Quincy Enunwa’s future with Jets may hinge on these 7 games

The Jets season is supposed to be all about the future centered on the development of Sam Darnold and the cap money general manager Mike Maccagnan has to spend this offseason. But for some players the 2018 season matters. It matters to their pocketbooks and the path their careers could be headed next season.

Among those is wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

After sitting out all of last season with a neck injury, he needed to have a productive 2018 to draw interest as a free agent and maximize any offer the Jets might present. But he has been injured and playing with a rookie quarterback experiencing growing pains like throwing four interceptions in a 13-6 loss to the Dolphins last week where the offense continued to struggle.

Darnold is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Bills at MetLife Stadium, with veteran Josh McCown getting his first start of the season. That could actually bode well for Enunwa to have the kind of big day that will be remembered when free agency arrives.

McCown hasn’t played all season as the Jets handed the franchise to Darnold, but he made 13 starts last year and 73 during his 16-year career. He has seen every defense and if he gets hot, Enunwa figures to be a prime target against the Bills.

“Obviously, they’re two different players and two different quarterbacks,” Enunwa said of the 21-year-old Darnold and McCown, 39. “You’re always going to have to realize that and get ready through the week and know what one quarterback likes compared to the other. I’ve practiced with [McCown] this whole year. Game time is just putting lights to it.”

Enunwa leads the Jets in receptions with 25 and is second in yardage with 327. He has one touchdown, and is on pace to finish with just 581 yards and two or three touchdowns for the year. Those are hardly the kind of numbers to land big money in free agency.

Enunwa is making $2.9 million on a one-year deal signed before this season after injuring his neck during training camp last season. This was the year to prove his worth and earn the leverage he lacked a year ago.

He has been slowed by a high ankle sprain, missing games against the Vikings and Bears, and has caught just four passes for 49 yards in the past three games he has played. That kind of a production isn’t going to earn him much of a raise over the deal he currently has in place.
With seven games left this season, there’s plenty of time for Enunwa to improve his value. But he needs to step up his production. McCown’s experience might be of help.

“I’m going to be where he needs me to be so it’s easy for him,” Enunwa said. “That way we automatically have that connection.”

Before Enunwa thinks about impressing other teams, he must impress the Jets, with whom he’ll likely have his greatest value. The Jets are going to need to find Darnold legitimate, long-term weapons. Robby Anderson is a restricted free agent after this season, and Jermaine Kearse is up for a new deal.

Enunwa had a number of intangibles in his favor, such as his ability to play through pain, his leadership and his will to win.

Enunwa had one of those extra-effort plays late in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, when he caught a short pass and carried about four tacklers for a huge gain to mid-field. Those kinds of plays can’t be measured on a stat sheet.

“That’s my game,” Enunwa said. “I just want to go out there and be that person. I just want to be the person when you give me the ball, I can be that spark for the offense. I feel I’ve done that since I’ve been here.”

The Jets and the rest of the NFL need to see more of that.

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