Just three years ago, Sam Darnold was the would-be franchise quarterback savior for the Jets. Now, it looks like he may be on his way out of town.
All signs are pointing to the Jets selecting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2-overall pick in the April 29 draft. Wilson will then get his crack at being the franchise quarterback the Jets have been searching for over the last 45 years.
The question now is what Jets general manager Joe Douglas can get for Darnold in a trade and who the potential trade partners might be. Several teams which looked like possible partners found other options at quarterback over the last month. The Colts, 49ers and Washington all went in other directions after being suggested as landing spots for Darnold.
So, who’s left?
Darnold is not going to be viewed as a Day 1 starter by anyone. That is clear. The most likely trade partner is a team that has a starter in place it is not completely sold on. Darnold could provide competition in training camp or be a solid backup who can become the starter if the current QB1 stumbles.
The Broncos make the most sense in this category. They have Drew Lock penciled in at starter right now. Denver liked Darnold when he was coming out in the 2018 draft. The Broncos have had a change at the top since then. George Paton is their new general manager even though John Elway remains with the team.
Denver has the No. 9-overall pick. It is possible the Broncos can draft the fifth quarterback taken this year, or they could attempt to move up. But it feels like the top four picks will all be quarterbacks, so the Broncos may not be able to get high enough to get even their fourth choice.
The Panthers are in a similar situation. The signals were clear that Carolina was going to make a run at Deshaun Watson if the Texans ever made the star quarterback available. That came before Watson faced multiple lawsuits from women alleging sexual harassment and assault. If Watson is off the table, the Panthers may have to go into 2021 with Teddy Bridgwater as their top quarterback. Darnold and Bridgewater competed in training camp in 2018 with the Jets. Could they be reunited in Charlotte? Like the Broncos, the Panthers are in no-man’s land when it comes to the draft. They hold the No. 8 pick and could see their top four quarterbacks gone by then.
The scenarios with the Broncos and the Panthers raise the question of timing on any Darnold trade. The Jets have wanted to complete their evaluations of the college quarterbacks before dealing Darnold. Those evaluations are nearly complete. Ohio State’s Justin Fields has his pro day on Tuesday. The medical checks will take place April 8-10 in Indianapolis, and Wilson’s surgically repaired shoulder will be examined so the Jets can see if there are any issues. The trade window most likely opens wide then.
The Jets may have to wait until Day 2 of the draft to make a deal, though. At that point, they will have Wilson, and teams like the Broncos or the Panthers may be ready to make a move after missing out on a quarterback in the first round the night before. The Jets may be able to get one of their Day 2 picks along with something else. Most people around the NFL project the Jets to be able to get a second-round pick and a mid-round pick. Those picks could come in 2022, though.
Other teams that are possible trade partners would be the Bears and the Steelers. The Bears signed Andy Dalton and are hyping him as their starter, but their No. 2 right now is Nick Foles. Would Chicago rather have Darnold to compete with Dalton? The Jets still need a veteran backup, and maybe Douglas would want Foles back in the trade. He did win a Super Bowl with the Eagles in 2017 with Foles.
The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back in 2021, but this looks like it will be his final season. Pittsburgh could take Darnold, evaluate him for a season and try to re-sign him for 2022 if it likes what it sees.