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Starting Darnold for Jets season opener makes sense

Jets rookie Sam Darnold has done enough to earn the right to start as Jets quarterback.

Everyone loves a quarterback controversy. It sells headlines and creates sports radio banter, and everyone has an opinion on who should be the quarterback. Teams tend to shy away from it not only because it’s a distraction, but it means they don’t really have a clear-cut quarterback.

The Jets technically don’t have a quarterback controversy, but they might as well since they have three quarterbacks vying to be the starter this season. Hard to believe, but for the Jets, it’s a great thing. They have the best of both worlds where they can show off their shiny new toy in hyped rookie quarterback Sam Darnold or play a quarterback that gives them the best chance to win games now in Teddy Bridgewater. Last year’s Jets starting quarterback Josh McCown should not be a factor after watching him struggle down the stretch last season.

Friday night was the night that would give answers on who should be the starting quarterback based on who played better in the Jets’ third preseason game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Jets had Darnold getting majority of the snaps with the first unit this past week in preparation for this game. It was a sign that the team is giving him every opportunity to win the starting job after looking good in training camp and in the first two exhibition games.  Bridgewater deserves to be in consideration since he has taken command of the offense by running it smoothly in the Jets’ first two exhibition games.

The third preseason game is where the starters play all the way through the third quarter since they don’t play in the final preseason game, so this was the game where Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and the coaching staff have to make this decision.

Darnold and Bridgewater made their last impression, and it turned out both put on an identical performance in the Jets’ 22-16 loss to the Giants.

Darnold finished 8 of 16 for 86 yards and one touchdown pass to Terrelle Pryor, including orchestrating an 11-play, 75-yard drive in his first series of the game that ended with Bilal Powell’s 10-yard touchdown run. Bridgewater completed 11 of 15 for 104 yards despite working with third-stringers.

Obviously, this column is not going to factor or influence Jets management on who to start in the Jets’ season opener against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 10, but since every Tom, Dick and Harry have an opinion on who should start as the Jets quarterback, I might as well give my opinion on who should start based on the eye test.

It should be Darnold. The Jets might as well have him learn on the job in a season where there are no expectations. He can only learn by playing, not watching. He is mature enough to handle the ups and downs of being an NFL starting quarterback.

It’s not that Bridgewater is not deserving to start. He has made a case for himself by not turning the ball over and keeping the offense humming. But the Jets have so much at stake for Darnold that they need to put priority into developing him as soon as possible. This Jets team is not good enough to be a playoff team, so Darnold is better off taking his lumps now and get it over with. He is going to have to fail for him to learn how to succeed, so it makes sense that he deal with his struggles now rather than later.

Darnold has earned the job by producing points when he is orchestrating drives with two touchdowns to show for it this preseason. He gives the Jets a chance to score and win games. Overall, he has gone 29-for-45 for 244 years and two touchdowns.

Forget the stats for a second. He should start because he looks the part of a quarterback by commanding the huddle and having a pocket presence, and it’s been a long time since the Jets had that type of quarterback. He also knows how to improvise a play by scrambling when he is about to get hit.

Here’s the bottom line: This isn’t Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith that got the starting quarterback job without earning it. Darnold earned the right to start by merit.

The only drawback of starting Darnold is that he is going to be playing three games in 10 days, which is unprecedented for a rookie quarterback. The game may be too much and too fast for him, but if there’s one guy who can handle this, it’s him.

It could be that the Jets start McCown for the first three games, and then start Darnold against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But that’s counterproductive since it would show a sign of weakness and lack of trust with the rookie quarterback. If the rookie is ready, there’s no point wasting time.

Darnold wants to start. He feels he is the right guy for the job. Even Joe Namath endorsed the rookie to start now on Friday night’s Jets telecast on WCBS-TV, and that should mean something since he knows a good quarterback when he sees one and he knows a thing or two about quarterbacks.

Again, Bridgewater did a commendable job, but he is not the quarterback of the future for the Jets, so him starting does the team a disservice. The Jets will stink even if he starts, so they might as well start growing pains with the next Jets quarterback savior.

The Jets are going to have a lot to think about as they complete the 53-man roster for this season.

But selecting the season opener quarterback should not be one of them.

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