Sam Darnold, Adam Gase
(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The 2020 NFL season is not a make-or-break year for Sam Darnold. Instead, it’s Adam Gase who’ll be under more pressure.

When it comes to Sam Darnold’s development, patience is still necessary. Joe Douglas will soon need to make some decisions in regards to the 22-year-old’s future with the New York Jets, but the former USC Trojan holds some leeway.

Adam Gase, however, does not.

Although he’s provided us with a flurry of inconsistent flashes, Darnold, the 2018 No. 3 overall pick, hasn’t had the same success as his peers. Part of that falls on the supposed franchise quarterback, yet the organization carries the brunt of the blame.

Through two seasons, Darnold has played under two head coaches with a horrendous offensive line and a subpar arsenal of weapons. The Jets have failed to put their quarterback in favorable situations, a major factor that’s certainly stunted his growth.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield heads into a crucial third season with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper alongside him. The Bills traded for Stefon Diggs this offseason, who will enter the organization and become Josh Allen’s No. 1 wideout. These teams are taking strides to surround their respective young quarterbacks with as much talent as possible.

While Douglas has made improvements to Gang Green’s offense, Darnold enters his third year with a receiving corps led by slot man Jamison Crowder, the unproven Breshad Perriman, and rookie Denzel Mims. This group is arguably better than last year’s, but Darnold again finds himself in a far less promising situation than his counterparts.

Considering the circumstances, it seems foolish to expect the young signal-caller to come in and light it up in 2020. Not only does he still have a below-average supporting cast, but Darnold and the rest of the Jets offense are additionally losing valuable practice time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’ll take time for the quarterback to find chemistry with his new group of targets and the revamped offensive line still needs to gel. Besides, Gang Green also faces the second-toughest schedule in the NFL next season.

Darnold isn’t necessarily primed for a breakout campaign.

For this reason, the Jets won’t give up on Darnold if he doesn’t take a major step forward in 2020. Douglas and the rest of the front office realize that this is a multi-year rebuild, and they’ll reserve their judgments on Darnold’s long-term outlook until he plays with a more adequate supporting cast. But can the same be said about Gase’s future?

That is the bigger question. And the answer is no.

Gase’s first year with Gang Green was an interesting one. Despite the fact that Darnold missed three games with mononucleosis, the Jets finished with a 7-9 record. They were 7-6 with their starting quarterback under center.

While the results weren’t terrible, the season was a true disappointment. The Jets were unable to take advantage of their cakewalk of a schedule and make a playoff-push. More importantly for Gase, the offense, his calling card, was simply atrocious. Gang Green finished near the bottom of the league in almost all key offensive categories. Not to mention, Darnold failed to take his game to the next level.

Yes, the Jets’ offensive statistics were slightly skewed as a result of Darnold’s missed time. But Gase’s inability to put together any semblance of a competent unit without his starting quarterback was also appalling.

Similar to his quarterback though, Gase showed some flashes, as he called a couple of solid games. He had his offense firing on all cylinders in wins over the Cowboys, Redskins, and Raiders. Nonetheless, there were far too many weeks in which the offense looked anemic, unprepared, and overmatched. Two of these debacles even occurred against the Dolphins and Bengals, a pair of ballclubs that won a combined seven games.

There were a few games where Gase looked like the bright offensive mind that he’s long been made out to be. But there were many others where his play-calling was erratic and he failed to play to the strengths of his top players. Perhaps last season’s playbook was hindered by New York’s terrible offensive line play. Regardless, Gase, just like his quarterback, will need to find consistency in 2020.

At the end of the day, Gase hasn’t led a successful offense since his time in Denver with Peyton Manning. He’ll certainly need to change that in 2020 to keep his job. Between Le’Veon Bell, Chris Herndon, Jamison Crowder, and Darnold, there are enough talented and experienced pieces for Gase to use. With that said, there are no excuses. He must find a way to get the most out of this group. The clock is ticking.

The record won’t be the end-all-be-all for Gase in 2020, especially given the fact that his team faces an extremely difficult schedule. Instead, his fate lies in the hands of his quarterback. Darnold has proven he carries all the tools and talent. Thus, if he can take a step forward, the former Dolphins head coach will be back with Gang Green in 2021.

On the other hand, if Gase fails to ignite the offense once again this upcoming season and Darnold doesn’t progress, I find it hard to believe that he’d be given another chance with the organization, or even as a head coach in the NFL. Keep in mind that while Gase and Douglas are close friends, it was Mike Maccagnan that hired New York’s current head coach. I can’t imagine that Douglas wouldn’t mind handpicking his own.

Gase is the Jet that faces more pressure in 2020. If things don’t work out this year, Darnold will surely earn one more shot with a new head coach and some more weapons, whereas Gase will be fired. This may seem unfair to the Jets head coach, yet it’s the reality of the situation. It’s a make-or-break year for him, and he knows it.

“All I know is we need to find ways to win games and put ourselves in position to where we can make the tournament,” Gase said last month, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “That’s what the goal is.”

He’s right. The Jets will need to find ways to win games in 2020, but that won’t be possible without improvement from Darnold, which Gase must facilitate.

All in all, if growth from the quarterback doesn’t occur, it’ll be Gase, not Darnold, that’s subject to consequences.

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