New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers

Could Sam Darnold succeed Ben Roethlisberger under center for the Steelers?

JuJu Smith-Schuster wants to reunite with Sam Darnold, but could Darnold really be Ben Roethlisberger’s successor?

It’s not all his fault, with Adam Gase as his head coach and injuries thinning an already thin set of talent around him,. But Sam Darnold hasn’t looked good so far this season, as the New York Jets are the most dismal-looking of the NFL’s 0-3 teams.

Ben Roethlisberger has looked fine through three games, after missing most of last season with an elbow injury. But he is 38 years old, and he’s under contract only through next year. So the Pittsburgh Steelers need to think about a succession plan, probably next offseason.

Jets’ general manager Joe Douglas seems to be the right track in roster building, but exactly when that will bear real fruit is unclear. Douglas also did not draft Darnold in 2018, with a decision on a fifth-year option looming next spring. Leaving aside the idea of “Tank for Trevor (Lawrence)”,  the Jets can’t really be all-in on any quarterback path.

JuJu Smith-Schuster wants to reunite with Sam Darnold

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was teammate of Darnold’s at USC. On the CBS Sports podcast “All Things Covered”, Smith-Schuster spoke of a possible reunion.

“That my guy, man. Sam Darnold, if we could get him to Pittsburgh, I would, but I love Ben [Roethlisberger] so it is what it is,” Smith-Schuster told CBS Sports’ “All Things Covered” podcast. “I’m just saying he’s a great kid. I played with him so he’s one of my boys so I wouldn’t mind playing with him again.”

“There’s no doubt that he has that ‘it’ factor in him. The NFL’s a lot different now, schemes and all that other stuff so I think that it just takes time. I think his time is coming soon. Right now, I think it’s tough.”

Retirement has clearly been on Roethlisberger’s mind as the later years of his career have come, though that Brett Favre-esque talk from him has faded more recently. He may want to play into 40’s, or he could call it quits after 2021.

If the Jets don’t pick up his fifth-year option, Darnold would hit free agency in March of 2022. If they do, a $9.7 million cap hit in 2021 makes him a cheap option to keep around. Or, absent a contract extension, it makes him a tradeable asset.

Simply escaping the Jets’ dysfunction would benefit Darnold. On the flipside there’s the Steelers, on their third head coach since 1969 with no sign of a change on the radar anytime soon.

The Steelers have to be thinking about their post-Roethlisberger future at quarterback. They should be watching what the Jets do (or don’t do) with Darnold closely, regardless of Smith-Schuster’s endorsement.

Next: 5 candidates to replace Dan Quinn as Falcons head coach

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