What on earth happened to Sam Darnold?
Defeating this historically great Patriots defense is difficult, yes. This is a unit that has not given up more than 10 points in a game this season, and has allowed the lowest passer rating versus league average in NFL history.
But Sam Darnold was going to give them their first challenge, we thought. One week ago, Darnold’s presence alone reinvigorated a dormant team. In his return game from mono, Darnold set a career-best with 10.6 yards per attempt as he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Jets to an inspiring upset win over the Cowboys. He became the youngest quarterback ever to have a game with 330-plus yards, a 70-plus completion percentage, 10-plus yards per attempt, and 2-plus touchdowns.
Darnold seemed to be picking up right where he left off near the end of 2018, when he began to look like he was progressing into a high-quality NFL quarterback. He was reading the field with confidence and delivering the ball with precise accuracy on a consistent basis. Simply put, he looked like the guy the Jets traded up to take in 2018 – a franchise-lifter.
Eight days later. . . everything positive that was ever said about Darnold was flipped on its head.
Always considered an advanced reader of the field for his age, Darnold looked like a deer in headlights against the Patriots defense. He was flipping balls into oblivion constantly, reading the field as if it was the first football game he ever played.
Known for his touch over the top, Darnold simply had zero precision against the Patriots. He consistently missed open receivers downfield, including a potential touchdown bomb late in the game to Robby Anderson, who had multiple yards of separation.
A guy who has always been good at making the easy throws with consistency, Darnold over-shot on screen passes and threw numerous short routes into the sidelines.
How can a player have such a historically positive impact one week, and such a historically negative one the next?
What transpired against New England is still hard to believe. Darnold has never looked this bad, either in college or the NFL. Less than 10 days prior, his status as the franchise savior was as legitimate as ever.
The season is less than 40 percent complete. There are still ten games to go. The playoffs are out of the question, but the main goal now becomes getting Sam Darnold right.
The franchise rests in Darnold’s hands. He needs to put together a promising ten-game stretch to show the organization he can be entrusted with the future of this team – and the coaching staff needs to do everything they can to put him in the best position to make that happen.
Why is Trumaine Johnson still on the field?
The signing of Trumaine Johnson was a questionable one when the Jets gave him a five-year $72 million contract in March of 2018. Johnson was an okay corner with Rams, but he was far from an elite one. Yet, the Jets paid him like he was a superstar.
Now, it would not be ideal if Johnson played at an average level while being paid at an elite one, but it would be a manageable situation. The front office would face the tough task of deciding how to manage his contract, but the coaching staff would feel comfortable with having a somewhat solid player they could trust on a weekly basis. This is especially true at cornerback, where rule and philosophy changes have made it harder for teams to find quality cornerbacks.
It seemed the Jets paid a lot of money to ensure they were getting at least a solid player at an important position. While that’s not the smartest decision in the world, it was a somewhat defensible one. If Johnson could be average for the Jets over the length of his contract, the contract may be considered a win.
Fast forward to October 2019, and the Jets could only wish Johnson was an average player. Not only has he failed to live up to his contract (as expected), but Johnson has declined into one of the worst players in the league at any position.
Johnson is a complete liability. Against the Patriots, he gave up a long touchdown pass and multiple other key first down conversions. He also took a blatant pass interference penalty to prevent what would have been another long touchdown pass. This was with the Patriots missing Josh Gordon and playing Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers as their top outside receivers.
Week after week, teams quickly find Johnson and throw the ball in his direction constantly. And they always find success. Why? Because Johnson always plays way off the line of scrimmage so he doesn’t get embarrassed deep. Formerly known as a great press corner, Johnson does not have the speed to hang with receivers in press anymore. He may be the slowest cornerback in football. In turn, offenses consistently take advantage of the huge cushions provided by Johnson, picking up uncontested first downs with ease.
The Jets will already have to eat $12M in dead cap money to cut Johnson after this season. If he suffers an injury that lasts until next March, they will owe him another $11M for injury settlement.
If the Jets are smart, they’ll bench Johnson for the rest of the season. That would save them from the potential cap disaster that would be caused by an injury and make the team a lot better at the same time. This should be an obvious decision.
Plus, benching Johnson would allow for Nate Hairston to get more playing time. The third-year corner has been strong in his limited appearances this season, yet for some reason continuously sees the bench while Johnson gets burnt on the field.
A Joe Douglas trade acquisition just prior to the season, Hairston has a lot of potential, and it’s been on obvious display when he has been out there. His quick, fluid hips in coverage give him a lot of exciting upside. He had some strong reps against the star-studded Browns in Week 2.
Hairston is a far better player than Johnson (most cornerbacks are) and would provide an immediate boost to the team’s chances of winning games in 2019. With a strong finish to the season, he could establish himself as a long-term building block for the general manger that acquired him.
It’s time for the Jets to make a decision they should have made weeks ago. Bench the overpaid corner in favor of the up-and-coming one.