Fate linked the two quarterbacks from the moment they entered the league, being that they were both drafted into the AFC East.
Let’s flashback to the 2018 NFL draft for a moment. The New York Jets traded up with the Indianapolis Colts in order to select Darnold with the number three overall pick. In hindsight, the argument could be made that the player they should have taken was snagged at number seven overall, by the division rival Buffalo Bills.
That player was Allen, the more risky Wyoming prospect who was overflowing with raw potential. Three years later, Darnold’s time in New York has come to an abrupt end, while Allen’s is just getting started in Buffalo.
On August 6, 2021, the Bills announced that they have agreed to a six-year extension with their starting quarterback at an average of $43 million per season. The deal included $150 million in guaranteed money according to Ian Rapoport.
Under a new administration and coaching staff, the Jets went the opposite direction back in April when they elected to start fresh and clear the books.
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Jets Blunder Comes With Silver Lining
Former general manager Mike Maccagnan screwed up in 2018, there’s no refuting that. After hitching his wagon to Darnold, he failed to build a contender around the young quarterback. The ramifications of those two mistakes acted as a chain reaction that eventually got him fired.
The Jets have already been punished for these errors among others, like hiring Adam Gase. As the Bills have risen to the top of the division, Gang Green has plummeted to the bottom.
Obviously, you’d prefer to be Buffalo right now, but there is a small silver lining for Jets fans.
Due to the nature of the team sport and the way the cap is set up, a financial clock starts ticking the moment you draft a quarterback in the NFL. The rookie QB contract window has become known as the best opportunity to win a championship from a financial perspective.
53-man rosters are expensive and to construct a balanced one, it helps when the most high-priced position costs less than $10 million per year against the cap. Rookie Zach Wilson has a hit of $6.391 million in 2021, and that number doesn’t head north of double digits until 2024.
All of that factored into the decision to move on from Darnold. During Flight 2021: An Offseason with the New York Jets, Douglas spoke on the impactful trade.
“Yeah I think there were a lot of discussions that led to our decision to ultimately trade Sam,” the GM explained. “As we said when the season ended, we were going to be in evaluation mode. Based on those evaluations, we’re comfortable with the direction that we’re going. We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward.”
On the flip side, Buffalo is now fully committed to Allen long-term. As of now, the star playmaker should account for a cap hit of $40 million-plus in the near future. The NFL’s total cap number was only $182.5 million in 2021, but it’s expected to jump back over $200 million in 2022.
That means Allen will take up somewhere around 20% of the Bills’ entire cap space once this new contract comes into effect. That will definitely make things tougher on the other 52 players.
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Douglas Looks to Rectify an Infamous History
The Green and White are known for missing on quarterback prospects. Some fans will tell you that there hasn’t been a decent one since Joe Namath. After all, the legendary figure still holds the franchise’s single-season passing record, set all the way back in 1967.
The Jets have gone many different directions at the QB position over the past 50-plus years, but focusing on recent history, whoever Douglas drafted had to be an improvement on Darnold.
Enter the BYU stud, Wilson, who NYJ scouts praised throughout the aforementioned Flight documentary. He wasn’t the ‘safe pick’ like Darnold was. In this class, that probably would have been Clemson prospect Trevor Lawrence (off the board) or Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones (fifth QB taken, by the rival New England Patriots).
As we know though, the safe pick doesn’t always equate to a successful NFL career.
Wilson was more comparable to Allen in 2018. BYU isn’t as small of a program as Wyoming, but both north-western universities play against weaker schools. Wilson was also touted for his raw talent as a passer, runner and competitor.
Although Trey Lance may be even more similar to Allen as a player, the Jets’ most recent face of the franchise was certainly more of a polarizing pick than the last one. If history repeats itself, polarizing could end up being a very good thing.