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    Sam Darnold needs to look out for himself, because tanking Jets won’t

    No matter what happens beyond this season, Sam Darnold should feel proud of how he has navigated through the chaos on the biggest stage.

    He has stayed above the fray when it would have been easy to get into the muck all around him. He has remained optimistic when questioning his employer for negligence would have been the natural instinct.

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    He has comported himself like a much older person used to the shenanigans in his line of work. He’s 23 and learning more about an unforgiving business with each passing day.

    The Jets failed this quarterback for reasons we might never entirely know. Perhaps it was bad luck, general ineptitude or a combination of both.

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    But it’s sad for everyone and anyone who cares about this star-crossed franchise and this player.

    The Jets waited the better part of a half century to find real hope at the hardest position in team sports. They stumbled through decades in search of someone they could build around.

    They went through re-treads and long-shots, scrubs and phonies, with the hope that they would find their compass.

    Then, Darnold came along in 2018 with superstar promise. All he needed was help.

    The hard part appeared to be over. Identifying the quarterback had been so elusive for so long. All they needed to do was add pieces around him.

    But they dropped the ball.

    The Bills, Cardinals, Ravens, Browns and Chiefs used the same manual to help their young quarterbacks cultivate their talent. The Jets chucked the manual in the trash and published a worst seller.

    And Darnold — whose return after the bye week from a shoulder injury that has already cost him three games remains unclear — suffered.

    As the drumbeat for Trevor Lawrence gets louder, Darnold twists in the wind. Should he rush back for the final seven games of a lost season? Does it make sense to risk aggravating his sprained AC joint again?

    Darnold needs to make his health and career his top priority now.
    Darnold needs to make his health and career his top priority now. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    “I wouldn’t say it’s completely back to square one,” Darnold said Monday of his rehab. “From where I was in the beginning, it’s somewhere in the middle there… It just didn’t feel right during (last) week of practice. I knew that giving it a week or two would definitely be the best decision to make. It was a hard decision, but I went with my gut on it. I think this next week and a half, two weeks is going to be key to let this thing recover and heal all the way, so I can finish out the season strong.”

    Darnold is the ultimate team-first guy, but it’s time for him to shift his mindset for the final two months of the season.

    It’s time for him to be selfish.

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    Although Darnold insisted Monday that his ailing shoulder is “getting better every day,” part of the reason that he’s sidelined again is that he came back too soon after separating his shoulder a little more than five weeks ago. His injury requires plenty of rest.

    He needed to shut it down for a month or so rather than come back after missing just two games. Sure, he escaped further damage in his first game back on Oct. 25, but that was fool’s gold. Darnold aggravated the injury on a scramble in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss in Kansas City 10 days ago.

    The fact that Adam Gase & Co. allowed him to return to that game is outrageous on a billion levels.

    Now, Darnold needs to take a truly conservative approach. It surely stinks for him to sit out as the losses pile up, but it would be silly for him to risk further injury given the big picture.

    “It’s always good to have an outside perspective or a veteran’s perspective when you’re as young as he is,” Joe Flacco said. “He’s a young kid that has a lot of talent, has a lot ahead of him. So, he definitely has to be smart with this and make sure that he makes the right decision in terms of staying patient and not feeling like he’s got to be itching to get back out there.”

    “The problem is that… you always want to get back out there,” Flacco continued. “You always want to run your team and lead your guys. So, you’re dealing with that battle. So, you need to listen to people from the outside. Hopefully he listens to everybody. He listens to (me). And stays as patient as he has to on this one.”

    Darnold’s future beyond 2020 should take precedence over trying to win meaningless games for an organization that will kick him to the curb for the next shiny toy around the block if they have a chance. Loyalty is a myth.

    Darnold will always care about his team and teammates, but he has to be smart.  There will be no shortage of suitors for his services if the Jets put him on the trade block in the offseason. Jeopardizing his health now is foolish.

    Sam Darnold needs to be looking out for one person — and one person only — now.

    Himself.

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