FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Here they go again.
For the second time in three years, the New York Jets will invest a high draft pick in a quarterback, a college wonder boy tasked with the enormous challenge of invigorating a star-crossed franchise. They botched it with Sam Darnold, whose shortcomings were exacerbated by organizational failure on multiple levels. Now it’s fair to wonder:
Let’s put it this way: While it’s hard to overlook the Jets’ long history of ruining quarterbacks, the organization is in a better place than it was in 2018, when Darnold arrived with so much hype. By then, the coach-general manager tandem of Todd Bowles-Mike Maccagnan was coming off two straight losing seasons. The timelines weren’t aligned; it was a rookie quarterback in a win-now situation — a recipe for disaster.
And it was. Bowles was fired after the 2018 season, followed by Maccagnan a few months later.
Now, with coach Robert Saleh entering his first season, and with Joe Douglas entrenched as the general manager, the Jets have a stable environment for their new face of the franchise. Mike LaFleur, who will have the greatest impact on the quarterback’s development, is unproven as a first-time offensive coordinator, but he’s installing a tried-and-true system that suits Wilson’s skill set.
Continuity is a big part of the equation. You can’t develop a young quarterback if he’s stuck in the middle of a revolving door. He needs a chance to grow with a coach and a system. It’s not a guarantee for success — look at Mark Sanchez, whose career went sideways under the same regime — but it’s a good start.
Now comes the area of concern.
The new quarterback’s supporting cast is pretty much the same one that finished dead last in total offense last season. Free-agent addition Corey Davis is a definite upgrade over Breshad Perriman at wide receiver, and newcomer Keelan Cole Sr. also will help at wideout, but the rest of the offensive personnel is frighteningly familiar to what the Jets had in 2020.
Same five starters on the offensive line. No true No. 1 running back. Major questions at tight end. And, let’s not forget, no veteran quarterbacks on the roster.
It’s unrealistic to believe Wilson will succeed with the roster as currently constructed. This is where Douglas has to do a better job than he did with Darnold. And he knows it.
In the summer of 2019, Douglas, new on the job, promised Darnold’s parents that he would give their son playmakers and protectors. That never materialized, as Douglas acknowledged the lapse midway through the 2020 season. Give him credit for admitting his mistakes; not many GMs would have done that. Presumably, he learned a hard lesson and will attack the new situation with a different plan.
“We have to surround our next quarterback with as much talent as possible,” Douglas said Tuesday.
With 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds, Douglas has the resources to build something sustainable around Wilson. He owns the second, 23rd, 34th, 66th and 86th choices in the draft, which begins April 29. He should come out of it with a playmaker and an offensive lineman (or two). There are some pressing defensive needs, so there has to be balance.
Mike Golic Jr. and Chiney Ogwumike are happy to see the Jets trade Sam Darnold to the Panthers.
Douglas should be bold and use the Jets’ 23rd pick, along with one of their 2022 second-round picks, to trade up for an elite-level player. If one of the high-end pass-catchers falls out of the top 10, either Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (not likely) or one of the top three wide receivers (perhaps Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle), Douglas will have enough ammunition to jump up from No. 23 to draft him.
He’s sitting on a war chest of draft picks. Don’t be like former GM John Idzik and just sit on them. Be aggressive and move around the board. Put Waddle with Davis, Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder, and now you’re talking about a potentially explosive receiving corps.
“We do have a lot of assets,” Douglas said, “but we have to make the most of the opportunities.”
Douglas also needs to import an experienced “bridge” quarterback to help guide Wilson through the inevitable growing pains, someone who can start the season, if necessary. It’s a huge leap from BYU’s cream-puff schedule to the weekly challenges of the NFL, and it would be a mistake to rush him into action. Where have you gone, Josh McCown?
Right now, it’s all about building a winning environment for Wilson, something they failed to do for Darnold.