How soon Sam Darnold is ready to take over the starting reins with the New York Jets became a subject of debate the minute the USC quarterback was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft.
The learning curve is steep for any college quarterback ascending to the next level, but Darnold already has one hurdle cleared: not having to deal with a freeze-out by an incumbent.
There have been numerous examples of high-profile quarterbacks who balked at showing their successor-in-waiting what it takes to succeed in the NFL. Think Joe Montana-Steve Young and Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers among them.
That won’t be the case with the Jets, perhaps because current starter Josh McCown spent much of his career carrying a clipboard and serving in that backup role.
“The best thing I can do is look back in five years and Sam Darnold is in the Pro Bowl,” McCown told the New York Daily News. “That would be the most satisfying thing. We’ll see. It’ll be fun.”
McCown will turn 39 in July and he’s well aware that the clock is already ticking on his hold with the starting job, due to the soaring expectations surrounding Darnold.
New York made a blockbuster pre-draft trade with the Indianapolis Colts to move up three slots to No. 3 and it paid a hefty price to do so — the Jets sent the No. 6 pick and a pair of second-round selections (Nos. 37 and 49) this year along with a second-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Colts.
From the team’s perspective, the gamble paid off when Darnold, considered the top quarterback in the draft by NFLDraftScout senior analyst Rob Rang, fell to them at the third spot.
“Coaches will make those decisions on when (Darnold is) ready to play and when the time is right,” McCown told the newspapaer. “And I’ll support him whole heartedly. To me, that’s what it’s about. It’s about stabilizing this position for this organization.
“In the short term, if that means going out and playing games and winning games, then I’ll do that. If Sam shows himself ready to go and they make that decision, then I’ll support him 100 percent and be right beside him.”
McCown is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2017, completing 67.3 percent of his passes and throwing career-high 18 touchdown passes with nine interceptions in 13 games before suffering a broken left hand. New York also signed former Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater.
Signed to a one-year contract last month, McCown has had a circuitous journey through the professional ranks — one included a stop with the Hartford Colonials of the now-defunct United Football League in 2010.
Even at that lower rung, McCown was brought in by head coach Chris Palmer, a former quarterbacks coach with the New York Giants, to tutor a hotshot college prospect in Ryan Perrilloux. But while McCown embraces such a mentoring role, it doesn’t mean he’s ready to simply hand over the keys to Darnold.
“If I wasn’t interested in competing and trying to still improve as a player and get the best out of myself as I could, I wouldn’t have come back,” said McCown. “It wouldn’t have made any sense to come back. I’m there for the team to do that.
“That’s the best thing I can do for Sam … to give everything I got to the Jets as a player and show him the things that I’ve done that I believe helped me be successful and the things I believe can help him to be ready to go.”