Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) rushes for yards during the first half against the New York Giants on Aug. 23, 2018, at MetLife Stadium.

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Keidel: Bridgewater Runs Into More Tough Luck As Darnold Era Begins

Trade Signals Jets Going With Rookie In Week 1

Jason Keidel
August 30, 2018 - 10:09 am
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As kids, we are told by teachers, parents and all manner of authority figures that if you work hard, stay humble and keep quiet, good things will happen. 

Tell that to Teddy Bridgewater. A rising star as quarterback of the rising Minnesota Vikings, Bridgewater suffered one of the most gruesome knee injuries in NFL history -- without being touched. Then he cranks his head down, spends two grueling years of rehab on his mangled knee, and the Vikings give up on him. So the Jets take him, presumably to take on the dual roles of starter and stoic mentor for a first-round rookie, who ended up being Sam Darnold.

LISTEN: Evan Roberts Reacts To Bridgewater Trade On His Podcast

As a Jet this summer, Bridgewater completes 28 of 38 passes (73.7 percent) with two touchdowns and one interception. As he'd done in Minnesota, he showed the Jets that he was a fine player and better person, and many considered him the front-runner for Gang Green's starting QB gig on opening day. All his young life, Bridgewater, 25, has beaten the odds. He overcame poor predraft workouts to become a first-round pick by Minnesota. He overcame a leg so mutilated that amputation was possible, only to get booted to the Jets. He busted his buns to prove he should be the Jets' starting QB, and has now been shipped to New Orleans to clutch a clipboard while Drew Brees leads the Saints to Super Bowl contention. 

Teddy Bridgewater
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Meanwhile, it's become a fait accompli that the baby-faced Darnold will be the Jets' signal-caller on Sept. 10 against the Detroit Lions. If Darnold takes the first snap of the 2018 season, he would become the youngest player to start a season under center since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. At 21 years and 97 days old, Darnold would be 103 days younger than Drew Bledsoe was when he broke the huddle in 1993 with New England. 

It didn't take Captain Obvious to tell us that Darnold was the future face of the Jets. Jokes and Jets history aside, Darnold has all the physical and emotional bona fides for a longtime NFL quarterback. But for a team that has too many variables on the offensive line, no clear playmaker at wide receiver (Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson aren't exactly Swan and Stallworth) and a committee of running backs with no clear star, it seems a dubious time and place to go with a rookie QB. 

There have also been studies to suggest that quarterbacks who play at least three years of college ball tend to adapt better to the whiplash speed and bone-crunching barbarism of live NFL action. (Darnold played just two seasons at USC.) All the more reason to nurse Darnold into the starting job. But the haunting version of the NFL acronym -- Not For Long -- seems to have consumed all sides of the sport. Coaches and GMs are forced to roll more dice than their predecessors because they now have the vocational life expectancy of a housefly if they don't get instant results on the gridiron. 

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Back in the day, a coach had three or four years to turn an NFL tanker around. Now NFL coaches are supposed to be equal parts mentor and magician. And none of them are helped by the wizardry being performed by Sean McVay, who turned the Los Angeles Rams from lambs into lions in one season, even as the youngest head coach in NFL history who still gets carded at the local gin mill. 

There are valid arguments for both sides. Troy Aikman toiled through a 1-15 rookie season. Peyton Manning suffered through a 3-13 maiden season. But the most accomplished QB in history, Tom Brady, started his career on the sideline. And the most gifted QB in history, Aaron Rodgers -- who just signed the richest deal in NFL history -- also started his career with a clipboard and baseball cap. 

But none played for coaches squirming on the same hot seat you'll find in Todd Bowles' office. The Jets head coach, who has done a way better job than his career record implies, is banking on upside. And no matter how mature and refined Bridgewater may be, most agree that Darnold has a much higher football ceiling. 

Is Sam Darnold the next Troy Aikman, who suffered a savage beating then elbowed his way into the Hall of Fame? Or is Darnold the next David Carr, who suffered such a beating as a rookie that he played his career with a shellshocked mien and career reticence to stand tall in the pocket?

We don't know the answer or the future. But for the first time in 50 years, the Jets have a real shot to unveil their franchise quarterback, to replace Joe Namath as the only other Jets QB to bask in Broadway's glow without burning in its glare. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​