When Joe Douglas first met Sam Darnold's parents at a preseason game last August, he did his best to reassure them that their son was in good hands. He knew Darnold was the Jets' most precious commodity. So he vowed their kid would be treated that way, too.
"I promised them I was going to do everything in my power to take care of Sam with protection and playmakers," Douglas said in a conference call on Wednesday. "I think we still have a lot to do in both those regards."
Yes they do -- especially when it comes to finding playmakers to help make the Darnold-run offense go.
In his first offseason running the Jets, Douglas has definitely taken steps to make sure the 22-year-old Darnold is better protected by his offensive line than he was in his first two seasons. And with the NFL Draft coming up in three weeks, he'll likely take more.
But the Jets are still severely lacking in weapons. Other than replacing the departed Robby Anderson with Breshad Perriman, Douglas really hasn't done anything to upgrade the Jets' offensive skill set at all.
This is what the Jets have right now: Jamison Crowder, who is a shifty slot receiver and not really a No. 1 target, and Perriman, whom Douglas helped scout in Baltimore when the Ravens made him a first-round pick in 2015, but who has never lived up to his potential since. Douglas seems to love the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Perriman, especially after seeing him catch 25 passes for 506 yards and five touchdowns in the final five games last season. And he's said he's "real excited about his speed, his ability to take the top off the defense" and feels like "he can come in here and make an impact."
Maybe he can. They better hope he can. Because the Jets don't have a lot else.
It sounds like they won't have Quincy Enunwa, whom Douglas acknowledged "is a big question mark for us" as he rehabs another neck injury. Running back Le'Veon Bell is coming off his worst season as a pro, and didn't have much impact as a receiver last season (66-461-1). The Jets most dangerous weapon might by tight end Ryan Griffin (34-320-5), which isn't a good sign. Tight end Chris Herndon played only one game last year due to a suspension and injuries.
And while Douglas touted young players like Braxton Berrios and Vyncint Smith, they only combined for 23 catches for 340 yards last season. He also seemed pleased with the recent signing of another former first-rounder, ex-Redskin Josh Docston, though he appeared in only one game last year.
"So there's a lot of opportunity for a lot of guys," Douglas said. "Obviously that doesn't preclude us from making any additional moves."
The problem, though, is that Douglas' options are limited. The free-agent pool has dried up. And while he said he did his "due diligence" on the two top receivers who got traded -- DeAndre Hopkins (Houston to Arizona) and Stefon Diggs (Minnesota to Buffalo) -- he obviously didn't pull the trigger. There are other receivers rumored to be on the block -- like Cleveland's Odell Beckham Jr., the Rams' Brandin Cooks, or Kansas City's Sammy Watkins -- but there's no real indication any of those teams are serious about making a deal.
So that leaves the draft, where the good news is that the crop of available receivers is talented and deep. But it does leave Douglas with a dilemma in the first round.
The smart move would be to take a tackle who could solidify his line for the next five years at least. But given the dearth of weapons and absence of a No. 1 receiver on his roster, can he pass on a receiver with the 11th pick when he'd likely get the top receiver on his board?
It's a tough call, but Douglas continued to sound like a man laser focused on the offensive line. When asked about what he's done this offseason to help Darnold, Douglas said "That's our focus -- doing everything we can to help Sam succeed. The one thing we didn't want (was) a situation where Sam was just going to have to be under fire all the time with protection issues."
And when he talked about his promise to Darnold's parents, he was focused mostly on the line, too.
"I think we've done our best to attack some of the issues that we've had in the past," Douglas said. "I think there's a real shortage of quality offensive linemen in the National Football League, so we're going to do our best to get as many quality ones as we can because you can never have too many. We're going to try to keep it simple with guys that are smart, tough and versatile. We're going to keep addressing that moving forward."
Of course, he also said, "We're going to keep addressing playmakers moving forward," but that still feels like it's his secondary concern. That's fine. The offensive line should be the priority, because nothing else matters if Darnold is constantly on his back or running for his life.
But right now, Darnold's arsenal is filled with hope, comeback stories and unrealized talent and potential. Maybe the Jets will get lucky and Perriman's last five games were the breakthrough he's been waiting for throughout his career. Maybe the speedy Smith will become the surprise that Anderson once was. Or maybe Doctson will regain his form after missing most of last season with a hamstring injury. Or maybe Douglas will find a gem of a receiver in the second round who'll be ready to step right in by Opening Day.
That's a lot to hope for, though, at a position that Dougls has, so far, mostly ignored. So if he wants to keep his promise to Darnold's parents in the next few months, he'll have to find a way to do much better than that.