Jets need to throw Sam Darnold into the deep end and let him sink or swim

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Adam Gase is saying all the right thing about Sam Darnold right now, but the Jets need to give their quarterback a lot of control when the season begins. 

Like most rookies, Sam Darnold lumbered through an up-and-down campaign last season for the Jets. Entering his sophomore year, now is the time for the former No. 3 pick to take a massive step forward and that begins with Adam Gase giving him control over the offense.

The good news for fans in New York is that his new coach certainly believes that’s possible. Gase insists there will be “no limitations” placed on Darnold in 2019. He specifically stated that the former USC star isn’t the “kind of quarterback you’re looking to protect.” All too often, that’s how the previous staff treated Darnold.

The Jets haven’t enjoyed a perfect offseason, but there’s no argument about their willingness to invest money and resources to help Darnold take a leap forward. Paying a running back big money is frowned upon around the league, but Le’Veon Bell’s presence in the backfield is going to be a big plus for Darnold. Not only will Bell give him a quality running game to rely on, but he’ll also catch a ton of passes out of the backfield. That’s not a quality any Jets running back was blessed with last season.

The franchise has done even more to add talent immediately in front of Darnold over the last week. First, the Jets coaxed center Ryan Kalil out of retirement to stabilize the interior of their offensive line. Kalil isn’t going to blow opponents off the ball with his size or athleticism, but he will get his offensive line in the right position before the ball is snapped. Keeping pressure out of Darnold’s face should allow him more chances to complete balls down the field with his excellent arm strength.

The Jets doubled down on the idea of building a secure pocket for Darnold by acquiring guard Alex Lewis from the Ravens. New York only gave up a conditional seventh round pick in the deal, but Lewis still projects as a potential starter at guard. Even if he can’t crack the starting lineup, he’ll give Gase and his offensive coaching staff much-needed depth.

Establishing a clean pocket for Darnold to throw from is just the first step of what the Jets need to do in order to achieve offensive progression in 2019. His ability to successfully transition from intriguing young player to above-average NFL starter will require a philosophical change. Fortunately, Gase appears to be willing to take the shackles off his young quarterback.

If he truly lives out those words when the regular season begins, Darnold will have a chance to take advantage of the team’s talented group of wide receivers. Jamison Crowder is getting a lot of attention after joining the team in free agency, but there was already a solid group of receivers on the roster. Both Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa flashed big-play ability for the Jets last year. It stands to reason that both should see an uptick in production if Darnold is permitted to take more chances down the field.

From an organizational perspective, finding out just what they have in Darnold should be more important than how many games the Jets win or lose this season. It’s going to be very difficult for this group to break through and become a playoff team out of the AFC East. The Patriots should rule the division once again and the Bills seem to be a year or two ahead of New York on their path to contention. The most important thing the Jets can do this season is to make sure Darnold is the franchise quarterback they believe him to be.

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None of this means that Darnold should reach his ceiling as a player in 2019. He just needs to take another solid step forward in his progression as an NFL starter. If he can do that, the Jets should continue forward as a franchise who can become a postseason factor in the near future. If he doesn’t, this team could be forced to use another high draft pick on a quarterback in the very near future.