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Signing Joe Flacco last month is the New York Jets’ way of delivering a message to starting quarterback Sam Darnold, but it isn’t the message that football fans might think.

Yes, Jets management is telling Darnold that there’s work to be done. No, it’s not a message that they’ve lost confidence in him.

Sam Darnold is in the middle of the pack of the 2018 draft’s QBs

The New York Jets selected Sam Darnold third overall in a 2018 NFL draft that also saw fellow quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen taken in the first 10 picks. Mayfield seems to be headed down the Johnny Manziel path of career non-achievement, albeit without the off-the-field drama, and Allen has settled in with the Buffalo Bills with production that suggests a successful career even if it’s not a spectacular one.

The football world hasn’t seen enough of Rosen to form an opinion. His rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals wasn’t good, but it’s difficult to tell how much of the responsibility he bears. And now that he’s buried behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa with the Miami Dolphins, we might never see him again.

Darnold is the enigma of the group. He’s started 13 games in each of his first two seasons and has shown just enough ability for Jets fans to be encouraged while also making just enough mistakes to leave them uncertain. Darnold has thrown 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in 26 games, but that ratio and his quarterback rating improved in 2019 over his rookie season.

Lest we forget, though, the Jets could have had Lamar Jackson, who lasted until the final pick of the first round.

What does Joe Flacco’s arrival mean?

When Sam Darnold missed three games in 2019 while recovering from mononucleosis, his primary replacement was Luke Falk, a sixth-round pick in 2018 who didn’t survive rookie camp with the Tennessee Titans. The Jets’ other option was Trevor Siemian, who washed out after two seasons as a starter for the Denver Broncos.

Their performance can be summed up thusly: The New York Jets were 7-6 with Darnold calling the signals and 0-3 without him. Darnold might still be erratic, but the Jets need him and can win with him.

What transpired on the field served to remind the front office that the backup quarterback is always just one snap away from being called upon to lead the offense. Whether it’s a matter of salvaging a single game due to the starter’s injury or three because of the illness suffered by Darnold a year ago, the Jets are no longer willing to concede losses.

That’s the real message they delivered to Sam Darnold, still just 23 years old, and the rest of the roster by signing Joe Flacco to a one-year deal on May 27.

Joe Flacco can do the job as an emergency fill-in

Joe Flacco was beaten out by Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and spent last season with the Denver Broncos, but he’s hardly washed up at the age of 35. He has made 171 career starts with more than 40,000 passing yards and 218 touchdown passes to his credit.

If San Darnold is injured, Flacco is capable of running the offense and giving his team a chance to win.

The Jets went from 4-12 to 7-9 in coach Adam Gase’s first year and did a nice job filling holes in this spring’s draft. Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton beefs up Darnold’s protection and Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims gives him a dangerous target. The rest of their draft was a mix of players from both sides of the ball, including a quarterback they can groom (James Morgan) rather than having to rush him into the huddle if Darnold goes down.

So, yes, the Jets did send a message to Darnold: You’re still the guy, but we plan on winning now. Flacco is insurance in case of an injury.


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