The Jets' season of promise is perched on an abyss, and at this point it wouldn't take much for them be pushed in. That's why they need their starting quarterback back as soon as possible. If they have any hopes of salvaging anything out of 2019, then when they play in Philadelphia on Sunday, Sam Darnold needs to be on the field.
And yet he shouldn't be. They need to resist every urge they have to welcome him back so soon.
It's just not worth it, even if it means the virtual end to what they hoped would be a playoff season. No matter how important this game and this season may appear to be right now, the health and the future of their 22-year-old franchise quarterback just isn't worth jeopardizing for that. The Jets weren't making a Super Bowl run this season anyway. Darnold's long-term future is still what matters most.
Now, that's a call that only Darnold's doctors can make, of course, and at this point it's unclear which way they'll go as he continues to get over his ill-timed bout with mono. Jets coach Adam Gase didn't paint an encouraging picture when he spoke to reporters on Monday, saying that Darnold has been cleared to practice, but not for contact or even for lifting weights. He said Darnold's status for Sunday was uncertain, which he admitted was "not ideal."
Darnold, for his part, clearly wants to play. He's "super anxious to get back out there," he said. To his credit, he also said "I have to control those emotions and really just let the doctors tell me what I have to do." He said he's felt 100 percent for more than a week, and he's hoping to return to practice on Wednesday.
He also said "I feel like I could play right now."
Maybe he could. But there's also the matter of his spleen, which may still be enlarged, which in turn would pose an actual risk to his life if he were to get hit there. And even if that part checks out, there's the matter of his conditioning and energy level after three weeks without being able to do as much exercising as he normally would this time of year.
So at worst, he's not healthy enough to play. At best, he's not in optimum condition.Either way, it seems to be a silly risk for the Jets to take with any player - let alone one as valuable as him.
Look, nobody wants to see the 0-3 Jets head into Philadelphia with Luke Falk at quarterback again. He had no shot against New England (12 of 22, 98 yards, one interception) and couldn't move the offense much when he was thrust into duty one week earlier against the Browns (20 of 25, 198 yards). The Jets, under his direction, have scored 17 points.
Only three of those have come from the offense.
It won't be much better if he's at the helm in Philadelphia, against an Eagles team that just salvaged its season with a 34-27 win in Green Bay on Thursday night. The prospect of falling to 0-4 is real, and that would make the Jets a virtual lock to miss the playoffs for a ninth straight year.
But they're close to that anyway at 0-3 with the Eagles, Cowboys and Patriots on deck in the next three weeks. Could a still-recovering Darnold stop the bleeding and move the offense? Sure. Could he fix all of the Jets problems? No chance. Not right now.
So why put him in a position where he could get hurt worse, jeopardizing his season or maybe his career?
There is, of course, no indication that's the direction the Jets will go. It does seem that they're doing the proper thing and being as cautious of Darnold as possible. Gase said there are many factors he needs to consider before he decides whether or not to let Darnold go.
"I'm looking at everything that's been running through my head," Gase said. "Like 'OK, is his arm going to be OK? Are we monitoring how many throws he does per day?' And kind of building up there. It's been a while since he's thrown a football. The conditioning level, where is he at on that? There are so many little steps we're trying to go through here.
"It's just he's pressing to play. He wants to be out there. Him sitting out the last few weeks have been something that's not ideal for him.
"It's not. It's terrible for Darnold. It's terrible for the Jets. They were so sure they were ready to make a big leap this season and an unfortunate illness pulled the rug out from under them, instead. There is a feeling that Darnold could be the savior, that he could still salvage something from this mess of a start.
That would be great. But it's just not worth it if there's any significant risk to him at all."We're taking this thing day-by-day and I think that's the best way for us to take it," Gase said.
"We've got to kind of see how practice goes. We've got to see how he feels. We've got to see how his arm feels. We've got to see how his conditioning level is.
"There's just a lot of boxes that we've got to check before we can say, 'Hey, we're rolling on Sunday.'"That's one box, though, that they probably shouldn't check just yet.