When Joe Douglas booted Sam Darnold for a slew of picks to take Zach Wilson 2nd overall, the reaction of many was, “here we go again with the Jets.” Including the Jets’ own base.
When Mike Maccagnan took Darnold 3rd overall, they knew that his sporadic recklessness and clunky delivery system would be an inhibitor of accuracy. However, his size, mobility around the red zone, and pure strength were worth the risk in the mind of his scout room. Unfortunately, the former became the overwhelming reality. And Adam Gase’s presence didn’t exactly help.
When Joe Douglas stepped in, he came to terms with the team not being advanced forward by a coach and quarterback he never hired or drafted, respectively. But what Joe Douglas did in order to make it his Jets’ team and put his fingerprint on the organization was not be pushed around by “potential” or “rhetoric”. The trading of Sam Darnold was as swift as it was predictable, and Douglas got his money’s worth.
But when Douglas picked Zach Wilson over Justin Fields or Trey Lance, the reaction of many was that the Jets replaced Sam Darnold with a shorter version of himself – athletic, explosive, impulsive, and an improviser. Those with a sense of humor called Wilson the “Mormon Johnny Manzel”. And like Darnold, Wilson’s hero-ball mentality became quickly apparent as many expected it to be.
But there’s more hope for Wilson, and it actually ends with his talent. It starts at the top.
Robert Saleh is far from a slauch on his resume. But when Joe Douglas hired him, he knew that his intangible ability to build a culture was worth more than accolades, or an endorcement from Peyton Manning. Just take a look at the polarization of Mike McCarthy in Dallas, Matt Nagy formerly in Dallas, or the majority of Bill Bellichick’s assistants. Being a human being matters, and Robert Saleh is an excellent one – coaching talent doesn’t matter if a team can’t get behind you or laugh about you when you’re out of the office.
Zach should feel secure in that reality. And it means something important: Zach will find it very easy to trust Joe Douglas. His drafting patterns support his strengths and cover his weaknessess. Joe Douglas, like all successful general managers and coaches, understands the increasing value of the quarterback position and continues to act accordingly by placing emphasis on weapons and the offensive line. It’s a gift that Sam Darnold was not granted.
The investments made have put Wilson in a position where he doesn’t have to carry the team. The reality is this for both Zach Wilson and Sam Darnold: being forced to carry the team exposes their similarities of recklessness. But unlike with Darnold, Joe Douglas has manipulated his draft board to acquire a potentially generational talent in Breece Hall instead of settling for an expiring, declining Le’Veon Bell. This will take pressure off of Wilson to have to salvage a mess while still giving him opportunities to be himself when he can. The goal is to make the job of the young quarterback as easy as possible – for Darnold, he was surrounded by big names to make the Jets more relevant instead of better. And Sam took the head for it.
Darnold did show enough flashes to get some solid value for him – the Panthers traded for a player that was what the Jets thought Sam Darnold would be. And it worked…for about four games. The Panthers are now starting over again with Baker Mayfield, who is universally considered an upgrade over Sam Darnold – Matt Rhule remains on the hot seat and Joe Douglas wins once again.
Zach Wilson is the guy. And very little of it has to do with him. A good culture, successful drafting, and protection will keep Wilson from being shipped off as a move of panic. Joe Douglas won’t abandon ship, let alone sink it. Even if coach Saleh doesn’t last, Douglas won’t throw his prize quarterback out the window that easily. Maybe a safety, but not the blonde kid from BYU with a lively arm and college competition issues. Zach Wilson is not a shorter Sam Darnold. He’s something even better: himself.
It’s time to show it.