New York Jets Give Up on Sam Darnold, Deal Quarterback to Carolina Panthers for Draft Picks

Darnold is headed to Carolina for a 2021 sixth-round selection and a pair of picks in 2022

Quarterback Sam Darnold of the New York Jets wearing a face mask and beanie
Sam Darnold is done with the New York Jets.
Al Pereira/Getty

The New York nightmare is over for a Jets quarterback who once “saw ghosts” during a blowout at the hands of the division-rival Patriots during a 2019 Monday Night Football matchup.

After selecting Sam Darnold at No. 3 overall out of USC in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets are dealing the 23-year-old QB to the Carolina Panthers for a 2021 sixth-round pick and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022, ESPN was first to report.

A deal that brings back some value but is also a tacit admission the Jets no longer feel Darnold was worthy of being taken third overall (or they would have held out for a first-round pick), the trade clears the way for New York to select a quarterback at No. 2 in the draft at the end of the month.

With Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence nearly guaranteed to go off the board at No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets will have their pick of top prospects like Justin Fields out of Ohio State, Mac Jones out of Alabama and Trey Lance out of North Dakota State. But reading the tea leaves, it seems most likely the Jets will select BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in 2021.

With the Jets expected to be installing a new offense this season that will rely on play-action and a moving pocket, Wilson should theoretically be a good fit as he is adept at throwing on the run and completed 25-of-36 pass attempts (69.4%) for 320 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions and zero sacks on designed rollouts in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wilson’s 96.4 QBR on designed rollouts was the third-highest mark among quarterbacks with 25 such dropbacks over the past three seasons.

Picking at No. 8 overall, the Panthers are now less likely to draft a quarterback to replace or sit behind incumbent starter Teddy Bridgewater, though there is still always a chance they’ll take a QB.

A good indicator of that will be whether the team picks up the fifth-year option for 2022 on Darnold’s contract before the draft, although Carolina has the ability to wait until May 3 to decide if it wants to commit $18.8 million, fully guaranteed, to Sammy D. If the team does pick up the option, that likely means they won’t be picking a quarterback, but will be looking to deal Bridgewater or have him take a pay cut.

Darnold, who went 13-25 as a starter over the course of three seasons in New York and finished as the NFL’s lowest-rated passer in 2020 (72.7) out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks, would appear to have a lower floor than Bridgewater. But Darnold, who has completed 59.8% of his career passes while tossing 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions, also has more upside and is younger.

In Carolina, Darnold will have the best offensive weapon of his career at his disposal in pass-catching running back Christian McCaffrey and a young coach in Matt Rhule who does not run a vertical, downfield passing attack on offense. It will be interesting to see if that Carolina combination will lead Darnold to have the on-field success that was expected, but never delivered, in New York.

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