The prevailing sentiment amid the recent turmoil that has turned the Jets back into a league-wide laughingstock centers on the most important man in the building.
My wish to the football gods: Don’t let this dysfunctional franchise ruin Sam Darnold.
It took the star-crossed outfit a half-century to finally find a quarterback with the skillset and mindset to help find the Holy Grail for the first time since man first walked on the Moon.
It would be a shame if the back-channel back-stabbing, ego-driven, power-hungry nonsense and massive weakness/indecisiveness at the top of the Gotham Green food chain altered this kid’s path.
Darnold can be special.
He has everything that an organization covets. Beyond the supreme talent that he flashed at times as a rookie, he possesses a rare gift for a young player: maturity. The soundtrack of his professional and personal life is pure and free of clutter. He’s unflappable.
Darnold is authentic. He is nice, but not soft. He is a competitive S.O.B. who doesn’t believe in cutting corners or undercutting anyone. He is wise beyond his 21 years, handling the expectations and accompanying pressure like a much older man.
“I think it all starts with my family,” Darnold said Thursday. “My mom and dad back home and my sister…. an older sister, who’s been a great example for me throughout life. And my parents have a laid a great foundation. It all starts with them. And I have great friends back home, who I’ve had since high school who keep me grounded. If they ever see me say anything dumb in the media right now, they’d be the first ones to talk to me about it and let me know that I’m an idiot.
“So, it’s awesome that I have friends like that and obviously great teammates to keep my grounded as well.”
The Jets morphed back into a punchline in the past week after CEO Christopher Johnson’s unorthodox decision to fire general manager Mike Maccagnan after empowering him to make all the critical decisions this offseason (including hiring Adam Gase).
People around the NFL got their jokes out of the way to me privately before asking about Darnold.
“Darnold’s going to get out of there as soon as he can,” one NFC general manager predicted to me.
“I feel bad for 14,” one AFC GM said.
For all the fair criticism heaped on Maccagnan, he’ll always be the guy who drafted Darnold. Maccagnan and top lieutenant Brian Heimerdinger, whom the former GM credited for pulling together the trade with the Colts that put Gang Green in position to land Darnold, are gone now.
“It’s tough whenever someone loses his job in any business,” Darnold said. “You understand and you feel for them. But this business is tough. It’s a hard deal. And that’s just part of it. I’ll forever be grateful for Mike and what he’s done for me. Taking me No. 3 overall was a life-changing experience and I’ll forever be grateful for that. But I do understand that it’s a tough business. I understand that and a lot of guys on the team do as well.”
It’s truly amazing, isn’t it? Darnold gave Maccagnan a more gracious, classy and thoughtful public send-off than Johnson and Gase combined. Those guys could learn a little something from this kid.
It speaks to everything Darnold is about. He has a strong constitution. He is encouraging, honest and real. He’s on his way to becoming a terrific leader.
Just listen to what he said about former USC teammate Chuma Edoga, who was drafted by the Jets in the third round.
“I was stoked for him,” Darnold said. “To see where we both were at as a freshmen, now playing on an NFL team. I see him really excelling in the NFL. So, it’s awesome. First to be able to have a teammate that I had in college also come with me to the NFL, that’s great. But I’m excited for him just as a friend for him to be able to get drafted where he was…. and for us to take a chance on him. I think it’s going to pay off for this organization in the future.”
The Jets finally found their guy. I still believe that Gase will be good for him. My belief in the head coach’s teaching acumen hasn’t waned. He is smart enough to cultivate the young quarterback’s prodigious talent.
Whether or not Gase keeps his hands out of other parts of the organization and Johnson becomes a more stable and decisive decision-maker remains to be seen.
Darnold has the potential to be a game-changer for a very long time.
It’s up to others around him to get their acts together. Otherwise, they’re going to lose the best thing to happened to them in a long time.