A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Darnold & Wise Men: In addition to a revamped offensive line and a couple of new wide receivers, quarterback Sam Darnold received a new set of encyclopedias this offseason — quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Frank Gore.
We’re talking about a Super Bowl MVP (XLVII) and a (likely) future Pro Football Hall of Famer, respectively, who bring a combined 27 years of NFL experience to the Jets’ backfield. Darnold, still a young pup (he turns 23 on June 5), will be surrounded by a wealth of knowledge for his all-important third season.
Flacco and Gore can be stabilizing influences on an offense in transition, and the person who should benefit most is Darnold, who will be the second-youngest opening-day quarterback. (Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is two months younger. This assumes the Chargers’ Justin Herbert and the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa start the season on the bench.)
This sort of thing doesn’t happen a lot because, let’s face it, football is a young man’s game. Currently, Flacco, 35, and Gore, 37, are among only 12 quarterbacks and running backs in the 35-and-older club, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“I can’t wait to get around him and show him why I’m still able to play this game,” Gore said of Darnold.
For Flacco, who agreed to terms Friday on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, this is uncharted territory — the first time he will enter a season as a backup. (He finished the 2018 season on the Baltimore Ravens‘ bench, backing up Lamar Jackson.) It can be a tough transition for a career starter, but people close to Flacco believe he has adjusted his mindset and will be supportive of Darnold, the clear-cut QB1.
Flacco’s father, Steve, called it a “restart” for his son — a chance to continue his career in a background role while rebounding from a neck injury that prematurely ended his 2019 season with the Denver Broncos.
“It’s a lot easier for him to be in [a backup] position knowing he’s less than 100 percent,” Steve Flacco said in a phone interview. “He won’t be healthy coming out of the gate, but he’ll be good for the team because of his experience. He knows how to prepare, and he loves to work. He’ll be helpful to their young quarterback [Darnold]. He won’t try to coach him — they have coaches — but his experience should help the quarterback room. We’re excited for him. It’s kind of exciting to play for the Jets. It’s cool to be where Joe Namath was at one point.”
Flacco, who underwent neck surgery in early April, probably won’t be cleared for contact until early-to-mid September. The football calendar is up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it looks as though he won’t play in the preseason. He has been cleared to throw and should be able to participate in training camp on a limited basis, but he will know more after an early-August doctor’s appointment. The Jets didn’t give him a physical before the agreement, but they have a handle on his medical situation because Flacco consulted with their doctors before his surgery.
How much does Flacco have left? His numbers weren’t great last season, but his protection was poor and the Broncos lost three games on field goals in the final seconds. With a couple of breaks, he could have been 5-3 as a starter instead of 2-6. He completed a career-high 65.3% of his attempts. He’s a pure pocket passer with little mobility, so Jets coach Adam Gase will have adjust the offense if Darnold is out of the game. Gase might have to dust off his old Peyton Manning plays from Denver.
2. QB shuffle: Flacco’s uncertain timetable might result in roster gymnastics. If the Jets’ season starts as scheduled on Sept. 13 at Buffalo, and he’s still not cleared, it behooves the Jets to keep David Fales as insurance for the insurance, so to speak. Fales is their only other quarterback with experience, albeit minimal. Rookie James Morgan figures to stick as the clipboard carrier. The Jets could go into the season with four quarterbacks. The expanded game-day roster and new practice-squad rules could come in handy.
3. Raven redux (in name only): The Jets’ roster now includes Flacco and Lamar Jackson (h/t The Jet Press). Jackson? Yes, they signed him out of Nebraska as an undrafted free agent. He’s a cornerback, not a quarterback.
4. Trivia question: Flacco will be the fourth former Super Bowl MVP to play or coach with the Jets. Can you name the other three? Answer below.
5. Family affairs: From a distance, the Jamal Adams contract dispute has some similarities to the infamous Darrelle Revis holdout of 2010, which became the main storyline that summer in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series. Here’s one parallel that might have escaped you: The NFL-in-the-family factor.
Back then, Revis was advised by his uncle, former NFL defensive lineman Sean Gilbert, who once sat out an entire season in a contract dispute. Adams’ father is George Adams, a 1985 first-round pick who played most of his career with the New York Giants.
Like Gilbert, Adams experienced the cutthroat nature of the league. His career was cut short due to a hip injury, and he later sued the Giants for damages related to a second hip replacement.
For Revis and Adams, football was/is the family business (emphasis on business). Simply put, they know you have to get it while you can, even if it means a fight.
Rich Cimini expects contract negotiations to get worse before they get better between Jamal Adams and the Jets.
6. Thoughts on Adams: While I believe the Jets have a genuine desire to sign their All-Pro safety to a contract extension, my strong sense is they don’t want to do it until 2021. They’re standing on the belief that it’s rare for a first-round pick (Adams in 2017) to get a new contract after his third season, when he becomes eligible.
Under the current system, which started in 2011, only 16 of 223 players picked in Round 1 received a new deal after their third year. That group includes four defensive players: Luke Kuechly, Patrick Peterson, Robert Quinn and J.J. Watt. Star defenders such as Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Von Miller had to wait.
Adams wants to join Watt & Co. on the list. By any objective measure, he’s underpaid. His average per year is $6.4 million, which includes the amount of his fifth-year option for 2021 ($9.86 million). That average ranks 17th among safeties, according to ESPN salary information. The Jets are well aware of this, but they have the leverage because they control his rights for two more years (four, if you count two franchise tags) — and they intend to use it.
Prepare for a long and potentially nasty battle.
7. Trivia answer: The other three Super Bowl MVPs are Joe Namath (Jets, Super Bowl III), offensive assistant Hines Ward (Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XL) and Santonio Holmes (Steelers, Super Bowl XLIII). John Riggins also captured an MVP (Washington Redskins, XVII), but that came after he played for the Jets.