New York Jets legend Joe Namath, whose former team is the front-runner for the top choice in the 2021 NFL draft, wouldn’t be surprised if presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence tried to leverage a trade — the way Eli Manning did in 2004.
“Anything could happen in this world, damn near anything — except for the Jets maybe making the playoffs this year,” Namath said Friday in a phone interview with ESPN. “It’s happened before, so why would it shock anybody?”
Namath noted that he doesn’t know the Clemson quarterback personally; he was asked to give his opinion on Lawrence as a quarterback prospect. Unsolicited, he mentioned the Manning scenario.
“Thinking back to the Manning family and Eli Manning and San Diego, there are some people that may not want to go [to a certain team] for whatever reason,” Namath said.
“But If Trevor Lawrence is available, I think the upside is tremendous there. Also, I think the upside with Sam [Darnold] is positive, but you’re not going to keep both of them. You’re not going to take a quarterback No. 1 without getting a couple of high draft choices … for Sam. It depends on what the powers that be want to do.”
The Jets (0-8), the NFL’s only winless team, could be faced with that decision. In 2004, Manning made it clear he didn’t want to play for the then San Diego Chargers, who drafted him first overall and immediately traded him to the New York Giants.
Namath declined to give his opinion on what the Jets should do, saying he’s not close enough to the situation, but he raved about Lawrence, calling him “sensational.”
“He’s a winner. He’s determined. His size is terrific. His athleticism is terrific. His passing ability is terrific.” After a brief pause, Namath said with a laugh, “And that’s about it.”
Namath has been supportive of Darnold throughout the young quarterback’s up-and-down tenure with the Jets, but admitted he has been somewhat disappointed. “Sometimes, sometimes,” he said. “The last couple of seasons, there were a couple of things I was surprised at. Having made similar mistakes myself, you learn from your mistakes.
“He shows certainly better athleticism than a lot of people give him credit for, whenever he gets an attitude that he has to go do something and take it out of the pocket. But guys that take it out of the pocket, they rarely last long.
“His passing can improve some with the accuracy, but that accuracy can improve with a split-second or two more time to throw.”
The Jets organization has backed Darnold, who has a banged-up right shoulder but is attempting to play Monday night against the New England Patriots (2-5). On Tuesday, general manager Joe Douglas said Darnold is “our quarterback for the future.”
Namath can relate to Lawrence’s situation. In 1965, he was drafted by the AFL and NFL, which resulted in a bidding war. In a sense, he had a choice in the matter.
“These guys in the modern era, they have agents to go through that process,” he said. “My coach at Alabama [Bear Bryant] told me get to know the people you’re going to work for and make your decision on that.
“That’s what happened with Weeb Ewbank. He won a championship and he coached [Johnny] Unitas. … I knew the AFL was good football. If I had known more about New York City, I would’ve signed faster.”