Lichtenstein: As NFL Trade Deadline looms, it's time for Jets to dump Darnold


“Hello, Dallas? This is Joe from Florham Park. I hear you may need a quarterback. Let’s talk.”

Whether Sam Darnold goes to the Cowboys, who were down to their third-string QB after Andy Dalton was felled by a concussion in Sunday’s game, or general manager Joe Douglas finds some other destination…Darnold’s gotta go, for the sake of both parties.

Last week, I mentioned tabling “trade Darnold versus keep Darnold” thought until he returned from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for the two games prior to Sunday’s 18-10 loss to Buffalo. I’ve now seen enough, and with the deadline just eight days away, I am ready to call it.

At 0-7, Gang Green has to prioritize the future, call this a failed experiment, and move forward. Yes, the Jets traded three second-round picks to move up to get Darnold in 2018, but look at Arizona – they took Josh Rosen No. 10 overall that same year, but moved on after one season (getting back a second-rounder and a fifth-rounder from Miami) and took a better QB in Kyler Murray No. 1 overall in 2019.

If Douglas can somehow convince a QB-needy club to give up some draft picks (a two and a four seem fair?), he should run that agreement through whatever electronic technology he can and get it done – and here are three reasons why:

1) He’s not good
Really, the only reason NOT to trade Darnold is if you believe he can one day become the first quarterback since Joe Namath to lead the Jets to a Super Bowl. That’s what you play for.

To think that, though, you have to ignore a host of facts, such as this list of QBs since 2000 who, per, posted a losing record through at least 30 starts with below NFL average completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, AND interception percentage:

Chad Henne
Geno Smith
Alex Smith
J.P. Losman
Joey Harrington
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Blaine Gabbert
Blake Bortles
David Carr
Sam Darnold

Not a lot of hope there, and half of those guys played in New York (proper or named as such). Most of them also never got a second shot at a starting gig.

Now, it’s fair to state that not all of Darnold’s blemishes are his fault alone; he can make a plausible nature versus nurture argument, as he has been weighed down by lousy coaching and supporting casts. In fact, for perhaps the first time, Darnold came close to doing just that after Sunday’s game, taking a backhanded swipe at the coaching staff by saying the Jets had just four yards of offense in the second half because the team didn’t adjust to Buffalo’s adjustments.

Great, but who failed to spot wide-open rookie receiver Denzel Mims near the goal line until it was too late on the opening drive, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal? Who tried to fit a ball between several Bills in the last minute before halftime, failing to see cornerback Dane Jackson reading the play to intercept the pass? And who, on the Jets’ final possession, just after CBS analyst Rich Gannon specifically warned that taking a sack would be unconscionable, took two before throwing the game-clinching interception?

Darnold has been in the league for three seasons and he can’t read a blitz, or adjust his protections or find a hot receiver?  It seemed like the first horrible pick shook him, because he started 11-for-14 for 116 yards, and finished by completing only one of his final nine for nine yards, with two interceptions and four sacks taken.

Overall, Sunday was a microcosm of his Jets tenure: some wow plays, like the third-and-20 pickup to Braxton Berrios, that make you think the Jets have something, overshadowed by gaffes that just shouldn’t be happening at this stage of his career.

2) He’s going to be expensive
The Jets wasted Darnold’s rookie contract, which calls for him to count nearly $9.8 million on next season’s salary cap. That may seem manageable, but this offseason also requires Douglas to decide if he wants to exercise Darnold’s fifth-year option, which could end up costing New York approximately $25 million in 2022.

We know Darnold isn’t suddenly going to get significantly better in this regime, no matter who calls the plays – offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains took over for head coach Adam Gase on Sunday – so using the sample to date, how can Douglas justify making that kind of a commitment?

He can’t, which means that the Jets will have to find a new QB this offseason. Therefore…

3) It helps the tank
Once Douglas evaluates Darnold honestly, he can throw the “he gives us the best chance to win” mantra out the window. After next Sunday’s game at Kansas City, where the Jets have been installed initially as 21.5 point underdogs (too low, in my opinion), New York will be halfway home to 0-16 and the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

When you’ve come that far, you might as well take it all the way, especially when the light at the end of the tunnel is Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, projected by many as a rare breed in the mold of Andrew Luck.

In this irregular season, the Jets have competition for the top of the dung heap; Jacksonville, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Houston, and the Giants all boast just one win after seven week. The Jags, in particular, could conceivably run the table and go 1-15, and they are equally desperate for a franchise quarterback – and should the Jets stumble and win a game, their harder schedule would “win” the tiebreaker and give Jacksonville the top pick.

Trading Darnold and installing Joe Flacco might not make the Jets more than marginally less productive, but any downgrade helps the tank – and, by extension, gets them closer to fixing their quarterback problem.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1

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