Sam Darnold trade grades: Panthers bank on potential; Jets make the right decision
The Carolina Panthers have pounced on Sam Darnold.
The short-lived Darnold era in New York has officially come to an end, with the Jets sending quarterback Sam Darnold to the Panthers in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 fourth-round pick.
The Panthers are also reportedly picking up Darnold’s fifth-year option, which means Darnold will have two years with Carolina to prove that he’s the guy of the future for Matt Rhule and Co.
The Jets, who many believed were selecting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, have pretty much cemented that now. The Panthers get a damaged passer for a hefty cost.
Here’s how the trade grades out:
Sam Darnold trade grades
This trade really hinges on what the Panthers think Darnold can be moving forward: A second-round pick, even a year into the future, is a decent price to pay for a QB who has had turnover issues and hasn’t shown a modicum of consistency since entering the league in 2018.
Then you add in the fourth-rounder in 2022 and a sixth this year, and you get the sense that Carolina really, really wants to believe this will work.
Simply put, this whole deal comes down to a single word: Potential. Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick, might still have some of that in his right arm, but there’s a lot of work to be done — especially for a quarterback with turnover issues (39 interceptions in 38 games) and has had difficulty staying healthy at times.
The Carolina organization believes they have a good structure in place to support Darnold, and rightfully so: head coach Matt Rhule has already made his stamp on the franchise, offensive coordinator Joe Brady did a good job with a limited offensive attack behind Teddy Bridgewater in 2020 and the organization has been one of the more stable and competitive teams in the league for the better part of a decade.
While Carolina likely preferred other passers this offseason — Houston’s Deshaun Watson was certainly one, Matthew Stafford was another — squeezing that bit of potential and “fixing” what Darnold has become might be worth it for Carolina. Giving Darnold a running game with Christian McCaffrey and reuniting him with favorite target Robby Anderson could certainly help, ease the burden, as well.
Consider that Rhule was a finalist for the Jets head coaching job before the gig ultimately went to Adam Gase, Rhule likely feels that there’s a lot left in the tank than what Darnold has shown.
If it wasn’t Darnold, then who? Teddy Bridgewater and Carolina seem to be one the road to a divorce, and with Carolina sitting at No. 8 in the 2021 NFL Draft — and three stud quarterbacks likely going in the top five — it was a difficult road to navigate for a rookie passer.
With the Panthers searching for the next franchise guy, they’re going to hope that Darnold’s “flashes” were a preview of what’s to come.
From the second the Jets hired general manager Joe Douglas, the clock on the Darnold tenure started to tick.
It’s a tale as old as time: the GM wants to pick his head coach, and his head coach wants to pick his quarterback. Adam Gase wasn’t Douglas’ guy; and neither was Sam Darnold, who was drafted the year prior to Douglas’ arrival. They have a chance to take a QB at No. 2 overall this year and finally (maybe? possibly?) find an answer at the QB position.
Whether it was the lack of organizational support, the Gase head coaching hire, the roster mismanagement or the fact that Darnold wasn’t Douglas’ guy, the Darnold era in New York was … gruesome. Asking any quarterback to succeed in that situation is tough, much less a quarterback who many figured to be a little bit of a project coming out of USC.
Keeping Darnold for Year 4 was never an option for New York — not unless he balled out in 2020 and overcame major obstacles. Instead, Darnold regressed and made the decision that much easier for Douglas.
Douglas and the Jets were put in a no-win situation heading into the 2021 season had they kept Darnold: Had Darnold had a wonderful year, do you extend him at big money? If he has an average year, where do you go from there?
Douglas cut bait on Darnold — the wise organizational move — before having to answer that question, likely resetting the QB situation with a rookie deal.
The only real knock for the Jets here, if you can even call it one, is what the Jets could have gotten back in the immedia. Could the Jets have used a better pick in 2021 in this trade? Yes. Did they maximize their return for a guy who wasn’t the answer in New York? Also yes.
Douglas did the most he could to get value out of a sunk cost for a quarterback who hasn’t showed he can elevate players around him, regardless of the situation. It’s kind of crazy to consider everyone and their mother knew the Jets were going to take a QB this year — and somehow the Jets still squeezed a second-rounder out of the situation.
While reports suggested that Darnold could have gone for a first-round pick earlier in the offseason, the Jets getting another future high-round pick and more for a quarterback who wasn’t going to be their guy moving forward is nothing short of wizardry for the Jets GM.
Now, New York, with the No. 2 pick in the draft, will certainly select a passer: whether that’s BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey lance remains to be seen. But what we do know, is that Darnold won’t be the guy.
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