There has always been an undercurrent of tension between New York’s two professional football teams. There was a time when the Giants routinely returned mail from the Jets unopened, a statement that the older team didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the new one.
Then peace was declared in the merger between the leagues and the teams agreed to co-exist, even sharing the same stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. But don’t kid yourself. This was never a lovey, dovey relationship.
And then we had the 2018 college draft and the Giants delivered a huge favor to the Jets. They decided that Eli Manning, at age 37, still had something left in his quarterback tank and that backup Davis Webb, equipped with his own tank, was a suitable replacement in waiting. And so, armed with the second pick in the National Concussion League draft, the Giants ignored the attractive quarterback crop and picked running back Saquon Barkley. And that left the Jets, drafting third, free to pick a quarterback.
Welcome to Gang Green, Sam Darnold.
Now understand that this is a passing league. Teams don’t get to the Super Bowl on the ground. They throw the football. That is why the Jets paid a handsome price to secure the third choice in the draft. Their intention was to address their lingering quarterback question. They were going to get themselves a passer. They just never expected this passer.
Cleveland, equipped with the No. 1 pick, would surely address their first problem and pick a passer. And they did – Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.
The Giants, with an old starter and an untested backup, would surely pick a passer. But they didn’t, leaving the Jets in position to pick the guy they never thought they’d get – Sam Darnold.
This is a present from the Giants, who took Barkley because he was an impressive player, probably the best player available at that moment. The Giants were thrilled with the choice.
So were the Jets.
Now this is not to say that Darnold will start on Day One. That would be way too simple for a franchise that thrives on confusion. When Darnold gets to the Jets’ quarterback room, he will find five chairs. Already in place are last year’s starter, elderly journeyman Josh McCown, injury-prone Teddy Bridgewater, signed as a free agent, and holdovers Bryce Petty, who has been mediocre at best in limited exposures, and Christian Heckenberg, who hasn’t taken a snap in two seasons with the team.
Forgive Darnold if he looks around and thinks, “Gee, it’s crowded in here.’’
That will not be a problem for Barkley when he arrives in Giants camp. He was drafted to be the man. He will be the team’s No. 1 running back from Day One. He earned that designation with a stellar college career at Penn State.
Over in Jet-land, they are very happy with the arrival of Darnold. That’s until they are reminded of the last quarterback they drafted from USC.