Sam Darnold was very interested in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, knowing his future would be impacted by wherever the quarterback ended up.
The Jets went all in on Cousins, offering him three years and $90 million fully guaranteed. But after he chose the Vikings, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan turned all of his attention to moving up in the draft to land a future franchise quarterback – and Darnold fell into his lap.
“Everything worked out for the best, I think,” Darnold said Monday.
The Jets have no complaints.
They’re probably in a better situation with Darnold as their quarterback. He’s only 21, nine years younger than Cousins, and Darnold is getting better each week. The Jets also saved a boatload of money that they can use on an edge rusher, weapons for Darnold and more protection by upgrading the offensive line.
Cousins will lead the 3-2-1 Vikings into MetLife Stadium on Sunday, but it won’t have a “what could have been” feel because Darnold looks like the real deal and the Jets, who will go for a third straight win, are genuinely excited about the future.
Still, the fans likely will voice their displeasure toward Cousins after he spurned the Jets and seemingly used them to get more money from Minnesota. In a documentary about his free agency that’s on the Vikings’ website, Cousins reveals the Jets’ lucrative offer. He then says his agent has to get the Vikings “up from $25 [million a year] to a number that’s competitive with the Jets’ offer.”
The Vikings settled on a fully guaranteed three-year, $84-million pact, and Cousins picked the team that was ready to win now. Minnesota lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game last season.
“I was following it,” Darnold said. “I was definitely following it. During the draft process, there’s nothing really else to pay attention to because I’m not on a team. We’re not trying to dial up anything. I’m not at USC trying to figure out what we’re going to do the next year. I’m not on an NFL team trying to figure it out.
“I was, especially during that time, definitely paying attention to Kirk, what he was doing free agent-wise. Trying to understand what team I could maybe go to, who might pick me up. I was definitely thinking about all that stuff during the draft process.”
Two days after Cousins signed his deal, Maccagnan traded the No. 6 pick and three second-rounders to the Colts for the No. 3 selection. Then the Jets went all in on Darnold.
“Like all other free agency, you have guys you target,” Todd Bowles said. “Some you get and some you don’t. I really don’t worry about the guys I don’t get. Minnesota got him and they’re happy. We got Sam and we’re happy.”
Cousins is the better quarterback today. He’s completed 71.2 percent of his passes, third in the NFL among those with at least 100 attempts. Cousins’ 1,921 yards rank fourth and he’s thrown 12 touchdown passes to only three interceptions.
Darnold is a work in progress, having thrown nine touchdown passes to seven interceptions. But he’s coming off a game in which he completed 80 percent of his passes (24-for-30) for 280 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 42-34 win over the Colts. In the previous three games, Darnold was under 50 percent on his completions (42-for-87).
“I was critical of myself and really wanting to get the completion percentage up,” he said. “But every single week I aim to shoot a high clip and to be really accurate.”
Darnold faces a steep challenge this week against a good defense, but he said he doesn’t have any extra motivation because he’s going against the quarterback the Jets wanted first.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m just going out there every single week, treating it as a faceless opponent, knowing what they do defensively and just attacking them.”