ll be very confident in my teammates. I think we have really good chemistry in this locker room. We’re ready to go showcase that Monday night.”
The Jets have been looking for a franchise QB since the end of the Joe Namath era in 1976. Sam Darnold will become the 31st quarterback to start for the Jets since Namath left. The post-Namath starting QBs: