After putting together a two-game winning streak late in the season, the New York Jets’ presumed offseason plans took quite the drastic turn. When they were 0-13, the Jets were in position to select a generational quarterback prospect in Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the NFL draft. With the 2020 season complete, the Jaguars will have the No. 1 overall pick. What the Jets will do with the No. 2 pick is now perhaps the most intriguing question of the offseason.
With Lawrence presumably out of the picture, the Jets now need to figure out what direction they need to go. There will be no shortage of options, including:
- Keep the pick and select the next-best quarterback
- Keep Sam Darnold at QB and use the No. 2 pick to select another position
- Keep Darnold at QB and trade down in the draft for more assets
“The Jets will have to continue to evaluate from within to determine the best plan for the future,” said former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. He said the Jets are going to evaluate the options in the draft and also evaluate their current quarterback, Darnold. If they feel like Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson will give them a better chance to win, that will drive their decision.
“(Current Jets GM) Joe Douglas has to sit there at the end of the day and say, ‘Am I better off with Sam Darnold and someone like (Oregon offensive tackle) Penei Sewell? Or am I better off with Justin Fields?’ You have to compare those sort of decisions… It’s going to be a really exciting offseason, and I think ultimately the Jets control a lot of what happens.”
They have to weigh all these options and decide which route will bring the most added value to the organization. If the Jets aren’t rock solid on who the second-ranked quarterback prospect is and aren’t 100% confident that player will be more successful than Darnold, the best plan of action may be to give Darnold another year of development and build a better team around him.
Darnold has not shown that he is a franchise quarterback this season by any measure, but no option in the draft will come without question marks as well.
With Lawrence almost assuredly off the table, the Jets need to evaluate Darnold along with the other top quarterbacks in the draft. Since it is hard to definitively say there is a quarterback in the draft other than Lawrence that would be more successful in the Jets’ system than Darnold, the Jets should focus on a position they are certain they can upgrade and give Darnold — or whoever the next quarterback might be — the best chance to succeed.
With that being said, the Jets would have a lot to gain by selecting Oregon’s Sewell. Similar to Chase Young last year, Sewell may be the best talent in this year’s draft who won’t go first overall due to a need for a quarterback. The Jets struggled to protect Darnold and Joe Flacco this season, resulting in the sixth-highest sack rate in the NFL. Adding Sewell to this offensive line opposite last year’s first-round pick, Mekhi Becton, could form one of the league’s more formidable tackle duos, and could be the building blocks of a great offensive line for years to come. Although Sewell played left tackle in college, the same position as Becton, Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal has noted his versatility.
“I firmly believe if you placed him at center or put him at tight end … he would excel because of his knowledge of the game and how these concepts work,” Cristobal said. The coach also raved about Sewell’s overall talent, praising him as “overall the best football player I’ve been around.” Sewell’s IQ, work ethic and ability are exactly what a team starting a rebuild needs; he would immediately make the Jets better.
Even if they drafted Sewell, upgrades to the offensive line wouldn’t stop there. The Jets are in a prime position to add more talent to the line and go from one of the worst offensive lines to one of the best. With the second-most 2021 cap space and some great interior offensive linemen on the free-agent market, the Jets can make this a strength of their team. Players like Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff and Corey Linsley would all be massive upgrades to an offensive line unit that struggled all season.
Also on their list of draft and free agent priorities should be receivers and tight ends. It is imperative to surround a young quarterback – whether that’s Darnold or someone else — with playmakers who take the pressure off the QB. When a young quarterback is able to play more of a point guard role and distribute the ball to his weapons, he is much more likely to succeed.
If hiring a new head coach, drafting an offensive tackle and investing in offensive line free agents sounds familiar, it’s because it was done this past year. The Browns set the precedent when they hired Kevin Stefanski, drafted Jedrick Wills, signed Jack Conklin and invested in tight ends. These moves paid dividends – Cleveland is in the playoffs for the first timein 18 years. Similar to the Jets’ situation with Darnold, the Browns had a quarterback in Baker Mayfield that hadn’t lived up to expectations in his young career and had people questioning whether he was part of the problem or part of the solution. Adding protection and playmakers for their young quarterback allowed him to grow.
So What Now?
Here are the two most likely routes for the Jets:
They draft Sewell. The upgraded offensive line allows Darnold to be more comfortable and confident in the pocket and the Jets offense sees improvements. Darnold takes a huge leap, similar to Mayfield, and the Jets have found their franchise quarterback. The No. 2 overall pick turns out to be the right selection and the Jets’ offense has a solid young core of Darnold, Becton and Sewell. They have a young playmaker in 2020 second-round receiver Denzel Mims, and they can look to add a few more via draft and free agency.
If Darnold continues to struggle in 2021 even with the improved offensive line, then nobody will disagree that it’s time to art ways. Whether they choose to find a new quarterback via the 2022 draft or through trade or free agency, at least that QB will at least have a better offensive line situation than Darnold did.
Both of these scenarios represent progress for the Jets and avoid the worst-case scenario, which is drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick and having them struggle just as much as Darnold. In that case, the Jets will have wasted a No. 2 overall pick that could have been a certain upgrade. While this strategy does not have the explosive return potential of drafting Justin Fields or Zach Wilson, it has a better chance of guaranteeing production from their pick and providing more clarity for the future. So while Jets fans may be upset that they lost their chance at Trevor Lawrence, they should still be excited about the opportunities in front of them.