There are four choices for the Jets as they ponder their quarterback situation this offseason: Trade for Deshaun Watson, keep Sam Darnold, or draft either Justin Fields or Zach Wilson.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that.
Trading for Watson will require the Jets to give up their best draft capital – almost certainly including both their first-round picks this year, and probably more. Drafting a quarterback would mean spending the No. 2 overall pick at that position instead of in another area of need. And of course, there are complicating financial ramifications, with Watson having already signed his second contract and a decision due on Darnold’s fifth-year option in May.
The good news is that the Jets could end up with somewhere near $100 million in salary cap space in an offseason where many teams could feel a post-pandemic financial crunch. That means the Jets could end up with a No. 1 receiver like Allen Robinson, an edge rusher like Matthew Judon, a guard like Joe Thuney, a veteran corner like Richard Sherman, and maybe even a tight end like Gerald Everett no matter which quarterback they choose.
The difference between the three choices is more about the long-term financial and planning ramifications, which could be especially harsh depending on the price of the trade. But in the short term, it’s just about the talent of the quarterback and what the Jets can get in the first round (and maybe the second round, too).
Focusing only on the short-term and the 2020 season, the choices are:
Deshaun Watson and no first-round picks
Possible first-round picks: None
So no Ja’Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith in the first round to pair with Robinson, or whichever free agent receiver they land. Also no young corner, lineman or edge rusher at 23. It makes free agency even more important, especially since they likely won’t have first-round picks in 2021 to do it either.
The good news is that Watson would only cost the Jets $10.5 million against the cap in 2020, so adding him wouldn’t change any of their ability to spend on free agents. It would just alter GM Joe Douglas’ long-term plan of rebuilding through the draft. They’d become a win-now team so signing Robinson, Judon and Thuney become musts -- not just luxuries.
Sam Darnold and two first-round picks
Possible first-round picks: LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase (at 2), Virginia Tech RT Christian Darrisaw (at 23)
The idea of Darnold throwing to Robinson and Chase – who was everyone’s favorite college receiver before he opted out of the 2020 season – is enticing. And it would not be shocking at all to see the Jets add a receiver in free agency and the draft. Equally enticing would be to see him protected by Mekhi Becton on one side and the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Darrisaw on the right. It’s way too early to really know who’ll be available at 23, but this feels like a good spot for Douglas to find his bookend to Becton.
Add Thuney to the mix and Darnold could actually have a talented offensive line for the first time in his career.
Zach Wilson/Justin Fields and one first-round pick
Possible first-round pick: Florida WR Kadarius Toney (at 23)
Going with a rookie is less about the team and more about the finances of having a quarterback on his rookie deal for the next four seasons. It would allow the Jets to avoid Darnold’s fifth-year option and subsequent mega-extension as well as Watson’s high cap numbers, which means more financial flexibility for the future.
In the short term, they could assemble basically the same team – assuming the same cast of free agents wanted to sign with a team committed to an untested rookie at quarterback. It’s possible a player like Robinson would balk at that, leaving the Jets to overpay for someone like Chris Godwin instead.
And since they’d use their No. 2 pick on a QB, that means they’d likely look at weapons at 23 instead of edge rushers or tackles. By then, the best receivers should be gone. The 5-foot-11, 189-pound Toney is explosive, though, if a bit small.