GM Joe Douglas noncommittal on Sam Darnold's future with New York Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas, who once deemed Sam Darnold untouchable, was noncommittal Tuesday on whether Darnold will return as the starting quarterback in 2021.

Douglas deferred, saying the next coach will be "a big part of that" decision -- one that could have a huge impact on the NFL offseason and the 2021 draft. The Jets, picking second, could draft Darnold's replacement.

"Look, we've got a lot of decisions to make," Douglas said in an end-of-the-season Zoom call with reporters. "I think Sam's going to be a great quarterback. I'm excited to get a head coach in here and go through our process.

"I think Sam has a very bright future in this league. We're going to get a head coach in here, we're going to get together and we're going to talk about quite a few decisions. I'm excited about Sam."

Douglas' praise sounded tempered, compared to previous public comments about Darnold.

At the 2019 trading deadline, Douglas said he'd listen to trade offers for every player on the team except Darnold. At the 2020 midseason mark, he said of Darnold, "I have no problem saying that he is our best quarterback and our quarterback for the future."

That's when the team was 0-8. The Jets finished 2-14 and 32nd in total offense, resulting in coach Adam Gase's ouster. Darnold was the league's lowest-rated passer (72.7).

Obviously, Douglas wasn't about to trash his quarterback. The Jets will keep it positive throughout the offseason because they don't want to sabotage Darnold's trade value in case they decide to move on from the third overall pick in 2018 -- a decision that would shake up the league's quarterback market.

Douglas wouldn't say whether he believes Darnold has regressed.

"I think Sam faced a lot of obstacles this year, as did everybody (due to) COVID," he said. "Quite frankly, we had quite a few injuries on the offensive line and at the wide-receiver position. It was hard for our offense in general to build the kind of sustained chemistry to create success throughout the year.

"All those things impacted not only Sam, but our offense. I do think you saw, in the month of December, Sam played a lot of good football. We were able to beat two playoff teams. A lot of that is because of the way Sam played."

The Jets upset the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns, with Darnold passing for three touchdowns and a pedestrian 382 yards. He played turnover-free ball in those games, but ended the season with a two-interception performance in a loss to the New England Patriots.

Douglas didn't shed much light on the coaching search, except to say he's looking for a "great partner" with leadership, communication and managerial skills. The Jets have requested permission to speak with at least six NFL coordinators. Douglas said he won't shy away from a college coach with no pro experience as long as the candidate possesses the traits he covets in a head coach.

Douglas said the Jets will cast "a very wide net" as they search for Gase's replacement. The Jets could change their organizational structure, doing away with the current set-up that has the GM and coach both reporting to ownership.

"That doesn't matter to me," said Douglas, adding that any structure will work as long as they find the right coach.