There was an explanation for the delay.
Joe Douglas was being patient, but also wanted to see the top quarterbacks in the draft in person before ultimately deciding his plans at the position. It is why the Jets waited to long to move Sam Darnold, after quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were dealt prior to the free agency period.
“I don’t know how every team approaches a quarterback [evaluation], but I’ve always thought it was a golden rule—you don’t ever take a quarterback until you stand near or next to a guy and watch him throw the football,” Douglas told Sports Illustrated. “None of the top brass were able to get out to a BYU game this year. There were no all-star games, no combine. You could see Mac Jones at the Senior Bowl. But other than that, your only opportunity to stand there and watch them throw was at a pro day. To me, that’s huge for a quarterback.”
Douglas saw all of the top quarterbacks – Zach Wilson of BYU, Justin Fields of Ohio State, Mac Jones of Alabama and Trey Lance of North Dakota State – the Jets will be able to pick from with the second choice in the draft.
“Almost every pro day I went to I got something out of,” Douglas said. “A guy like Trey Lance, I thought Trey Lance had a strong arm, I walked away from North Dakota State saying, Wow, this guy has better arm talent than I thought on the tape. Getting a sense for it, watching the ball come out of his hand, you’re there, field-level, you’re seeing it –does the ball drop at all at the end of the throw, is it accelerating through the guy’s hands? You really get a sense for that, that you wouldn’t normally see on tape.”
Eventually, the Jets traded Darnold to the Panthers for a sixth-rounder this year and a second-round and fourth-round pick in 2022. They nearly moved him before free agency, the general manager said, but the team wasn’t ready to pull the trigger.
“It was a strong offer,” Douglas said. “We told them, ‘Look, there’s still a lot of boxes left to check. And we just don’t feel comfortable, in case something happens with one of the top two guys, we don’t want to get caught in a bad situation, like one of two guys fails a physical and then we don’t have Sam.’ So we didn’t do anything.”