Just over two weeks ago, the New York Jets let go of head coach Adam Gase. General manager Joe Douglas emphasized looking for a partner and someone who could be a leader for the team. In other words, the Jets were searching for the opposite of the control-crazy and excuse-making Gase. And they got him.
The Jets have hired San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as the team’s new head coach. Saleh, a vocal and respected communicator in the 49ers’ organization will bring a spirit that no Jets head coach has had in years. He is going to establish a culture in the locker room and help develop a young Jets team.
One of the biggest questions Saleh will need to answer is going to be about quarterback Sam Darnold. The 23-year-old quarterback’s struggles over his first three seasons leave his status with the team up in the air entering 2021. And having a new head coach does not change things either. So, what exactly could fans expect for Darnold with Saleh now running the show?
What New York Jets Hire of Robert Saleh Means for Sam Darnold
Everything Is on the Table
The New York Jets were an attractive spot for Saleh for a reason. They have a surplus of cap space to build around whoever will be the quarterback in 2021. Gang Green also has the second overall pick and all the power – and chaos – that comes with it.
To this point, only Joe Douglas has an idea of what he may want to do with the pick. The Jets could stay and use it to build around Darnold. New York could also look into trading down, acquiring a package of picks in return to help build around Darnold. Or the Jets could deal Darnold for picks, then use second overall to take one of the quarterbacks not named Trevor Lawrence.
The future of Sam Darnold is up in the air, and everything is on the table for Douglas and Saleh. However, Saleh being hired could help narrow down their options or at least help those speculating what they may do at quarterback.
The Kyle Shanahan Coaching Tree
Again, Robert Saleh is coming to the Jets from the 49ers, who are coached by the offensive-minded Kyle Shanahan. His offense is built around a play-action passing game set up thanks to a zone run game blocked by athletic offensive lineman upfront. His offenses have been among the NFL’s most dangerous for years and proven to be functional whether it be Jimmy Garoppolo or C.J. Beathard under center.
A key part of San Francisco’s offense has been pass game coordinator Mike LaFleur, who is expected to come to New York as Saleh’s offensive coordinator. LaFleur, who is the brother of Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, has done well running a passing game that complements the zone scheme. He has the opportunity to revive Darnold’s career and to turn around an abysmal Jets offense from this past season.
Both would be fantastic options as an offensive coordinator for the Jets, should Saleh bring them from the 49ers.
Where Sam Darnold Comes In
The reason why Saleh and LaFleur would be such a big tell is that Darnold would fit their offensive scheme very well. Through the play-action pass game, Darnold’s out of pocket improvising skills can shine. It will also put an emphasis on the run game, which would take the pressure off Darnold needing to make a play on every throw.
LaFleur could work wonders in resurrecting Darnold’s career to start the Saleh era. The Jets will need to decide what to do with Darnold’s fifth-year option this season, but in what is the final year of his four-year rookie deal, Darnold is going to make just under $10-million. Darnold’s contract is not going to hurt the team in terms of signing weapons to put around him. It will also allow them to use that second overall pick on a top prospect or trade down for a massive haul.
Unless the Jets Deal Darnold
Again, everything is on the table. Unless the Jets definitively state Darnold is the starter in 2021, the Jets can trade Darnold and then draft a quarterback anytime. Should the Jets deal Darnold, they will likely net at least a day two pick in return. If the Jets deal Darnold, the team likely turns to the NFL draft for his replacement.
On the bright side, there are plenty of options. Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Alabama’s Mac Jones, or Florida’s Kyle Trask headline the draft class after Lawrence. However, none of them, specifically the latter three, currently scream bonified second-best quarterback. Assuming LaFleur implements the Shanahan-style offense, Zach Wilson could have the edge over Justin Fields, given his natural playmaking ability on the move. He would have a much smoother transition to the play-action passing game than Fields, who plays more of a spread offense at Ohio State.
Last Word on What New York Jets Hire of Robert Saleh Means for Sam Darnold
Well Jets fans, it is time to celebrate. The team has its culture-changing head coach and leader in Robert Saleh. As many begin to wonder what the future for Sam Darnold in New York may hold, the hiring of Saleh could signal the willingness to give him one last shot to start. Or at least a hint as to which quarterback the team could target in the 2021 NFL Draft.