Why Jets building around Sam Darnold through NFL Draft may be the right move after all

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Ralph Vacchiano
·4 min read
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Joe Douglas Jets GM at the NFL Scouting Combine
Joe Douglas Jets GM at the NFL Scouting Combine

Joe Douglas has made it clear over and over again, since his first day as the Jets’ general manager, that his team-building philosophy is all about the draft. That’s why he’s spent his first 21 months on the job acquiring an impressive array of high draft picks.

And that’s why he didn’t sound eager at all to start giving them away.

“Obviously we have a lot of different scenarios and a lot of different rabbit holes we can go down,” Douglas said on a Zoom call with the media on Wednesday. “Not to get so much into a hypothetical question, but ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft.”

To be clear – and in case you haven’t been following the last few months -- that hypothetical rabbit hole Douglas was discussing was in answer to a back-door inquiry about Deshaun Watson, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who wants a trade from the Houston Texans. The general consensus around the NFL is that it will take at least three first-round draft picks to even get the Texans to think about trading their 25-year-old star.

And oh, by the way, in the next two drafts the Jets just happen to have four. Is Watson worth three or four of those first-round picks? Sure. He’s that kind of special player and the Texans would be crazy to trade him away for anything less. But maybe he’s just not worth it to the Jets, who are team filled with holes up and down the roster. With those four first-round picks in the next two years the Jets, in theory, could add one of the best receivers, tackles, cornerbacks AND edge rushers coming out of college the next two years and lock them all into team-friendly, five-year rookie contracts.

They can do the same with a quarterback, if they choose to draft one with the No. 2 pick this year, which would then free them up to auction off Sam Darnold, for whom they’d probably get at least another second-round pick in return. And with those four first-round picks, plus three second-rounders and three thirds, the Jets could basically build an entirely new team. And that’s not even including what they could get with the $90 million in salary cap space they’re expected to have when free agency starts in two weeks.

That’s an incredible influx of good players, which is what Douglas always had in mind. And that’s what makes it so hard to consider giving it all up for just one player. Quite honestly it’s impossible to imagine Douglas giving up most or all of those valuable assets for Watson or even Russell Wilson, unless the GM has been lying about his team-building philosophy from the start.

And that’s why, assuming Douglas and new coach Robert Saleh really do believe – as Douglas said again on Wednesday – that Darnold is “an extremely talented player” whom they “have no doubt (is) going to achieve his outstanding potential," that keeping Darnold and using those picks to build around him is really the smartest way to go.

Because just imagine this not-so-unrealistic scenario for 2021. Darnold at quarterback throwing to Ja’Marr Chase, whom the Jets could take with the No. 2 pickin the draft, and the speedy Will Fuller whom they could land in free agency. And imagine him handing the ball off to an electric running back like Clemson’s Travis Etienne, whom the Jets could land at No. 23.

And imagine Darnold protected by a line that is fortified by free-agent guard Joe Thuney and a right tackle like Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, who could be there for the Jets at the top of the second round. And then they’d still have two third-round picks and probably $60 million in cap space to find a cornerback and an edge rusher. And they’d be able to get all of that without having to give up either of their first-round picks in 2022.

That’s a dream scenario for most general managers. For Douglas, this was always his plan. These four first-round picks aren’t just an abstract concept. They are talented, inexpensive players – assuming Douglas gets those picks right.

“(The draft) is the most team-friendly market in sports,” Douglas said. “So for us to really be that team that’s really consistently competing for Super Bowls, we have to hit on our draft picks.”

To hit on those picks, they have to have those picks, and Douglas clearly wants them. Maybe he’ll find a way to get Watson for less, though that seems pretty doubtful. But if the cost is what everyone thinks it will be, does that seem like a price Douglas will pay?

Not if he really is all about building through the draft. But the good news is that if that really is philosophy, he has enough high draft picks the next two years to really build a heck of a team – no matter who his long-term quarterback turns out to be.