Sam Darnold wasn’t in the room when Joe Douglas was introduced as the Jets' new general manager Tuesday, but his presence definitely was felt.
Both Douglas and first-year Jets coach Adam Gase said having Darnold, a young quarterback you can grow and build with, made the Jets appealing. But Douglas said having that franchise QB gives all the decision-makers more of an urgency to win now.
“Once you know you have the right guy, there’s the sense of urgency of, ‘Let’s go win right now,’” Douglas said. “I feel like that confidence is here right now.”
The Jets have missed the playoffs eight straight years, and their Super Bowl drought is at 50 and counting. But they believe they can build something special and sustainable with the 22-year-old Darnold as the foundation piece.
“The quarterback position really is the most important position in professional sports,” Douglas said. “A guy like Sam who’s proven the way he finished the year last year, his ability, his leadership, he was very much an exciting piece moving forward.
“Love his athleticism, love his ability to go through progressions. I think he’s a unique guy in that he’s a very young player. But he shows the ability to have his eyes and feet work through progressions quickly. He throws an accurate ball and just hearing about his leadership ability at such a young age, it’s exciting. It’s really exciting.”
Douglas speaks from experience. He’s not known as the quarterback guru that Gase is considered in some circles, but he has seen first-hand what the right quarterback can do for a team.
He worked in the scouting department in Baltimore and was instrumental in the Ravens drafting Joe Flacco, who led them to a Super Bowl victory. The last three years, Douglas was the vice president of player personnel with the Eagles. He arrived in Philly a few weeks after Carson Wentz was drafted, and helped GM Howie Roseman put the necessary pieces around him.
Wentz’s quick ascension to elite quarterback and MVP candidate in his second season had the Eagles dreaming of a Super Bowl. A torn ACL ended Wentz’s season, but the Super Bowl dream was realized when backup Nick Foles quarterbacked Philadelphia to the win.
“Building around a young quarterback, there was a sense of urgency in Philadelphia, knowing that we had a young quarterback and we want to put the pieces around him,” Douglas said. “There’s going to be that same urgency anywhere but especially here with a young quarterback like Sam.”
The Jets have put some good pieces around Darnold, most notably Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell and slot receiver Jamison Crowder.
They have a solid receiving core with Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, but still no established No. 1. Their backfield has depth behind Bell with versatile Ty Montgomery, Elijah McGuire and recently-signed Bilal Powell. They still need to upgrade and add depth to the offensive line.
But this is Douglas’ job now. He noted how Foles’ development made it critical to have a quality backup quarterback, so he'll be on the lookout for that as well. He’ll start meeting with Gase and the other coaches, watch film of OTAs and get a feel for what he has and what he needs – on both sides of the ball.
“We’re just going to try to load this team up with as many good players as we can,” Douglas said.
The Jets are hoping Darnold can follow a similar path as Wentz, who threw 16 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions after being the No. 2 pick in 2016. Wentz threw for 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions and led the Eagles to an 11-2 mark in 2017 before tearing his ACL.
Darnold threw for 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions after he was the No. 3 pick last year, but he improved throughout the season. He’s worked tirelessly, by all accounts, to learn a new system and could make a big jump in his second year, especially if Gase has the impact the Jets believe he can.
“Sam’s talent level, some of the throws he makes in practice, I have no idea what made him go there, what made him throw that ball, how he got it in there,” Gase said. “You can see the players around him, they know he’s good. They know the ability he has. We’re all trying to hurry up and know this stuff as well as we can.”