The market for Sam Darnold had been dwindling for weeks as quarterback-needy teams around the league signed or traded for their 2021 starter. The longer that Jets GM Joe Douglas waited to make a deal, the less many expected he’d get in return.
So on that front, Douglas did better than many expected when he dealt the 23-year-old Darnold to the Carolina Panthers on Monday, getting a second- and fourth-round pick in 2022, plus a sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft later this month.
But could he have done better by trading the second overall pick of the upcoming instead and sticking with Darnold?
Probably. But whether Douglas won or lost this deal won’t depend just on those draft picks. It’ll depend on how Darnold performs for the Panthers, and whether the GM is right about BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, the player the Jets now seem locked in on at No. 2.
That will not only determine whether this was a good trade or a bad one, but it’ll set the tone for the Jets for perhaps the next decade, and it will define Douglas’ tenure and legacy with the Jets.
Strictly based on the return, though, Douglas did well with this deal. For months, NFL sources had told SNY that the best the Jets could probably do was a second-round pick, and possibly one other pick. Over the past week, though, some speculated they might not be able to get more than a third.
Douglas exceeded those expectations, even though Darnold’s market seemingly dwindled to only a couple of teams.
Of course, the fact the Jets felt they had to trade Darnold at all is a poor reflection on the franchise, even though Darnold was drafted (third overall in 2018) by the previous regime. He was supposed to be their franchise quarterback for the next decade and he’s still only 23 years old. But the Jets completely squandered his talent by surrounding him with bad teams and bad coaching during his three NFL seasons.
He should be on the verge of becoming an elite NFL starter, not looking to restart his career with somebody else.
The Jets actually seemed to think he still had potential. But they felt they couldn’t afford to wait to find out if he could fulfill it — not when they had to make a decision by May 3 about whether to pick up his $18.8 million, fifth-year option for 2022. The uncertainty around what Darnold will be, plus that financial reality, and the fact they were holding the No. 2 pick in a quarterback-rich draft, left them feeling as if they had no choice. They knew they had to draft a quarterback with that pick.
And while keeping Darnold around to compete with that rookie was possible, a quarterback controversy in New York never made a lot of sense.
But what if they had chosen the other path instead? The Jets could have stuck with Darnold, which would have been a risk. And had they done that, they could have traded the No. 2 pick in the draft and gotten a huge haul of draft picks in return. The 49ers, for example, gave up two future first-rounders in a deal with the Miami Dolphins from 15 to 3. And if they traded the pick to the Panthers, who are picking eighth, they could’ve started by asking for a first, second, third and fourth-round pick – the haul the Eagles traded to move up from 8 to 2 for quarterback Carson Wentz back in 2016.
Those picks could’ve helped the Jets fill a ton of holes. They could’ve picked two non-quarterbacks in the first round this year, for example. And they would’ve had a crazy amount of young talent coming in over the next two years.
They still do, with 10 picks in the first three rounds of each of the next two drafts. If Douglas uses them wisely, Wilson has a chance to be surrounded by quite a team.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a risk because history shows Wilson becoming even a viable starting quarterback is far from a guarantee. The Jets had backed themselves into a corner where they felt they had to make a quarterback switch. And there’s a chance that it could end up being a steal for the Panthers that they were able to get a young franchise quarterback without having to give up a first-round pick.
But that’s if Darnold, with a better team and better coaching, becomes the star the Jets once thought he would be. For now, the best that can be said about the deal for the Jets is they got a lot more than a lot of people around the NFL were expecting. Getting a second-rounder plus two other picks was good – probably too good for Douglas to pass up.
In the end, though, the judgement of this trade will all depend on Darnold and Wilson. How they play over the next few seasons will determine whether this really was a good deal for the Jets at all.