Here’s how the Jets’ signing of Joe Flacco to be Sam Darnold’s backup is going to work best: If Flacco makes it work.
On paper, the acquisition looks like the perfect move as insurance for the 22-year-old Darnold, which is something the team was woefully devoid of the past two seasons, going 0-6 with Darnold out of the lineup. Flacco also came cheap — a one-year deal worth $1.5 million not including incentives.
Flacco has made 171 regular-season NFL starts, has a won-loss record of 98-73 with 218 touchdowns thrown to 141 interceptions. Of even more significance than that are his 15 playoff starts with a 10-5 record, 25 touchdowns to 10 picks and a Super Bowl title.
So, the Jets will enter the 2020 season with perhaps the most seasoned, experienced and accomplished backup quarterback in the league.
The question is whether those accomplishments of Flacco’s, coupled with his continued desire to be a starter again, will be an asset or a detriment to Darnold?
Flacco, the former Ravens and Broncos quarterback, spoke with reporters Thursday on a Zoom call and said all the right things about wanting to help Darnold and do what he can to make the team better.
But the 35-year-old Flacco, too, did not shy away from admitting that he still has a burning desire to start again. Aside from the very end of his 11-year run in Baltimore, where Lamar Jackson began to take the league by storm in 2018, starting is all Flacco has known in his career.
Did you hear the words “quarterback controversy’’ in the air?
Considering the Jets’ investment in Darnold, the third-overall pick in the 2018 draft, and considering that Flacco was 2-6 last season in Denver and is coming off neck surgery, that notion should be preposterous.
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And, if Darnold does happen to find himself spooked by Flacco’s presence or looking over his shoulder the first time he throws three interceptions in a game, then he’s probably not the quarterback the Jets believe he is in the first place.
Here’s what the Jets and Darnold need Flacco to be this season: Be like Josh McCown.
There wasn’t a bone in McCown’s body that fancied himself as a starter over Darnold, even in Darnold’s rookie season, and his desire to mentor Darnold was genuine. McCown is one of the most selfless players you’ll ever meet.
This is not a knock on Flacco, because he hasn’t even met with Darnold or his new Jets teammates yet, and he very well may be exactly the kind of mentor the Jets want him to be to their prized (hopeful) franchise quarterback.
But this is all up to Flacco.
“I’m fully embracing it,’’ Flacco said Thursday of his backup role. “It’s where I am right now. I’m glad to be on a team playing football in some capacity. It’s going to be huge to get in there and know the guys and develop a relationship with the team and do anything I can to help the team get better.
“And in that process, help Sam with whatever he needs help with — take his mind off something, tell him how I see things or how I’ve dealt with [something] in the past — on the football field or off the football field.’’
Asked if he still views himself as a starter, Flacco said, “I still believe that I’m a starting quarterback, and you never know what three years down the line is going to look like. I still have the confidence and I still have the want-to to do that. I don’t think there are any backups in this league that don’t have aspirations to be a starting quarterback.
“Right now … I know what my role is. Things were different last year. I got hurt and was unhealthy. I know what it’s like to not feel like being a part of the team, because you really can’t have your hand in things. In the role I’m in right now, I can have a good, positive effect on the team. My role is to help the team get better and to help a young quarterback see things as clearly as possible and help him on his journey to be a longtime NFL quarterback.’’
Of course, Flacco is his own man and it’s important for him to be himself. But it wouldn’t hurt him to be at least a little bit like Josh McCown. Because that’s what’ll be best for Darnold.
How well this works is up to Flacco.