After treating their fans to 13 consecutive losses, with barely any of them being remotely competitive, the New York Jets decided to spread some holiday cheer on Sunday.
They went out and won, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 23-20.
In doing so, New York torched its future by giving up the inside track on the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft … i.e. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
You can’t fault players or coaches for competing and then celebrating a victory, their first of the season. No one wants the ignobility of going 0-16, an “honor” reserved for the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns.
You also can’t fault the franchise’s long-suffering fans from cursing their fate right now as the Jets outdid themselves this time. They lost by winning. That’s quite a present to leave under the tree.
While both New York and Jacksonville are 1-13, the Jaguars own the tiebreaker based on weakness of schedule. There are still two weeks to go, but right now Lawrence might want to start looking at some First Coast real estate.
As for the Jets, when you’ve gone what’ll be 52 years without a Super Bowl, when you’ve gone a decade without a playoff appearance, when your most famous player is still Joe Namath, when you’ve watched your crosstown rivals win four Lombardi Trophies since the mid-1980s, when your archrival was built into a dynasty by a coach who quit your team … well this isn’t just brutally bad luck, it feels like part of some kind of curse.
Of course the Jets would do this. Of course.
The Jets have been looking for the next Namath for nearly half a century — and really, Namath led them to two good seasons and posted a losing regular-season record with the franchise.
Regardless, here was who they sought, this long-haired Southern savior just a couple more miserable losses in a miserable season full of them away.
Lawrence isn’t just the surefire No. 1 pick this spring. He’s the best prospect in years, dating back to at least Andrew Luck in 2012.
Lawrence, 21, stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds. He is not the product of one great season, or one brilliant offensive coordinator, or one cutting edge offensive scheme. He has been considered the No. 1 player his age since he was 15, maybe sooner. In high school, he won 51 consecutive games and two Georgia state titles.
At Clemson, he was an instant star. He has thrown 88 career touchdowns and led the Tigers to a 38-1 record in games he has played. That includes the 2018 national title when, as a freshman, he dropped 347 yards and three touchdowns on Nick Saban.
He’s a pro-style quarterback who can run. This is more Cam Newton than Peyton Manning when he tucks it. He has 951 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground in his career, none more memorable than the 67-yard slalom and sprint through the Ohio State defense in a playoff victory last season.
The dude is tough. He’s durable. He’s a leader on and off the field. He graduated in three years. He’s engaged to his high school girlfriend and ready to pour himself into winning games.
We’re not trying to start the Trevor Lawrence fan club here and NFL history is littered with can’t-miss prospects who became busts, but it’s like he came out of some NFL Quarterback Dream factory. Whatever you want, he’s pretty much got the potential to at least develop it.
“If you watch college football and you don’t know this guy’s the best player in college football, I don’t know what you’re looking at,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
There’s a chance Lawrence won’t win the Heisman Trophy this year (he didn’t the past two either). That’ll be because he missed two games due to COVID-19 and voters struggle to resist big stats and the Crimson Tide Industrial Complex.
Pro scouts watch college football, though, and whatever team gets the top pick, the debate on whom to take will last about five seconds. Tops.
That includes the Jets. All this losing isn’t the fault of Sam Darnold, the last would-be quarterback savior, but he also isn’t stopping it.
Trading Darnold for draft picks and landing Lawrence on a salary-cap friendly rookie contract would completely flip the script for the franchise overnight.
Except the Jets won, of course. Which means they lost.
So unless Jacksonville does something just as stunning, New York is left hoping Ohio State’s Justin Fields is better than he looked Saturday against Northwestern. He might be. He could be. But there are natural questions and concerns with him that don’t hang over Lawrence.
Not all quarterback prospects are the same. And not all franchises are the J-E-T-S.
Happy Holidays, though.
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