One thing Jets general manager Joe Douglas, having been passed the baton from CEO Christopher Johnson to lead the search for the team's next head coach, won't do is handcuff that coach with a quarterback decision.
So it was that Douglas, when asked by reporters this week if Sam Darnold will be the Jets' QB next season, didn't give a definitive answer.
"I think Sam is going to be a great quarterback," Douglas said. "I'm excited to get a head coach in here and go through our process. I had a great conversation with Sam yesterday, I won't go into any of the specifics, but I think Sam has a very bright future in this league. So we're going to get a head coach in here, we're going to get together, we're going to talk about quite a few decisions. I'm excited about Sam."
Yet Douglas had a lot of good to say about Darnold, soon to officially enter his fourth season as the Jets' former first-round QB, and a lot of it rang true because of the hurdles Darnold and everyone on offense and on the team tried to clear this season.
"I think Sam faced a lot of obstacles this year, as did everybody, dealing obviously with COVID and frankly we had quite a few injuries on the offensive line, at the wide receiver position. I think it was hard for our offense in general to really build the kind of sustained chemistry to create success throughout the year," Douglas said.
Indeed, similar to 2019, this year the Jets thought they had stabilized their O-line for a few seasons to come with the first-round drafting of Mekhi Becton and the signing of three unrestricted free agents, C Connor McGovern, RG Greg Van Roten and RT George Fant. Instead, injuries led to nine different OL starters and nine different OL starting combinations over 16 games.
And instead of fortifying WR with the free agency signing of Breshad Perriman and the second-round selection of Denzel Mims to join outstanding slot receiver Jamison Crowder, injuries led to the threesome playing only seven games together and none of those until Game 9 vs. New England.
"I think all those things impacted not only Sam but our offense," Douglas said. "I do think you saw in December that Sam played a lot of good ball. You obviously saw that we were able to beat two playoff teams, and a lot of that is because of the way Sam played."
Darnold and the Jets posted two of the most improbable of recent NFL victories in Game 14, at the end of a second consecutive West Coast road trip to take on the Rams, and Game 15 vs. the resurgent Browns. With Cleveland, Darnold completed a three-game streak of not turning the ball over and became only the second Jets QB since 2000 to lead wins over ultimately playoff-bound teams in back-to-back games. The only other Jets QB to do it: then-rookie Mark Sanchez, who led wins at Indianapolis and vs. Cincinnati ("Win And We're In") in the last two games of the '09 regular season.
However, the turnovers, the less-than-60% accuracy, and in Darnold's own words, his "lack of consistency," have led to questions in the Jets fan base. Douglas appreciates the questions, but he also doesn't have a head coach yet.
"Look, any major decision that we have in terms of the roster, in terms of free agency, draft, anything, our new head coach is going to be a big part of that moving forward," Douglas said.
Yet in advance of that big announcement in the coming weeks, the Jets GM stated as loudly as he could that he remains a fan of No. 14.
"I really think Sam truly does have a bright future in this league — a 23-year-old quarterback," Douglas said. "Sam is still going to get better every year."