FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Sam Darnold huddled up with his Pad to keep on top of the New York Jets‘ offense during his brief contract holdout.
The rookie quarterback missed the first three practices of training camp while his representatives ironed out details of his four-year, $30.5 million fully guaranteed deal. But Darnold wasn’t very far from the field – literally.
Staying at a hotel just a few deep passes down the road from the Jets’ practice facility, the No. 3 overall pick was able to view film of the team’s camp sessions on his own while staying patient as his contract negotiations played out.
”It sucked watching them,” Darnold said Wednesday, speaking to reporters for the first time since rejoining the team Monday. ”But at the same time, I knew what needed to be done. It was tough watching them, but at the same time, I knew that it was necessary.”
The hang-up appeared to be over contract language – namely offsets and possibly defaults – and Pro Football Talk first reported that the deal includes offset language on future guarantees – if he gets cut. But the Jets also agreed to pay the quarterback’s full $20 million signing bonus within 15 days after Darnold signed Monday and removed language in the deal voiding guarantees based on fines by the NFL.
”I thought it played out great,” Darnold said. ”But honestly, you know, I think with the way that everything worked out, that’s why I have great agents because they’re able to figure that stuff out. And then whenever I get back on the field, that’s my job and my job is to play football to the best of my ability.”
While sitting out camp, Darnold said he worked out at the hotel gym and also was able to throw passes at a nearby high school with fellow clients of his agents’ group – CAA – serving as his receivers.
Darnold is competing with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the Jets’ starting job, but has to make up for a little bit of lost time because of his early camp absences.
”That’s a coach’s decision,” Darnold said when asked if his goal is to be the starter in Week 1. ”The competitor in me, yeah, I want to start. But at the same time, it’s about the team and what’s best for the team.”
Darnold has appeared comfortable running the offense, hardly looking like a lost 21-year-old who’s simply trying to tread water. He has made his share of mistakes, too, but his ability to immediately bounce back from them has been impressive.
”It was the second day for him,” coach Todd Bowles said. ”He’s learning, progressing. He’ll watch the film, learn and get better.”
After having his arm hit as he was throwing a pass that was intercepted by Morris Claiborne, Darnold completed a long pass to Chad Hansen for a big gain.
”We always talk about it in the quarterbacks room, but we also talk about it as a team: You want to limit your mistakes,” Darnold said. ”At the same time, if you do make a mistake, you don’t want to keep your head down. You want to hold your head up high and go after the next play with all you’ve got. So that’s kind of our mentality here, but that’s also been my mentality throughout playing football.”
That cool-headed, veteran-like approach has impressed his teammates.
”Just his decision-making with the football,” running back Bilal Powell said. ”Just taking what the defense gives him and not just trying to force it in there. He’s a smart guy and I think he’s going to do well in this league.”
Added Bridgewater: ”I’m a huge fan of Sam Darnold. I’m glad to be in the quarterback room with him.”
While a rookie holding out might rub some teammates the wrong way, many insisted they understand the business side of the game and didn’t resent Darnold for not being there with them when camp opened.
That didn’t make the young QB immune from some good-natured razzing, of course.
He received a slow-clap as he jogged onto the field for the first time Monday, causing him to break into a sheepish smile just before practice.
”That was awesome,” Darnold said with a laugh. ”To be able to just be a part of that, not really expecting anything and them doing that, it kind of pushed everything – me not showing up to camp on time and me being late – it kind of pushed all that aside. It made me feel comfortable and made me feel like a part of the team.”
Darnold was the main attraction during and after practice Wednesday, with a couple dozen reporters and cameras surrounding him as he spoke.
Even the other two quarterbacks knew who everyone wanted to hear from.
Bridgewater went first and cracked about how he was part of the undercard to the main event. McCown then compared himself to a warmup act at a concert.
”I’ve only got three songs,” the 39-year-old quarterback joked, ”and one of `em is a cover.”
Then, the headliner made his way to the podium.
”Personally, because I have really high expectations for myself, I’ve got a ways to go in terms of growth,” Darnold said. ”But I feel comfortable with the offense at a rudimentary level.”
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