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The Jets are mishandling the Sam Darnold contract negotiation

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NFL: New York Jets at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The first practice of Jets training camp began today without Sam Darnold, the quarterback of the future. Darnold and the team were unable to reach an agreement on a contract before the start of training camp. The third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft is officially a holdout.

Let’s break down the situation.

The disagreement is over offsets in the contract.

Since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookie contracts in the NFL have largely become paint by numbers documents. There are not many details for player and team to haggle over.

One of the few areas still up for negotiation is whether the contract contains offsets. Offsets only come into play if the Draft pick is waived before the end of his rookie contract. These offsets determine whether the team can recoup salary after the player signs with a new team.

For example, let’s say Darnold has offsets in his contract. If he is cut three years from now and signs with a new team for $1, the Jets would get that $1 back. If Darnold does not have offsets, he gets to keep all of the money from his Jets contract and gets that $1 from the new team on top of it.

Reports indicate offsets are indeed holding up the Jets-Darnold deal from being completed.

Darnold shouldn’t be making such a big deal out of offsets, and he deserves a small portion of the blame for this saga.

At the end of the day, offsets should not be a big enough deal for Darnold to keep him out of training camp. Camp is important for a rookie quarterback, and Darnold should have enough faith in himself to know that he won’t need offsets. Remember, this would only come into play in the event he is cut. He would need to be an enormous bust for that to happen. In the last decade, only two quarterbacks picked in the first round were cut by their original team before the conclusion of their fourth season.

There at least is a degree of logic to Darnold making such a big deal out of the offsets, though.

While I do believe Darnold should sign a deal without offsets and should be in camp, there is a clear rationale for putting so much emphasis on offsets. He has a very limited timeframe to make a lot of money. If he fails, that timeframe becomes much more limited.

Let’s say hypothetically the Jets cut him after the 2020 season because he has failed. Maybe a new team offers him $3 million. The offsets would be the difference of $3 million in cold, hard cash to Darnold as he potentially nears the end of his career and earning power. That money could make a big difference in the rest of his life.

In seeking the offsets, he is merely hedging his bets.

There is little logic in the Jets making such a big deal out of the offsets.

The Jets can’t hedge their bets with Darnold. They went all in when they traded three second round picks to move up from 6 to 3 and drafted him.

That hypothetical $3 million from our scenario is a drop in the bucket for the team financially and against the salary cap. If Darnold busts to the point where he has to be cut, that scant amount of money does virtually nothing to heal the wreckage from whiffing on another early quarterback Draft pick.

The Jets told you they have full faith in Darnold when they traded up and picked him. The general manager told us he was totally sold on this quarterback. The CEO of the team said believed in Darnold so much that he said the pick was a turning point for the franchise. In this context, is difficult to fathom the team holding up the completion of player’s rookie contract over a hypothetical scenario where he is a total flop.

Even if the Jets are correct on the merits, this is the wrong battle to fight.

You might argue that the contract should have offsets in a perfect world. You probably would be right. Baker Mayfield was a quarterback picked before Darnold, and his contract does contain offsets. It makes sense that a player picked later would not receive more favorable terms.

Just like a disagreement with your significant other, merely being correct on the merits does not make it worth turning it into a fight. Some fights just aren’t worth having.

If Darnold was demanding $20 million more guaranteed than Mayfield got, I would be right there with the Jets criticizing him. That would be worth fighting over because it would be a major negative for the team. Instead we have an impasse over a minor provision in the contract that is unlikely to ever be relevant.

Look at the potential outcomes. What do the Jets get out of fighting this battle? They might get an irrelevant minor provision inserted into the deal. What do they lose? Their franchise quarterback is missing part of his first training camp. That is a Pyrrhic victory if such a thing ever existed.

This has little to do with setting precedent.

I have heard the argument that the Jets are holding firm because they don’t want to set a precedent for future contract negotiations. Of all of the points debated today, I think it is the weakest. No rule exists that states a team much give the same provisions to every player in every contract. It isn’t as though Darnold has been impacted by past negotiations.

This is an odd time and place to draw a line in the sand.

The Jets’ position would at least be a little bit easier to understand had this front office shown some pattern of fiscal restraint through the years.

We know that hasn’t been the case for this regime, though. Just off the top of my head, this team in the last two offseasons threw $10 million at a journeyman veteran quarterback in Josh McCown, and seemingly bid against itself to keep a mediocre guard in Brian Winters and a third string offensive lineman in Ben Ijalana. I’m sure I could go on. I’m sure you could go on. We had the spending spree of 2015. We had any number of outsized contracts since then.

This team has had no problem paying top dollar for marginal performers. Now the Jets are playing hardball with the new face of the franchise over obscure contract minutiae?

It seems like a strange approach to me.