Report: Sam Darnold expected to return as Jets starter under Robert Saleh


The Jets have found their new coach in former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. 49ers passing-game coordinator Mike LaFleur, younger brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, will reportedly follow Saleh to New York, succeeding Dowell Loggains (a holdover from the failed Adam Gase administration) as offensive coordinator.

With that power structure in place, the question now turns to how the Jets will address their very real quarterback dilemma. Behind Door No. 1 is incumbent Sam Darnold, who has largely underachieved since arriving as the third overall pick in 2018, though in his defense, the 23-year-old has been plagued by a weak supporting cast and an inept coaching staff including a deer-in-the-headlights head coach (Gase) who didn’t have the foggiest clue how to unlock Darnold’s obvious potential. Behind the second door is a fresh start in the form of Ohio State’s Justin Fields or Zach Wilson of BYU, both of whom could be had with the No. 2 pick in April’s draft. GM Joe Douglas promised the Jets’ new coach would be heavily involved in that decision and it seems Saleh’s mind is already made up. The floor is yours, Adam Schefter.

“Right now, I think the plan would be to proceed with Sam Darnold as the quarterback of the New York Jets in 2021,” said the longtime ESPN reporter shortly after news broke of Saleh’s hiring Thursday night. “Joe Douglas and his staff believe in him. Robert Saleh believes in him.”

Maintaining the status quo would likely require the Jets to exercise Darnold’s fifth-year option, which would pay him upwards of $25 million in 2022. That’s a hefty financial commitment for a player who has straddled the line between inconsistent and flat-out bad, though with Trevor Lawrence—the only sure thing among this year’s quarterback prospects—all but certain to join Jacksonville with the first overall pick, reaching for one of Fields or Wilson at No. 2 might not be in the Jets’ best interest.

“The Jets will entertain offers at the No. 2 pick,” said Schefter, reiterating his firm belief Darnold will be back for a fourth season in East Rutherford. “I think that they could sit there and take an offensive tackle, they could sit there and take a wide receiver. They could do whatever they want with that pick.” Oregon tackle Penei Sewell and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith should be available at that slot, though trading down in pursuit of more picks would also make sense from the Jets’ perspective. Regardless, it doesn’t sound like New York will be prioritizing quarterback in April’s draft.

“I think that they’d like to give Sam Darnold an opportunity for a full season, when he’s healthy, with a new staff to see what he could do,” said Schefter. “I would be surprised if Sam Darnold were not the starting quarterback on Opening Day.”

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