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QB Sam Darnold hopes to stay with New York Jets, saying 'my best days are ahead'

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As he prepares for what could be his final game with the New York Jets, Sam Darnold sounds like he knows where the organization can find its long-term answer at quarterback.

By sticking with him.

Despite his worst statistical season, Darnold said Thursday he hopes to remain with the Jets and believes he can develop into a franchise quarterback.

"I absolutely believe my best days are ahead," said Darnold, 23, who was drafted third overall in 2018.

Darnold has fallen short of expectations -- 13-24 as the starter -- fueling speculation the Jets will trade him and choose his replacement with the second pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

He insisted he's not approaching Sunday as a possible last game. The Jets (2-13), winners of two straight, face the New England Patriots (6-9) on the road.

"I'm a Jet now," Darnold said. "I know we all like to think of hypotheticals and what-ifs, but I'm a Jet right now. I love being here. I love the guys in the locker room. I love going to work every single day here."

Darnold said he hasn't talked to general manager Joe Douglas about his future. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract, with a fifth-year option for 2022 that must be exercised by early May.

What complicates his future is a lack of development, plus prime draft position. With the second pick, the Jets could take Ohio State's Justin Fields or BYU's Zach Wilson and flip Darnold for draft picks.

A lot will depend on who is coaching the team. Adam Gase is expected to be fired after the game, and his replacement would have a say in the quarterback decision.

"I think there are stretches where I didn't play nearly as well as I should've, and I'll be the first to admit it," Darnold said.

Darnold is the lowest-rated passer in the NFL (72.3) with only eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions, but he's riding a career-best streak of three straight games without a turnover.

"That's where Sam's growth has come the last couple of weeks," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "He knows, 'Put the cape away. You don't need to be Superman.'"

Gase said the no-turnover streak is "a big stride. Would I love for him to have more three- and four-touchdown games? Absolutely, but that's not something we can necessarily control, right?"

Darnold's decision-making, accuracy and footwork need work, according to Gase, who said it's unfair to criticize him for the offensive struggles. Early in the season, Darnold was throwing to second- and third-string wide receivers because of injuries.

Gase admitted he has done a poor job of coaching the offense. At the same time, Darnold acknowledged he hasn't helped his coach.

Darnold called this the most challenging year of his football career, going all the way back to high school.

"Yeah, I would say so," said Darnold, who also dealt with a sprained throwing shoulder that sidelined him for four games. "I had a couple of rough seasons in high school, but this has definitely been a tough season."