Sam Darnold could lose Jets’ fan base before stepping on the field

Sam Darnold has been the darling of the Jets franchise sent he was selected with the third pick of the NFL draft in April, but the honeymoon appears to be coming to an abrupt end thanks to Darnold’s holdout, which is beginning to frustrate Jets fans.

“Forget Sam,” superfan John “Cuz” Pagano of Suffolk County shouted from the bleachers at the Jets training facility in Florham Park, N.J., on Sunday as the Jets went through their third practice without Darnold.

“He doesn’t want to play,” Pagano shouted to no one in particular. “I don’t care what the agent says. He’s a rookie. He should be here.”

The Jets were in full pads for the first time Sunday, raising the intensity of a practice that saw time spent working on red-zone packages. While Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater shared all the quarterback reps, Darnold continued to miss valuable training camp time.

A touchdown pass from a rolling Bridgewater to a diving Tre McBride on the final play brought a rousing end to a spirited practice in which the defense generally looked better than the offense. Sunny skies produced a good crowd that was generally pleased with how several drafted rookies looked, including running back Trenton Cannon and defensive lineman Nathan Shepard. But the absence of Darnold was glaring, considering all the fanfare he has received since being drafted.

The sticking point of the negotiation, according to sources, has gone from offset language to forfeiture language. Should Darnold do something non-football related to jeopardize his availability, the Jets want some of the guaranteed money back. These are important details but not something Jets fans want to hear.

“If he really, really wanted to start for the New York Jets, he’d tell his agent, ‘I’m making a lot of money, I want to play, I want to start,” Pagano said. “But he doesn’t seem to be hungry.”

There were a few barbs thrown Darnold’s way on social media as well with some calling him “Prima Darnold” and “Benedict Darnold.”

“Right now, he’s a Prima Darnold,” said long-time Jets fan Julie Lederman. “If he doesn’t sign by, say, Wednesday, he’ll be a Benedict Darnold.”

You can’t blame Jets fans for being frustrated. Darnold’s arrival was to signal a positive turn in the fortunes of a beleaguered franchise that hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since Joe Namath’s Jets. The wrangling over Darnold’s contract feels like another misstep. When you’re watching training camp on aluminum bleachers under a blazing sun, it’s hard to sympathize with a rookie quarterback who is guaranteed $30 million but wants something more.

“I was looking forward to seeing him,” said Wayne Hogrefe of Elmwood Park, N.J., a Jets fan since Shea Stadium. “I blame the team for not signing him. They had plenty of time. He should be here. He should do it for the fans.”

There are some willing to give Darnold the benefit of the doubt.

“I think he’ll probably come in sometime this week if he’s smart,” said Sandy Adelman, from Connecticut. “I think he wants to play. I think this holdout is nothing to do with what he wants.”

Interestingly, a short poll suggests most fans don’t want Darnold to start the opener at Detroit anyway. They’d rather he sit and watch from the sidelines while seeing gradual action here and there.

“I think Teddy and McCown can handle it and give him a few games to watch,” said Adelman, a fan since the Jets were called the Titans. “They invested a third pick overall in him, and if they want him out there, they want him out there. But I would wait. I just don’t want to see another [Christian] Hackenberg situation. That was ridiculous.”

Cuz wants Darnold to start on the bench, too.

“I want McCown to be the man,” he said. “I don’t think he’s ready to carry a clipboard. I think he’s good enough to start and take us to the Super Bowl.”

If McCown does that, Darnold will lose even more fans.

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