Teddy Bridgewater (5) drops back to pass during Jets minicamp on June 12, 2018 in Florham Park, N.J.

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Keidel: Jets Should Start Bridgewater If He Continues To Shine

Let Darnold Sit And Learn Behind Veterans

Jason Keidel
August 04, 2018 - 1:00 pm
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Some NFL training camps spout propaganda like a political campaign. Already we heard that top draft pick Baker Mayfield has some schooling ahead of him. Then a few days later, he was eye-popping amazing. 

So it could be with the Jets, who drafted their own franchise messiah -- quarterback Sam Darnold -- two picks after Mayfield was bagged by the Browns. After some jousting over contract language, the former USC Trojan is finally in the fold with his new NFL club. 

And just as the Browns signed established QB starter Tyrod Taylor, presumably to start the season and double as an avuncular sideline figure for Mayfield, the Jets have veteran Josh McCown in camp, who's already led more than a few Jets drives in games that count. 

Even better, the Jets added Teddy Bridgewater, the former Vikings quarterback who suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in NFL history two years ago (without being hit on the play). Thanks to his heart and humility, Bridgewater has recovered from his mangled leg and is reportedly playing out of his young mind early in camp.  

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Indeed, Bridgewater is looking so well the expected debate has sprouted about two months ahead of schedule. Who should start the season under center for the Jets?

With the ever-building pressure to win and increasing attention deficit disorder among NFL owners, the idea of a team serving as a one- or two-year incubator for a young, gifted quarterback, letting him clutch a clipboard for a season or so, has become as obsolete as the single wing. And while Darnold landed on Gang Green's summer campus later than normal, the expectations are as lofty as the skyline beaming across the Hudson River. 

If Bridgewater is indeed as good as the Jets brass' implies -- again, we know there's rampant media manipulation this time of year -- then let the man start the season atop the QB totem pole. Don't do it because Bridgewater has made a cinematic recovery from a shredded leg that could have been amputated. Don't do it because he's impossible to dislike. 

Do it because he's played the game before, played it well and would still be the starter on a very good Vikings club had he not suffered a random act of mutilation. And do it because every game Bridgewater or McCown starts is another week Darnold learns at the altar of modest and mature quarterbacks who can nurse him into a fine quarterback. 

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The Jets should treat Darnold with the care afforded a newly discovered species. For Jets fans, he is. If Darnold meets projections, he would be the team's first real franchise quarterback since Joe Namath, and most fans reading this weren't alive when Broadway Joe plied his magic amalgam of passion, precision and prognostication. 

They have already been massaged headlines declaring that Darnold has demanded the starting gig from the jump. If you read Darnold's actual quotes, he hasn't. But such is life in the nation's media vortex, compounded by the fact that the Jets have whisked a conga line of failed quarterbacks through their turnstiles since the 1970s. 

Plus, Darnold has to fight the two-pronged stigma that follows quarterbacks from USC and those who didn't play three years in college. The fact that Southern Cal -- one of the five most celebrated programs in college football history -- has produced some underwhelming NFL signal-callers feels more like an anomaly than an omen. And the fact that Darnold didn't see his senior season as a Trojan is all the more reason to keep him in a classroom and baseball cap as long as tolerable. 

Of course, none of this may happen. A Google search will yield myriad reports that the Jets are flaunting Bridgewater so they can trade him. Why you would sign a QB for a summer then trade him is counterintuitive and a mystery to this football fan. If the Jets do trade Bridgewater, then they would rid themselves of their most September-ready QB and would narrow the competition to McCown and Darnold. 

Assuming McCown starts, his grip on the job would be loose, at best. As soon as the good ship Gang Green leaks a few losses, the media and the masses will cry for Darnold, no matter his progress. If he's not ready and his senses have yet to adjust to the whiplash speed of live NFL action, then the Jets run the risk of scarring their prized rookie forever. 

Will the Jets learn from their past, or repeat it?   

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel