Jets quarterback Sam Darnold throws the ball during New York Jets rookie minicamp on May 4, 2018, at Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey.

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Lichtenstein: Darnold Debacle Another Example Of Jets Lunacy

Maccagnan Needs To Get QB Into Camp Now

Steve Lichtenstein
July 30, 2018 - 11:21 am
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We can now add the Darnold Debacle to the ignominious list of missteps that has tortured the Jets’ fan base for half a century.

Sam Darnold, the quarterback selected third overall in April’s draft by Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and the one player Jets fans want to see this preseason, has not yet reported to training camp. He is holding out.

Strange, since the NFL, through its dominant role in collective bargaining with the Players Association, supposedly took the edge off negotiations between teams and their newest draft picks in the 2011 agreement. Draftees used to hold out all the time, leading to record-setting compensation deals that far exceeded those of established veterans. 

That’s no longer the case. Salaries are now slotted, with only relative minutiae to haggle over in rookie deals. A reported 254 of the 256 selections from the 2018 draft have already signed in advance of training camp.

MORE: Position Battles To Watch At Jets Training Camp

Leave it to the Jets, then, to be one of the two outliers.

Darnold, the future franchise quarterback, has not participated in any of the three team practices to date, including Sunday’s full-padded workout.

Why, you ask? 

The Jets have not commented on the specifics, but it is presumed by most experts that the impasse is predominately over something called “offsets” and voidable clauses, which are often inserted to protect a team from guaranteed payments in the event of a player’s suspension or arrest.

If Darnold turns into a bust and is cut before his four-year, $30.2 million deal expires, he would still get paid. It’s fully guaranteed. However, any money Darnold would receive from his next gig could reduce the Jets’ liability if an offset provision is included in his rookie contract. Darnold and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, allegedly are adamantly against such a provision so that Darnold would be able to double dip.

MORE: Lichtenstein: Jets Finally Have A Young QB -- Do You Trust This Coaching Staff To Develop Him?

Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (first overall) and Josh Allen (seventh) both reportedly have offsets in their rookie contracts. Allen is also represented by Sexton. 

So maybe you can make a case that Maccagnan has grounds to take a stand there.

Except that this is not the time for the Jets to play hardball. Maccagnan had months to sort this out. Now, every day Darnold misses hurts the team.

The other stumbling block -- the voidable clauses -- on its face appears to be just plain idiotic. According to media leaks, it seems that the Jets are attempting to insert language that would allow them to void guaranteed compensation if Darnold is fined for certain reasons. Given that the NFL fines players for everything from mismatched shoelace colors to incorrect interpretations of its playing rules, vague language on that front would seem to be a deal-breaker. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, it is believed that no other top-three pick in the last 10 years has had such a provision.

This is unfathomable given the stakes.

Developing any NFL quarterback requires a lot of work. Why do the Jets suddenly feel the need to increase the degree of difficulty? 

Darnold is only 21, with just two seasons of college experience. This is the time when he should be getting his feet wet; familiarizing himself with how the Jets offense, under new coordinator Jeremy Bates; works in practice; and getting used to the increased game speed and bigger bodies. In season, backup quarterbacks don’t get many reps.

If the holdout continues, there will come a point when coach Todd Bowles will have no choice but to redshirt Darnold -- except in the pros, you don’t get the year back.

Which is why Maccagnan has to cave. Now.

If Darnold turns into Christian Hackenberg II or exhibits atypical behavior, Maccagnan will have a heck of a lot more problems than the few million dollars of dead cap money. He should be fired. No one would care about how astute he was in his hedges to save his owner money.

This is the first time in his four drafts when Maccagnan has given hope to fans who longed for the franchise to fill a long-term void at the most important position on the field. Maccagnan traded three second-round picks to Indianapolis before the draft to move up three slots, gambling it would be enough to land Darnold, his top target, according to some accounts.    

Now, for better or worse, Maccagnan needs Darnold to succeed on the field. OK, maybe not this season, but there will be pressure to at least show that the process has been started.

Which is why it is imperative for Maccagnan to get Darnold to report to Florham Park as soon as possible.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.