New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws the ball during New York Jets rookie mini camp at Atlantic Health Training Center.

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Keidel: Jets Should Sit Sam Darnold To Begin Season

Rookie Can Learn From McCown, Bridgewater

Jason Keidel
June 15, 2018 - 11:45 am
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If an NFL summer is good for anything, it's the crucible of quarterback battles. For the pro football proletarians, who don't have Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Big Ben or a similar pillar under center, this is when you're supposed to weed out the leader of your squad. 

The Jets haven't had a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath's bandaged legs limped around Shea Stadium 45 years ago. Word is that may have just changed, with the arrival of top draft pick Sam Darnold. The big, beefy QB out of USC is reportedly impressing everyone with his size, skill and will.  

Yet despite the glittering reviews, coach Todd Bowles says the current QB totem pole features last year's starter, Josh McCown, then Teddy Bridgewater, then Darnold. And that's a good thing. 

There are other reports, from the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta on down, that Darnold could begin the season as the starting signal-caller. But what's the rush? Why did the Jets go through the trouble of keeping McCown and signing Bridgewater -- two legitimate NFL quarterbacks -- if they didn't plan to nurse Darnold into the job? 

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The ADD nature of the modern sports fan and NFL owner doesn't allow for such a plan. Throw Darnold into the mayhem of live NFL action and let him figure it out, they say. But that's not the way to do this. Let Darnold clutch a clipboard and absorb the size and speed of the game from the safety of the sideline before you hurl him into the pit. Let him learn from real professionals, from teammates McCown and Bridgewater, about the pace, pressure and nuance of the NFL. 

Darnold just became old enough to order a beer at a bar, turning 21 last week. Unless he has already lapped the field, has memorized the playbook, is making throws that leave the team awestruck and is already showing the poise and soul of a man 10 years his senior, let the young man sit for at least half the season, if not all of 2018. The impulse to see what you got, to let the kid get his gridiron baptism out of the way, is natural. It worked for Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman. 

Maybe we should remember another high-end draft pick who was thrown in with the lions right away as a rookie and left with a profound case of NFL PTSD -- David Carr. The No. 1 draft pick in 2002 started his first 16 games for the fledgling Houston Texans. He was sacked an obscene 76 times, easily the most in the league. Three of his first four years, Carr led the league in getting sacked -- 76, 49 and 68 times in 2002, '04, and '05, rspectively -- and was never right again.  

Granted, the Texans were an expansion team with a dreadful offensive line. The Jets, by default, have a better core club. But the Jets lose nothing by letting Darnold learn while wearing a baseball cap, rather than a helmet, for a few months, at least. Dan Marino didn't start right away. Neither did Joe Montana. Brady sat his rookie season. Rodgers didn't start until his fourth year. Each team, each dynamic is different. But the approach is the same and is sound. 

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This week, WFAN's Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts interviewed Bob Lederer, whose book, "Beyond Broadway Joe," is being released in September. Lederer asserted that Darnold is the Jets' most promising prospect since Namath and would be happy to see the Jets go 8-8 with Darnold at quarterback. There's little in history to suggest Darnold would win eight games as a rookie -- especially on a club that went 5-11 last year, lost its last four games and averaged just 18.6 points per game.  

So let Darnold learn at the altar of his more seasoned peers, then let him lead the Jets into the future. Let logic, if not history, be the guide.

The Jets have waited 45 years for their next Namath. Another few months won't matter. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel