Keidel: Now Is The Time For Jets And Giants To Take A Big Step Forward

Both Teams Need To Take Advantage Of Quarterbacks On Their Rookie Contracts

Jason Keidel
February 05, 2020 - 3:28 pm

After every Super Bowl, we parse the particulars, wonder why the two teams made it and why the other 30 - including our favorite teams - did not. More than most team sports, the NFL is branded a copycat league, where losers parrot the winning mantras and try to poach the winning players. 

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But the Chiefs' path to the top is part of an increasingly shared blueprint. In a salary cap sport, with such a premium placed on quarterback play, there's a small window through which you can win before you crack open the vault and make it rain on the man under center. Kansas City drafted quarterback Patrick Mahomes, padded him with skill players, and patched together just enough defense to win a Super Bowl in his second full season on the field. 

We saw the Seattle Seahawks reach two Super Bowls while Russell Wilson was on his rookie contract. When the Green Bay Packers won their most recent Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers was making just $6 million. The Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl before Joe Flacco signed his nine-digit-deal. Likewise, the Philadelphia Eagles bagged Super bowl LII while Carson Wentz was on his maiden contract, making $1.6 million that season, and his backup, Nick Foles, who actually played in the Super Bowl, made about a million bucks. Then also consider that the Ravens (14-2) finished with the best record in the NFL this year and should be favored to reach the Super Bowl next year with wunderkind QB Lamar Jackson, who was just voted league MVP in his sophomore season, while making $910,529 in base salary.

So the good news for the Jets (7-9) and Giants (4-12) as they enter the NFL Draft is they each have a young, franchise QB, already have some talent around them and have a window through which they can win before Sam Darnold or Daniel Jones jam their gifted right arms into their team's wallet.

Daniel Jones (8) scrambles with the football in the first half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field Nov 24, 2019; Chicago, IL
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants already have all-world halfback Saquon Barkley behind Jones. They also have some young, talented pass-catchers, from tight end Evan Engram to wide receiver Darius Slayton to go with Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard. They need to tweak their offensive line and beef up their defense, but the Giants have about $60 million in cap space and Daniel Jones is in just the second year of a four-year, $25.6 million rookie contract with a fifth-year team option. 

The Jets also need to fortify their offensive line. They should draft or sign some more skilled pass catchers. But Gang Green's defense is pretty robust and Sam Darnold is in the third year of his four-year, $30.25 deal (with a fifth-year team option) and two more years of modest pay before the Jets must commit serious money to their quarterback. They also boast nearly $50 million in cap room to spend this offseason. 

Not bad when you thumb through the teams at the top of the draft. The Cincinnati Bengals have myriad holes and no quarterback. The Washington Redskins signed Alex Smith, who then suffered a gruesome leg injury that nearly ended his life. (Meanwhile, first-round QB Dwayne Haskins is still unproven.)  The Detroit Lions have all but wasted QB Matt Stafford's prime years. The Miami Dolphins are so desperate for a quarterback, they will likely grab Tua Tagovailoa who suffered his own ugly hip injury and won't even play in 2020. The San Diego Chargers just dropped Philip Rivers as if he had Bubonic plague. The Carolina Panthers may kick Cam Newton to the curb. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Nick Foles, then benched him for Gardner Minshew. And the tenth pick belongs to the Cleveland Browns, a team that has turned Baker Mayfield from the fresh face of the league into a confused, inaccurate thrower fresh off a 6-10 season. 

The NFL has long lauded the outhouse-to-penthouse possibilities in pro football. Since 1990, when the league expanded to 12 playoff teams, at least four teams that qualify each year did not reach the postseason the year before. None of this assures the Jets or Giants a slot in next year's playoffs. But the business model of building around your young franchise quarterback has long passed the trial period and become the model of success. 

So if you believe in Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold, then you have the right to believe that Big Blue and Gang Green are a prudent draft and some proper free agents from restoring MetLife Stadium from an NFL swamp that smells into a place where football sells.  

You can follow Jason on Twitter:@JasonKeidel