Why Trevor Lawrence should embrace the challenge of the Jets over the comforts of Clemson

Sometime during Trevor Lawrence’s sophomore season at Cartersville (Georgia) High School, a year he would chuck 43 touchdown passes, he ascended to the top of the Class of 2018 recruiting rankings.

He was just 15 years old during part of that season, but he had it all. Size. Strength. Accuracy. Athleticism. Leadership. Intelligence. Maturity.

A guy like that, a guy that good, doesn’t attract just college recruiters from across the country. He all but pencils his name into the first NFL draft he’s eligible to join. In Lawrence’s case, 2021, after his junior season of college.

Nothing since has changed that. Lawrence is 35-1 at Clemson, including a national title as a freshman and a championship game appearance as a sophomore. He has thrown 83 touchdowns and counting. He’s the total package.

Barring injury, this is the No. 1 selection in the next spring’s NFL draft.

Well, if he wants to be. He could always come back for his senior season at Clemson, of course.

“Obviously, I have the option to do either one,” Lawrence told reporters on Tuesday. “Kind of my mindset has been that I am going to move on. But who knows? There’s a lot of things that could happen.”

Like the moribund New York Jets getting the No. 1 pick?

Trevor Lawrence hinted he could choose to return to Clemson instead of being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, which got people's attention in New York. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)
Trevor Lawrence hinted he could return to Clemson instead of being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, which got people's attention in New York. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)

Lawrence even speculating he might return to school sent the football world off its axis. About the only exciting thing terrible NFL teams have going for them this fall is that their failures might be rewarded with the long-haired, 6-foot-6 future superstar.

Tank for Trevor” has been a legitimate battle cry. Nowhere more than with the Jets, who aren’t just the league’s only winless team (0-7) but have been outscored by a whopping 116 points, nearly twice the amount of the one-loss teams out there. With a fairly daunting schedule still to come, an 0-16 season is extremely plausible.

Yet here was Lawrence opening up a different possibility than blindly joining Gang Green. With one simple quote, he made Clemson fans nearly faint in excitement while fraying the nerves of Jets backers who have been searching for a star quarterback since Joe Namath led them to victory in Super Bowl III.

There may be a simple explanation for the comments. This may just have been a wise star quarterback reaffirming his commitment to his current teammates and their national championship goals.

Or it could be a smart future pro laying the groundwork for a pre-draft negotiation not so much about money, but destination. His ability to return to school is a showing of rare leverage for an incoming rookie. Perhaps he could force a trade to a preferred destination. That said, whenever Lawrence turns pro, he isn’t expected to sign with the kind of power agent who is likely to pull off bullying an NFL franchise.

Either way, the idea that Lawrence might play a senior season is an unexpected development. There is little he hasn’t accomplished in college. Whatever his game needs work on probably won’t be polished up against overwhelmed ACC competition.

He turned 21 this month but recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, which seems like a “new-stage-of-life” kind of decision. He has led social justice movements on campus, even in a deeply conservative region of South Carolina, suggesting he sees, and is engaged, in a much bigger world than just afternoon practice.

He is worth millions, not just in NFL salary but endorsements — which shampoo company is going to win the bidding war to wash those spectacular locks? Where you play matters less now than back in Namath’s days, but there is still no place like New York.

Still, these are the Jets. They are terrible. Every team who earns the No. 1 pick in the draft is terrible, of course, but the Jets represent another level of dysfunction.

Bad ownership. Bad coaching. Bad roster. The team hasn’t reached the playoffs since the 2010 season. Since that Super Bowl in 1969, there have been a few brief stretches of hope — Rex Ryan’s teams a decade ago, a 1998 Bill Parcells-led run to the AFC title game, a period of competitiveness in the early 1980s powered by the “New York Sack Exchange.”

The Jets are the second-most popular team in their own city. Their current incompetence hasn’t helped the career development of their last highly drafted QB savior, Sam Darnold.

None of that should scare Lawrence off. If he has an understandable desire to milk a great college experience for another season, then so be it. Any apprehension about New York shouldn’t factor in.

If anything, he should embrace it. Big city, big star. New York is still New York. There is something uniquely magical about winning there, being beloved there, mattering there.

Namath knew that when in the pre-merger days of professional football he chose the Jets (who were just as terrible then) of the AFL over the then St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. As a Jet he lost more games (61) than he won (60) and threw more picks (215) than touchdowns (170), yet four decades later he still struts around Manhattan like he owns the place.

Times Square Trevor?

Maybe not, but football cultures and franchise fortunes can flip on a dime.

A 2021 season where the Jets trot out a new quarterback and a new coach is a long way from the current doldrums. Win in the Big Apple, give the city the football star it is desperate for, and the past is no longer prologue.

Trevor Lawrence is that good. So good, that he can make it anywhere.

Even in New York.

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