The Carolina Panthers traded for former New York Jets 2018 first-round quarterback Sam Darnold. Carolina sent a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second-rounder, and a 2022 fourth-rounder for the former No. 3 overall pick from USC.
Darnold frees up the Jets to invest at quarterback, which they can safely do with the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft. Darnold also solves the Panthers’ quarterback situation, albeit by providing decent competition for starter Teddy Bridgewater.
The trading of Darnold also signals that the Panthers are out of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, a week after the San Francisco 49ers made a similar declaration by action. The 49ers didn’t surrender three first-round picks for the draft capital to take Watson, a known talent. San Francisco moved up to take a young quarterback in Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance.
Technically, the Jets and the Dolphins, who were the beneficiaries of the 49ers trade, would be considered landing spots for Watson. After all, Tua Tagovailoa in Miami is still in a developmental phase as a quarterback, despite the 6-3 record he compiled as a rookie starter. The Jets also have the picks and players to deal for Watson without it ruining their ability to build around him in 2022.
However, the baggage surrounding Watson may be too great for even the Jets and Dolphins to take a gamble on the three-time Pro Bowler. Even if Watson were to avoid civil or criminal repercussions for any part of the sexual assault allegations, the NFL still has its own internal investigation into the allegations.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faced comparable allegations and was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season. In 2017, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games surrounding one domestic violence accusation. It would be better for a quarterback-needy team to just take a younger player, who may miss four to six games in his own right as he develops, and use the remaining picks to build around him.
On Jan. 29, new general manager Nick Caserio was firm that the Texans had “zero interest” in trading Watson. In the Texans’ attempts to play hardball with Watson, they may have cost themselves an opportunity to accelerate the rebuild. As the accusations mount against Watson, teams are evaluating other options and moving on from the Texans’ signal caller.