The Sam Darnold-savior-of-the-Jets experiment has mercifully come to an end.
Earlier this week, the New York Jets sent their No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft and supposed franchise player, quarterback Sam Darnold, to the Carolina Panthers for a modest package of draft picks that includes a sixth-round pick in next month’s 2021 NFL draft as well as second- and fourth-round choices in the 2022 draft.
The shipment of Darnold to North Carolina clears up what the Jets will be doing with the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s 2021 NFL draft: they’re going to swing on a franchise quarterback again just three years after taking Darnold in the top three.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, if the Jets do go quarterback at No. 2 they would become the first team since the NFL merger in 1967 to draft two quarterbacks in the first three picks during a four-year span. Stats like that don’t exactly inspire confidence in New York’s front office.
Considering Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 is all but decided, the top options at No. 2 would seem to be Ohio State’s Justin Fields and BYU’s Zach Wilson, the latter of which has met with New York virtually on multiple occasions, according to ESPN.
The acquisition of Darnold doesn’t exactly represent a big step up over last year’s starter, Teddy Bridgewater, but at least he’s younger. The move doesn’t move their NFL odds to win the tough NFC South either, which currently rest at +750 largely on the strength of do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey, who missed most of last season with injury.
While the Jets were publicly torn about what to do with Darnold, according to ESPN’s sources, it seemed pretty clear that the former Trojan’s time was up at MetLife as early as midway through last season.
Darnold had shown promise towards the tail end of his rookie year, but that was apparently smoke and mirrors, as that sliver of progress did not end up leading to anything. The 23-year-old finished his Jets career with a 13-25 record as the starter and he never finished better than 26th in passer rating, according to ESPN.
He also struggled turning the ball over, managing a subpar TD-INT ratio of 45-39 that left much to be desired. The Dana Point, California native was also last in passer rating in 2020 (72.7) and his career mark of 78.6 is the lowest among the 39 qualifying quarterbacks over that span. Safe to say, the California kid did not meet expectations in the Big Apple.
The deal brings New York’s draft pick haul to 10 for this draft and to seven across the first two rounds of the next two drafts, which is not a bad situation to be in when you’ve got as many roster holes as Robert Saleh’s team has.
Carolina has been looking to get a quarterback upgrade all offseason, making plays for both Matt Stafford and Deshaun Watson and coming away empty-handed both times. They had been hoping a top quarterback would fall to them at the No. 8 pick, but after the San Francisco 49ers traded up last week that seemed like more of a pipe dream.
Now, the Panthers have two “starter-level” options at quarterback, as Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer put it, and are in a much better position to simply take the best player on the board when their turn comes in the first round.
“This doesn’t take us out of anything in the draft,” Fitterer said. “It doesn’t take us out of taking a quarterback, it doesn’t take us out of taking any position. What we wanted to do going into this draft, through free agency, through this trade with Sam, was to just get rid of all the needs we have.
“We wanted to get to a place where the roster was in a good spot, and we could take the best available player at No. 8. We could always move up, and we could always move back, but this puts us in a position to make the right football decision for this team moving forward.”
Fitterer also said that Darnold and Bridgewater are expected to compete for the starting job, and that it will be up to head coach Matt Rhule who the team ends up going with as their starter.
“The whole idea of bringing Sam in was to raise the competition level to where it needs to be,” the GM said. “These guys can push each other and make each other better.”