FLORHAM PARK, N.J -- The New York Jets have a new starting quarterback and a new face of the franchise.
Rookie Sam Darnold was officially named the starter Monday, coach Todd Bowles announced. He will become the youngest opening-day quarterback in NFL history. He will be 21 years, 97 days old when the Jets travel to play the Detroit Lions next Monday night.
It's a dramatic shift for the Jets, who last season had one of the oldest quarterbacks: Josh McCown, now 39.
Bowles said he informed both quarterbacks of his decision in a brief meeting before he announced it to the media. Bowles said it was "close, obviously."
Explaining his choice of Darnold over the more experienced McCown, Bowles said Darnold gives them "a good chance" to win, but he never said "best chance." In the past, Bowles has always maintained that he starts the players who give him the best chance to win.
"I think I can win with both," Bowles said. "I think Sam's growth gives us a chance to win with him right now, and that's who I'm going with."
Asked what separated the two quarterbacks, Bowles said: "Sam has feet to get himself out of trouble, probably. He has a good pocket feel. He's probably a little quicker and a step quicker than Josh at this point. Josh obviously is smarter, playing in the league longer, but Sam picks things up very well. It's good to have a quarterback who can throw and move with his feet."
Both quarterbacks were made available to the media before Bowles made it official, but they had strong indications it would be Darnold's job. Players told ESPN last week the expectation within the locker room was that Darnold would get the call.
"If I get the starting job, I'm not going to change the way I play," Darnold said. "I'm going to continue to find completions, find the open guy and take deep shots when necessary."
Darnold said it was in the third preseason game, against the New York Giants, when he realized, "Oh, man, I can do this."
Clearly, he wasn't affected by his three-day contract dispute or the high expectations.
"I've had a ton of fun," he said. "I keep saying it, but it's great to get paid to play a sport I love -- and not having to go to class is pretty cool, too. It's fun to play this sport for a living and play with some really cool dudes."
The Jets' quarterback-starved fan base hopes Darnold fills the enormous void.
"It's going to be really fun here in New York for a long time," he said.
Darnold faces a difficult early schedule. The Jets play three games in 11 days. After the Monday night opener, they're home against the Miami Dolphins, but they face a quick turnaround in Week 3 -- Thursday night at the Cleveland Browns.
The announcement was the worst-kept secret in football. It became clear as the preseason progressed that Darnold, drafted third overall, was trending toward the No. 1 job. He avoided rookie mistakes and received sometimes-effusive praise from coaches and teammates.
It was clinched last week when Teddy Bridgewater was traded to the New Orleans Saints, eliminating the potential for a quarterback controversy. In many respects, Bridgewater outplayed Darnold in the preseason.
It was billed as an open competition, but Darnold quickly asserted himself after reporting to training camp three days late because of a contract dispute. During the first three preseason games, the starting offense played 12 possessions -- and Darnold was the quarterback for nine of them.
Darnold has compiled a pedestrian passer rating (83.9), but he has impressed with his accuracy (64 percent), decision-making (only one interception) and mobility.
Ostensibly, he began camp as the No. 3 quarterback, behind McCown and Bridgewater, but he was the preferred candidate by an organization that has longed for a young, franchise-caliber quarterback.
Darnold will join Geno Smith (2013) and Mark Sanchez (2009) as the only rookies to start Week 1 for the Jets. In 1965, the legendary Joe Namath was a backup for one game before being elevated to the starting lineup.
Sanchez showed early promise, winning four playoff games in two years before his career fizzled. In Darnold, the Jets believe they have a long-term answer.
The path to Darnold began on St. Patrick's Day, when the Jets moved up three spots in the draft by trading three second-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts. With the third pick, the Jets would've been happy with Darnold, Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield, but they fully expected that Darnold -- their No. 1-rated player -- would be gone.
They got lucky, and the charm hasn't faded.
Darnold will be the second-youngest quarterback to start, behind Tommy Maddox (21 years, 81 days), who started for the Denver Broncos on Nov. 22, 1992. The youngest to start opening day is Drew Bledsoe (21 years, 203 days), who debuted for the New England Patriots in 1993.