FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In Joe Douglas' first year in the Philadelphia Eagles front office they made a bold trade up in the draft to land quarterback Carson Wentz. Douglas quickly realized two things: The Eagles had the right guy at quarterback, and they needed to move quickly to build a winner around him.
There was an excitement and a sense of hope and purpose back then about the Eagles' immediate future - something that thanks to the presence of quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets' new general manager is absolutely feeling again now.
"There was a sense of urgency in Philadelphia knowing that we had a young quarterback and we want to put the pieces around him," Douglas said. "I think there's going to be that same urgency here with a young quarterback like Sam. I think once you know you have the right guy, that's the sense of urgency. Let's go win right now. I think that confidence is here right now."
If anyone is wondering why the 42-year-old Douglas passed up a chance to become one of the hottest names on the GM market next offseason to take over the star-crossed, and often dysfunction Jets right now, that pretty much sums it up. Maybe the New York spotlight was a draw. Certainly the chance to work with his good friend Adam Gase was attractive. And it's hard to beat getting about $20 million over the next six years.
But the real lure for the Jets was the presence of their 22-year-old franchise quarterback - what Douglas is sure is a star in the making. The promise and growth Darnold showed as a rookie and the talent he has is what makes the Jets an attractive franchise for anyone to join right now. He's what gives them hope. He's the key to everyone's future.
And for a new GM who still has his work cut out for him with a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2010, that's a heck of a place to start.
"That's the toughest position to find," Gase said, shortly after Douglas was introduced as the Jets' newest GM. "It's so tough to evaluate college quarterbacks. When you have a guy that just turned 22, that's got to be an attractive piece being a GM because you're not looking to spend a first round draft pick on a quarterback. That's a lot of pressure lifted off your shoulders."
The Jets' decision to trade up in the 2018 draft and their luck in being able to take Darnold third overall will be the lasting legacy of Mike Maccagnan, the man Douglas is replacing. And it certainly is the greatest gift Douglas could get. Assuming Darnold works out as expected, Douglas likely won't need to worry about a quarterback for the life of his contract and longer. And at least for the next four seasons, he'll have Darnold at a relatively cheap price, too.
That's an enormous advantage for a GM trying to build a team. It allows him to focus his attention elsewhere - on the offensive line, the defense, on the "dynamic weapons" he pledged to find over time. As Douglas said, "Most open (GM) positions like this, you walk into a franchise where you don't have that piece of the puzzle."
In other words, Douglas knows how fortunate he is to have a quarterback like Darnold that he already liked.
"Going back to USC, watching him play live in games, I love his athleticism, I love his ability to go through progressions," Douglas said. "I think he's a unique guy in that he's a very young player, just turned 22, but has shown an ability for his eyes and feet to work through progressions quickly and he throws an accurate ball. Just hearing about his leadership abilities at such a young age is exciting -- really exciting."
Gase has felt the same excitement after watching Darnold up close this spring. He has raved about his quarterback, publicly and privately, for his remarkable ability and how much he seemed to have learned from his sometimes-rocky rookie year.
"Some of throws he makes in practice, I have no idea what made him go there, what made him throw that ball, how he got it in there," Gase said. "You can see the players, they know he's good. They know the ability he has. And we're all trying to hurry up to know this stuff as well as we can."
How refreshing is that? The Jets are trying to win soon - perhaps even now. They're not talking about long-term projects or five-year plans anymore. Douglas watched the Eagles win a Super Bowl in Wentz's second season - even though Wentz was injured and wasn't part of the playoff run. Once the quarterback was in place, Douglas and his bosses in the Eagles front office saw it was possible to build a championship team fast. The quarterback, after all, is the hardest and most important piece to find.
Thanks to Maccagnan, the Jets have that, and now Douglas and Gase have a chance to reap the benefits, possibly in the very near future. That's their intent, because Darnold gives them reason to believe that anything is possible now.
It's up to Gase and Douglas to take advantage of Darnold's presence. And their intent is to do that fast.