Jets did Sam Darnold no favors by bungling tight end situation

Tight end became a glaring need for the Jets when Austin Seferian-Jenkins signed a free-agent contract with the Jaguars earlier this year. Now we’ll see if the Jets’ decision not to pay him an extra $1 million a year will hurt Sam Darnold.

The Jets addressed Seferian-Jenkins’ departure Saturday by drafting Chris Herndon in the fourth round. Herndon, who started three seasons at Miami, will make tight end one of the more intriguing positions when training camp opens in July, but will he become as valuable a resource to Darnold as Seferian-Jenkins would have been? He seems willing.

“I’m committed. I’m a hard worker, and I’m a very focused person, so with all that put together, you have a pretty good player, if you ask me,” Herndon told the New York media after he was taken with the 107th pick overall.

Herndon, from Norcross, Ga., was available in the fourth round for a reason. He had 40 catches for 477 yards and four touchdowns last season, but dropped in the draft after missing the final two games following surgery on the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

The Jets must be optimistic for a complete recovery or they wouldn’t have selected someone perceived as damaged goods. But with his injury and inexperience, don’t look for Herndon to make much of an impact this year, at least not the kind of impact Seferian-Jenkins would have made.

The Jets offered Seferian-Jenkins a two-year deal worth $8 million after a productive 2017 season in which he caught 50 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Despite recent issues with alcohol abuse, he emerged as a veteran voice and provided quality leadership during adverse situations.

Seferian-Jenkins had talked about wanting $7 million a year, something the Jets never would have paid. But he eventually settled on a two-year $10 million contract to move to Jacksonville.

It was an unexpected split. The Jets had claimed Seferian-Jenkins in 2016 after the Buccaneers cut him following a DUI arrest. He stopped drinking, lost a bunch of weight and turned his life around. But money trumped loyalty, and suddenly the Jets were left with a hole in their offense.

Herndon, if healthy, is said to be a complete tight end with an upside. But he’ll likely spend much of this season recovering from knee surgery and trying to get acclimated to the NFL. He won’t be the kind of resource Seferian-Jenkins could have been for Darnold. The other tight ends on the roster — Jordan Leggett, a fifth-round pick last year, Eric Tomlinson, Neal Sterling, Bucky Hodges and Clive Walford — will be battling just to make the team.

Seferian-Jenkins, at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, was a big target with experience and entering his prime. Herndon also has size at 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, but Darnold needs as many experienced players around him as possible. Seferian-Jenkins could have been the experienced voice in the huddle and a reliable target downfield. Instead, the tight-end spot is surrounded with uncertainty.

Herndon says his knee is fine, and that he’s doing full workouts.

“I’ve been jumping, I’ve been cutting, I feel like I’m good to go,” he said.

That might be the case, but the Jets will be cautious. Don’t look for Herndon to do much field work during the offseason or the early weeks of training camp. It’s tough enough to go from the fourth round to the starting lineup under the best of circumstances, much less with a bad knee.

The Jets could have had the position solidified if they were willing to match the Jaguars’ offer to Seferian-Jenkins. It seemed he was happy and grateful to be a Jet and wanted to remain with the team. Maybe a chance at a Super Bowl seems more likely with the Jaguars than it does with the Jets. Maybe the Jets made him their best offer and couldn’t afford a penny more.

The result is that tight end isn’t the go-to spot it could have been. Seferian-Jenkins got more money. The Jets got their draft pick. The only real loser is Darnold.

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