FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A flash of red coming from the far reaches of the facility at 1 Jets Drive, and then a building murmur from fans assembled on a roof deck overlooking practice, and one thing immediately was certain: Sam Darnold certainly knows how to make an entrance.
The Jets’ rookie quarterback — and potential franchise savior — jogged dramatically onto the field about three days and 10 minutes later Monday afternoon, and his new teammates all stopped stretching to greet him with a prolonged slow clap that went viral about as soon as it was over. After days embroiled in a contract dispute, Darnold, 21, officially signed a four-year, $30.2-million contract Monday, which comes with a $20-million signing bonus up front.
In case you were wondering, the slow clap was sarcastic.
“Anybody that comes in late and holds out as a draft pick and makes a bunch of money is going to catch a ribbing from the team, and this is only the start of it,” coach Todd Bowles said. “But Sam has a good spirit and he’ll take it kindheartedly and we’ll move on, but that’s part of football.”
As for Bowles’ greeting: “I told him he was late.”
After it was over, Bowles said Darnold had a lot of work to do, and was still third on the depth chart, with Josh McCown steady at No. 1. About an hour later, general manager Mike Maccagnan said it was certainly possible that Darnold, the third overall draft pick, could be their Week 1 starter. And Darnold? He said nothing. The Jets didn’t make him available to the media.
When asked if Darnold could start the season opener, Maccagnan said, “I wouldn’t rule it out. I think he, like every player on the team, has a good opportunity to go out there and earn a spot as a starting player . . . Todd does make that determination, but I do feel good that we got him in here after three practices and he’ll have a chance to get to speed quickly, compete and see if he can earn that position.”
Darnold took about 30 reps, a number of them with the first-team offense, but wasn’t quite sharp, with a few bad throws and one interception, to Doug Middleton. Most of what he was doing, Bowles said, was recall from minicamp, or simple plays they thought he could execute easily.
“It’s a business, and the ramifications of missing three practices [exist], but he can catch up,” Bowles said, adding that he should have enough time to be able to make an appearance Aug. 10 in the first preseason game. “He’s got time to catch up, but he’s got to put his head down because everybody has a head start . . . We’ll see what he learns, we’ll see what he applies, and we’ll go from there.”
Maccagnan said they began negotiating Darnold’s contract almost immediately, but there was language that caused the rookie’s side to stall. The contract includes offset language — something his team reportedly fought — meaning if he gets cut and signs with another team, the Jets can recoup some money from the deal. Maccagnan said there were other factors, but eventually both sides relented enough to come to an agreement.
“It’s taken a little while to get the contract done but we feel very good about it,’’ Maccagnan said. “I’m sure they wanted Sam to get into training camp so he didn’t miss time, and we felt the same way, but it’s a process you go through and we landed in a spot we felt good about.”
Despite the sarcastic clapping, it’s clear that Darnold’s teammates are just as intrigued as the front office. Jermaine Kearse and Leonard Williams agreed they were glad the issue finally got resolved.
“He hasn’t missed a lot, but he still has some catching up to do, and we’re all happy that he’s out there today,” said Williams, who, like Darnold, played at USC. “We’re just messing around with him and gave him a little slow clap. I think it was just more of a welcoming him back and we just like messing with each other a lot: Like, ‘Oh, you finally made it.’ ”