What the Sam Darnold Trade Means For Each Franchise

The Carolina Panthers have found their new quarterback.

On Monday, the New York Jets sent Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, to Carolina for a sixth-round pick in 2021 and second-round and fourth-round picks in 2022.

The move will have lasting effects on both franchises, but the trade also impacts the immediate and distant futures of some other players and franchises not involved in the deal.

New York’s Perspective

From a statistical point of view, Darnold was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league last year. Of the 26 quarterbacks who started at least ten games last season, Darnold ranked 24th in completion percentage (59.6%), 25th in touchdown percentage (2.5%), had one of the highest interception rates (3.0%) and was dead last in QBR (40.1).

While there were some extenuating circumstances during his time with the Jets, Darnold severely underachieved as New York’s starting quarterback. Luckily for New York, they have the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and the ability to select anyone not named Trevor Lawrence.

BYU’s Zach Wilson has been the presumptive pick at No. 2 for over a month after skyrocketing up draft boards this offseason. But the Jets could take Ohio State’s Justin Fields as well, as he projects to have one of the highest floors of any quarterback prospect this year.

And from a financial standpoint, this was a big win for the Jets. Not only did they avoid picking up Darnold’s $18.8 million fifth-year option, New York could potentially have a younger quarterback with more upside on a rookie deal for years to come, which provides their front office with plenty of flexibility.

It is difficult to evaluate this trade from the Jets’ point of view without knowing what they do with the second overall pick. But with new head coach Robert Saleh and new offensive and defensive coordinators Mike LaFleur and Jeff Ulrbich, the Jets have clearly hit the reset button. Moving on from Darnold seemed like the right thing to do.

Carolina’s Perspective

While Darnold failed to live up to expectations with the Jets, that’s not to say he can’t be successful elsewhere.

Now seems like a good time to unpack those “extenuating circumstances” Darnold faced in New York. First off, his weapons were far from spectacular. Jamison Crowder was statistically the best receiver he ever played with, yet Crowder started just 19 games in his two seasons with the team.

Pro Football Focus also ranked New York’s offensive line 25th in the league during Darnold’s rookie season, 28th in the league his sophomore year and 29th in the league in 2020. Mekhi Becton is a great building block for the Jets’ offensive line, but he was a rookie in his lone year protecting Darnold.

Darnold also dealt with an unfortunate amount of injuries during the 2019 season, which delayed his progression as a player. Darnold missed three games early in the season after being diagnosed with mononucleosis and then sprained his thumb during the Jets’ Week eight matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And last year was one of the strangest years in NFL history as the league continued to battle the coronavirus pandemic. All that said, one could say Darnold never got a fair shake in New York. Moving on to Carolina and getting away from Adam Gase might do wonders for Darnold’s career.

Who else does the trade impact?

On Tuesday, it was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the San Francisco 49ers are expected to select Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at No. 3. If Lawrence, Wilson and Jones go first, second and third in this year’s draft, it would mark the first time since the 1999 NFL Draft that the first three players off the board were all quarterbacks.

Schefter also said he doesn’t expect the 49ers to move their current starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But one has to imagine if San Francisco takes Jones at three, Garoppolo’s days in Golden State will be limited.

Another quarterback directly impacted by this move is Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater got his first starting gig last year since his 2015 Pro Bowl season when he led the Minnesota Vikings to an 11-5 record.

In 15 starts last season, Bridgewater went 4-11 and threw for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. And despite signing Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract last March, Carolina is open to trading the former first-round pick.

The Denver Broncos, who said they want to bring in competition for Drew Lock, may consider trading for the veteran QB. The Miami Dolphins could be interested in Bridgewater after losing Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason and not knowing what they have in second-year signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa. And maybe the Chicago Bears take a swing at Bridgewater and push for the playoffs after losing Mitch Trubisky in free agency.

But perhaps the biggest domino yet to fall is what the Atlanta Falcons do with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Outside of Lawrence, Wilson and Jones, Atlanta can seemingly select whoever they want. But according to Schefter, the Falcons are willing to move back in the draft.

The Broncos are reportedly interested in moving up to select a quarterback, potentially Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Or maybe Carolina trades with their division rival to mitigate risk and hone in on whoever their top prospect is. Regardless of who is picking fourth on April 29th, that’ll likely be the true start of the 2021 NFL Draft.