Robby Anderson has caught 11 of the 18 passes Sam Darnold has thrown to him in the past two games.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sam Darnold needs a partner on the football field, a go-to receiver who can grow up with him. Forever ago, it was Joe Namath-to-Don Maynard. The New York Jets need something like that, a Batman-Robin tandem that could take Gotham City.
Robby Anderson wants to be Darnold’s trusty sidekick, and he certainly has played like it over the past two weeks. Their future, Anderson said recently, is “as bright as the summer sun.” Problem is, the Jets can’t subscribe to that weather forecast — not yet — because Anderson still is an enigma, on and off the field.
The Jets have to make a decision on Anderson, but there’s really no decision at all. He will be a restricted free agent, meaning he will receive a second-round tender (approximately $3.2 million) for 2019. He can squawk about wanting a long-term contract, but he won’t have any leverage until he becomes a consistent performer and can make it through an offseason without getting arrested.
How the Jets handle the wide receiver situation will be one of the big storylines in the offseason. Quincy Enunwa, a good player when healthy, will be an unrestricted free agent. If general manager Mike Maccagnan starts the receiver rebuild by retaining Enunwa and Anderson, it still won’t be enough. (No. 3 receiver Jermaine Kearse, also a free agent, likely won’t be back.) The Jets would still need a true No. 1, which won’t be easy to find.
Virtually impossible, actually.
The top free agents will be a couple of older players on the downside (Golden Tate and Randall Cobb), plus a handful of No. 2 receivers who will be hitting the market for the first time, a group led by Devin Funchess and Tyrell Williams. If the Jets lose Enunwa, they can replace him with one of these players. Otherwise, it makes little sense to overpay for another complementary receiver.
The draft? The consensus among experts is there are no receivers worth a top-10 pick. In Todd McShay’s updated top 32 prospects, the top receiver is ranked 27th — Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, a 5-foot-9 bolt of lightning. The Jets could hope to get lucky in the later rounds, but Maccagnan’s draft record with receivers doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. He missed on ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen and Devin Smith. As a result, there’s no pipeline of young talent, which forces the team in different (and more expensive) directions.
Maccagnan is much better with trades (the Brandon Marshall deal was one of his best), and he could explore that avenue to find a receiver. One player to watch is A.J. Green, who is due to make $12 million in the final year of his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. He will be 31 next season and he’ll be coming off a torn toe ligament, but he’s a No. 1 when healthy. Even if he’s only a one-and-done, he’d fill the void for a season, giving the Jets more time to make a long-term decision on Anderson.
The wild card in all this is the coaching situation, which brings scheme fit into the equation. If the Jets hire former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, it increases former Packer Cobb’s value as a potential target. If the new coach doesn’t see Anderson or Enunwa as a fit, the Jets could move on. In Anderson’s case, they probably could fetch a fourth-round pick in a trade, give or take a round.
Anderson’s value has increased with 11 catches, 172 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games, bringing his disappointing totals to 38 catches, 588 yards and five TDs. He battled an ankle injury for a few weeks, but his change-of-direction has improved now that the ankle is healthy. You could see it on his recent touchdown catches, as he worked to get open while Darnold extended the plays with his mobility.
“I think they’re learning from each other,” receivers coach Karl Dorrell said of Anderson and Darnold. “I think that’s what is happening right now. They’re creating a little bit of a groove and a stride together.”
Above all, Anderson showed instincts and awareness on the 5- and 7-yard touchdown plays, proving he can be more than simply a vertical threat. For him it’s all about consistency, which extends to his off-the-field habits. He was arrested in each of the past two offseasons and, even though all but one charge (reckless driving) was dropped, his behavior triggered serious questions within the organization about his reliability.
On the field, Anderson has built a trust with Darnold, something that didn’t exist at the start of the season. He was an afterthought in the offense, looking lost at times. Now you can see there’s chemistry.
“If I’m able to extend the play or do anything of that nature,” Darnold said, “I think he’s done a really good job finding open windows. … He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and I am, too.”
Anderson said, “I think it shows that we have that connection.”
For now, yes. But the long-term future is murky for him and the position.