Jets trade Sam Darnold to Panthers for three draft picks

Sam Darnold’s days as the hopeful future of the New York Jets franchise have come to a conclusion.

The 23-year-old former No. 3 overall pick will now take on the hopes of the Carolina Panthers’ organization going forward.

Darnold has been traded from the Jets to the Panthers in exchange for a 2021 NFL Draft sixth-round pick (No. 226) plus second- and fourth-round selections in the 2022 draft, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday afternoon. The Panthers soon thereafter confirmed the acquisition of Darnold.

The Panthers, who still have 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, were the sole suitor for Darnold and had been strong suitors for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but had transitioned to Darnold, Rapoport added. Darnold now takes the starting reins for the Panthers, while Carolina will look to trade Bridgewater or adjust his contract, Rapoport reported.

Meanwhile in Gotham, the Jets, who took Darnold out of USC with the third pick in the 2018 draft, have officially moved on from the former Trojans standout with all eyes of the prize of the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft, where they’ll presumably take their next hopeful franchise signal-caller.

“I want to publicly acknowledge the commitment, dedication, and professionalism Sam displayed while with the Jets. He is a tough-minded, talented football player whose NFL story has not been written yet,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas said in a statement. “While all these things are true, this move is in the short- and long-term best interests for both this team and him. We thank Sam for all of his work on behalf of this organization and wish him well as he continues his career.”

It would seem likely the Panthers would exercise Darnold’s fifth-year option, but they have until May 3 to make the decision, with the QB projected to make $18.858 million, per Over the Cap. Darnold is in the final year of his rookie deal, with $4.8 million due, and will account for $5 million against New York’s 2021 cap.

As for Bridgewater, whether he stays or goes, his days as a QB1 are in question going forward after his sole season as the unquestioned starter in Carolina, one in which he produced 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 starts.

Darnold’s three-season stay in New York offered flashes of promise, but was overshadowed by uneven play and the chaos that surrounded him during the last season of Todd Bowles’ stay as head coach and two years of tumult under Adam Gase. 

Though Darnold heads to Charlotte with three season of experience under his belt, he’ll still only be 24 when the 2021 campaign — one that will see the Jets and Panthers play — kicks off. He’ll have the chance to play and learn under head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, which is likely to be a marked improvement from his stay in New York in which his head coach’s future was often the talk of the town as much as his inability to showcase consistent progress.

Nonetheless, Darnold is coming off a 2020 campaign that was likely his worst. In 12 starts, Darnold threw 11 interceptions and had career-lows of nine touchdowns and 2,208 yards passing. Since entering the NFL in 2018, Darnold ranks last in completion percentage, TD-INT ratio and passer rating, according to NFL Research.

In Carolina, Darnold will reunite with wide receiver Robby Anderson after the tandem played together in 2018-19 in New York. Darnold will work with coaches in Rhule and Brady whose first season offers promise of building a franchise the right way and doing so around their new QB. And, perhaps most significantly, Darnold has been bestowed a chance to start anew in many ways.

Darnold’s second chance might well be his last, however, as it was long argued whether his Jets tape told the true story of who he was as an NFL quarterback, having been hamstrung under Gase and playing among a largely stagnant cast of playmakers. With a star running back like Christian McCaffrey lining up in the backfield with him and Anderson and D.J. Moore out wide, Darnold must deliver now.

The days of Darnold as the next great hope for the Jets have officially ended and the next presumptive face of the team is more than likely not yet on the roster.

As for the Panthers, their rebuild continues, but they’ve found their centerpiece in Darnold, who gets a second shot at turning around a franchise.

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