New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold’s rookie contract will, unfortunately, be wasted by a team that needs to fix the hardest area to fix.
Having a starting quarterback on a rookie contract makes it much easier for teams to build a Super Bowl contending team. When the player that plays the highest paid position is on a strictly limited salary, it frees up money to spend elsewhere.
The Eagles had Carson Wentz as their starting quarterback for most of last season and they won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks won a Super Bowl and came one bad coaching decision away from winning two while Russell Wilson was on his rookie deal.
The New York Jets, of course, have quarterback Sam Darnold on a rookie deal for four seasons after 2018 (assuming they pick up his option year). Darnold is young without much experience, but he’s already showing that he has talent and awareness, which are both good signs for his future. But they won’t be able to take advantage of that while he’s on a cheap contract.
The Jets have two big needs on their team right now. They need an EDGE rusher and they need to overhaul the offensive line. The team is currently projected to have almost $100 million in cap space, so the finances to sign players shouldn’t be an issue. EDGE rusher is a position the Jets should be able to address. Players such as Shane Ray, Demarcus Lawrence, and Donte Fowler Jr., who the Jets were in talks to trade for, are all potential free agents. There are potential options on the market.
However, offensive line remains an issue for the team. The team’s current starting line, from left to right, is Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Spencer Long, Brian Winters, and Brandon Shell. Carpenter is a free agent at the end of the season.
This group has routinely been decimated by the very defenses that they’d need to beat to make a run at the Super Bowl next season, as we saw when the team played the Jaguars. When you look at the talent level of the line, it’s easy to see why.
Winters is a strong guard, but only twice in his first five years has he appeared in all 16 games. It’s become hard to count on him being healthy for an entire season. Carpenter is an extremely average guard, and he will be 30 next season, meaning a decline is extremely possible, if not likely.
Long has struggled some this year, both with scheme and with getting beaten by linemen. He was signed mostly because the team needed a body for this season, and he’s never appeared in 16 games.
Beachum is not a good left tackle, and would ideally be the right tackle on the team. Shell has struggled with technique and is most well suited towards being the backup swing tackle as opposed to an uncontested starter.
The team will need to overhaul their line this offseason, which is a problem because it’s next to impossible to build an offensive line in one season, especially through free agency. Teams don’t let top tier offensive linemen hit free agency, as they realize how important it is to have good linemen.
Taylor Lewan, Jake Matthews, and Rob Havenstein, three of the top pending free agent tackles, have already been re-signed by their teams. It’s also very unlikely that Tom Coughlin will let Daryl Williams leave the Jaguars.
The lack of free agent talent at offensive line forced the Giants to overpay Nate Solder, an above average left tackle who became the highest paid player at the position because the team desperately needed an upgrade.
The offensive line crop coming out of college this season is underwhelming as well. There are only two or three linemen considered first-round picks, such as Jonah Williams who will probably go in the first round, and Dalton Risner and Trey Adams, who are considered borderline first rounders.
Williams is projecting as a mid-first round pick, meaning that the Jets would have to reach to get him should their season continue the way it has thus far. General manager Mike Maccagnan has shown an unwillingness to reach for players he considers less talented to fill needs in the past, and it’s unlikely he would change his view on that entering the next draft.
Thus, it’s likely that the Jets will enter next season with either a similar line to what they have now or with players who reached free agency and thus have some flaws that made their team decide against signing them. That’s not encouraging for Darnold’s protection next season.
Building a team is a form of economics, and economics are all about supply and demand. The Jets have a demand for offensive line help and plenty of cap space. But all the cap room in the world can’t create a supply of starting offensive linemen.
The team is going to struggle to push for the Super Bowl during Darnold’s first contract with the options that have been presented to them at offensive line.