New York Jets Should Trade No. 2 Pick, Keep Building Around Sam Darnold

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 20, 2021

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold rolls out to pass against the New England Patriots in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The Jacksonville Jaguars are all but certain to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, which means the draft will essentially start with the second overall pick.

In other words, the New York Jets will control what happens through the rest of the opening round.

The Jets could take a quarterback with that pick, whether it's Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson or North Dakota State's Trey Lance. However, they should instead trade it for a huge windfall to greatly improve their roster for new head coach Robert Saleh and build around current starter Sam Darnold

ESPN's Rich Cimini reported that Saleh and incoming offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur "have watched a lot of Sam Darnold tape and they believe he has untapped potential."

Patience isn't a virtue in today's NFL. A few young quarterbacks have ruined the curve for others who aren't placed in ideal situations and need more time to develop. If the ongoing season taught us anything, it's that patience can be rewarded when a team properly builds around its talented young signal-caller. 

The Jets bumbled their way through a 2-14 campaign that led to head coach Adam Gase's dismissal. The dysfunction and disappointment over the last two seasons can be boiled down to one quote. 

"I just want to be coached to be better," outside linebacker Tarell Basham told reporters. "I feel like I'm a player along with a lot of players on the team who still have more developing to do and can still get better."

Darnold is at the forefront of those who have yet to realize their potential. He is far from blameless with a 28-to-24 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his last 24 games. But to his credit, the third-year quarterback took his share of the blame once the dismal season came to a close. 

"I definitely didn't play well this year," Darnold told reporters. "I think there were really only the two games that we won. I think I can definitely play better in the future. I don't think I played well enough this year. I wasn't consistent enough. That's really it."

A new staff brings new life to most on the roster. Saleh is different in almost every way from Gase, who was viewed as an offensive whiz, quarterback whisperer and intelligent taskmaster. While Gase didn't appear to connect with players like a head coach must, former players rave about Saleh and his communication and motivational skills. 

Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

"He's able to rally men," San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said this season, per Newsday's Bob Glauber. "He's a leader of men. That goes a long way."

Jets players are crying out for that type of leadership. 

"I definitely want to see a guy who comes in here and sets his culture, sets his standard and sets the process," Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. "We'll fall in line and follow suit."

A stable environment can work wonders for any player, especially a quarterback. Just look at others in Darnold's draft class. 

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen emerged as an MVP candidate this season, his third in the league. Once considered a developmental prospect with top-shelf physical tools, the Bills successfully built around him with major investments along the offensive line and wide receivers while maintaining the same coaching staff, system and philosophies the entire time. With Allen putting in the requisite offseason work on his mechanics, he dramatically improved his accuracy and overall consistency. 

Lamar Jackson experienced something similar with the Baltimore Ravens, whose coaching staff changed its offensive approach to facilitate and nurture his unique skill set. Jackson regressed some this past season, but he was named the league's MVP last year. 

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Baker Mayfield, followed a path more in line with Darnold in that the Cleveland Browns changed coaches and systems multiple times early in his career. New head coach Kevin Stefanski and the quality coaches he brought with him finally allowed Mayfield to blossom, and there are no longer questions about who will lead the team after an 11-5 campaign and postseason appearance. 

Some semblance of cohesion should help the young players on the Jets roster looking for direction. Darnold, who won't turn 24 until June, is two years younger than Mayfield, a year behind Allen and a few months Jackson's junior. 

The Jets' previous organizational instability coupled with Darnold's age and potential make a quarterback change less likely than believed a few months ago. 

"They like [Darnold] a lot," another candidate for the head coaching job said when asked about ownership's quarterback prospect, per Cimini

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

LaFleur's offensive scheme should borrow from, if not outright imitate, Kyle Shanahan's quarterback-friendly system. The 49ers' former passing coordinator figures to bring elements of bootleg action and pocket movement to take advantage of Darnold's strengths as an off-platform thrower. The Jets should let him grow into a proven offense, especially one that should set him up for success. 

If the Jets do keep Darnold as their starter, they'll have a ton of options with the No. 2 pick.

A number of teams around the league will be searching for quarterback help this offseason. Multiple teams within the top 10 of the draft desperately need upgrades, and the Jets should entertain whichever one wants to move up and take its preferred prospect once Lawrence is off the board. 

The Atlanta Falcons (fourth overall), Detroit Lions (seventh overall) and Carolina Panthers (eighth overall) should all be in play. The Falcons and Lions have decisions to make regarding their current starters, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford, respectively. The Panthers still have Teddy Bridgewater under contract for another two years, but he seems more like a bridge to another starter. 

The Jets can look to their trade for Darnold as the asking price from any of those teams. Three years ago, they traded the No. 6 overall pick and three second-rounders to move up to No. 3 to take Darnold.

The Falcons, Lions and Panthers shouldn't be the Jets' only trade options, though. 

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The Washington Football Team (19th overall), Chicago Bears (20th overall) and Indianapolis Colts (21st overall) could each make aggressive moves up the draft board. The Bills moved up twice to select Allen—from 21st to 12th to seventh—by giving up a pair of second-round picks, a fifth-rounder and veteran offensive lineman Cordy Glenn.

Everything depends on what Jets general manager Joe Douglas is willing to accept in return for the No. 2 pick. New York already owns an additional first-round pick (23rd overall) thanks to the Jamal Adams trade. 

Adding even more draft picks—whether this year or in the future—will allow Douglas to build a better roster around Darnold.

The offense currently lacks a consistent threat among the outside wide receivers. Running back Frank Gore, who turns 38 in May, isn't likely to return after leading the team with 653 rushing yards. Tight end Chris Herndon didn't develop as expected, though some of his issues are likely scheme/quarterback-related. Still, the Jets could upgrade at the position. The offensive line could also use another addition or two, even after last year's investments. 

It makes far more sense for the Jets to take a holistic approach rather than thinking a single player will create a drastic change, especially when there's no reason to give up on Darnold's untapped potential.

To do so, they should put the No. 2 overall pick up for sale.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.