A few hours before the Jets kicked off their preseason game with the Saints on Saturday night, general manager Joe Douglas was speaking to reporters in a room adjacent to the team’s locker room.
“It’s always going to be a point of emphasis for us,” Douglas said just before exiting the room.
The “It” in this instance was Douglas’ offensive line. A few hours later when the news broke that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was retiring, I thought about what Douglas said.
It better be true … for Sam Darnold’s sake.
Luck’s early retirement came after years of injuries took their toll on him. Some of those injuries were a direct result of the Colts failing to get the proper offensive line in front of him until last year. Luck took a pounding for most of his career and it led to him ending that career before he even turned 30.
A franchise quarterback is the most precious commodity in sports. Without it, NFL teams seem to chase their tails every year.
But just having a franchise quarterback is not enough. Luck is proof of that. Teams must be able to build around that quarterback.
It is the lesson the Jets must take from watching the career of Luck. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had Luck as his second highest-graded quarterback out of college behind only John Elway. But the Colts now walk away from the Luck era without a Lombardi Trophy or even a Super Bowl appearance.
Quarterbacks don’t do it alone, even the best of them. A good offensive line, weapons, defense and a coaching staff are all necessary components if you want to actually win a Super Bowl.
How many of those boxes can the Jets check right now? They think they have the coaching staff with Adam Gase as head coach and Gregg Williams running the defense. They added Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder to give Darnold some targets to throw to, but they could use more weapons. The defense needs work and the offensive line does, too. That is the challenge that lies ahead for Douglas.
The league has several franchise quarterbacks who have shown great ability, but their teams have not been able to win it all. Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers are a few examples. All of them are probably more talented than Eli Manning, but whose career would you rather have? Manning has two Super Bowl rings because of his talent but also because he had great teams around him.
Dan Marino is the patron saint of great quarterbacks who never had a great team. The Dolphins struggled for years to surround him with talent and never figured it out leaving one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time without a ring.
The Jets hired Douglas because they believe he is a team builder with a keen scouting eye. A former offensive lineman, Douglas knows the importance of the position. He has already shown he values the position with the signing of center Ryan Kalil in training camp and the trade for guard Alex Lewis.
For too long the Jets have tried to patchwork the offensive line instead of committing premium draft picks to fix it. The last offensive lineman drafted in the first two rounds by the Jets was Vlad Duccasse in 2010 by Mike Tannenbaum — three general managers ago.
The Jets can’t let what happened to Luck happen to Darnold and waste his prime.
Jets legend Joe Namath visited training camp a few weeks ago. He was praising Darnold and then pointed to those who surround the quarterback.
“I know it’s a team game, and I’ve often said this: The best quarterback I’ve seen who would probably be the first Manning into the Hall of Fame was Archie, but he never had a team,” Namath said. “He was with the New Orleans Aints. It is a team game. … Sam’s got to have the help on both sides of the ball. He can play.’’
Yes he can. The Jets now must give him what he needs to win.