Sam Darnold Traded to the Panthers: Grading the Trade for the Jets and Panthers

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws the ball against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium.

Nearly four years to the date after the New York Jets drafted Sam Darnold at third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the team has decided to part ways. The Jets traded Darnold to the Carolina Panthers early Monday afternoon, ending the former Trojans’ tenure in New York.

Things did not go according to plan as New York, as Darnold ends his Jets career with a record of 13-25 as the Jets starting quarterback. However, a fresh start with the Panthers might be what Darnold needs to turn his career around. Here is a breakdown of what this trade means for both the Jets and Panthers.

New York Jets

New York Jets head coach Adam Gase joins arms with players including quarterback Sam Darnold (14) and free safety Marcus Maye (20) during the playing of the national anthem before their game against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Picks Received for Darnold: 2021 6th Round Pick, 2022 2nd Round Pick, 2022 4th Round Pick

With all the buzz surrounding BYU’s Zach Wilson and Ohio States’ Justin Fields before the upcoming draft, it was only a matter of time before Darnold was traded. Getting the deal done before the draft is definitely a win for the Jets. If the Jets had already selected a quarterback, they would have had much less leverage in the deal.

The indication from the trade is that New York decided that Darnold was not fit to be the teams’ franchise quarterback. That much is up for debate. Despite the Jets dismal record with him as their starter, Darnold’s supporting cast in New York left a lot to be desired.

The Jets offensive line ranked 29th in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That same unit also allowed pressure in 2.5 seconds or less on 28% of their dropbacks, good for last in the league. Last year’s first-round pick Mekhi Becton was a good step in the right direction, but not enough to salvage the entire line.

On top of a porous offensive line, Darnold’s weapons were below average. The best receiver in his three years with the Jets was Jamison Crowder. While Crowder is one of the more underrated players in the league, he is not a No. 1 receiver. The team brought in Denzel Mims via draft last season, but he struggled to stay healthy during his rookie season.

How Darnolds’ Contract Effected the Deal

Between the offensive line and limited weapons, the Jets wasted the window of time where Darnold had a cheap and manageable contract. Darnolds’ contract situation definitely comes into play when considering what New York got in return from the Panthers. The Jets would have had to exercise Darnolds’ 5th-year option for $18 million to retain him for the 2022 season, and they clearly didn’t think he was worth the money.

Given his current contract situation, the draft picks they received were reasonable. The second and fourth-round picks next year will be valuable. New York could also use the 6th round pick this year to move up a few slots in the later rounds if necessary. This deal means that the Jets have 21 total picks in the next two drafts, including seven in the first two rounds. While it wasn’t the ideal return for a former third overall pick, it was solid for an expiring asset.

Jets Trade Grade: B-

Carolina Panthers

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to pass against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

This was a great move by the Panthers’ front office. The team saw a chance to get a talented player for cheaper than face value and jumped at the opportunity. The team now has their presumed franchise quarterback and they didn’t even have to use a first round pick to get him.

Darnold already has a fan in the building in Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Darnold reportedly developed a strong connection with Rhule when Rhule was interviewing for the Jets job three years ago.

The trade is a win-win for Darnold and the Panthers. For Darnold, he gets a fresh start with a much more talented team. The receiving corps for Caronlina features D.J Moore and breakout star of last season, Robby Anderson. The two speedsters on the outside are a huge upgrade from what Darnold had in New York.

He will also be working with running back Christian McCaffrey. While McCaffrey struggled to stay healthy last season, he is arguably the best offensive weapon in the league at full strength. His versatility as a receiver and runner out of the backfield will be huge for Darnolds’ development. The Panthers offensive line isn’t the best in the league but is certainly better than the Jets unit. The team also could potentially select one of the top tackles in the draft with either their pick at 7th overall or 39th overall.

Panthers Long Term Plan with Darnold

The picks the team lost are valuable, but it hurts less knowing that they are getting a former top-5 pick in return. If Darnold lives up to his top-5 selection with the Panthers, those picks will become peripheral.

The team has already exercised Darnolds 5th year option for next season. This means that Darnold will make $18 million for the 2022 season, and then, if the Panthers decide not to extend him, he will become a free agent in 2023. This lines up perfectly as Teddy Bridgewater’s deal is set to expire in 2023 as well. If Darnold develops into a competent quarterback over the next two years, the team will be able to resign him to a long-term deal and move on from Bridgewater with no additional cap hit. A great piece of business by the Panthers that could pay dividends in the next few years.

Panthers Trade Grade: A-

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