There are people around the NFL who believe the Jets will eventually trade Sam Darnold, and others who are convinced the Jets will stick with the 23-year-old for at least another year. But everyone seems to agree that Jets GM Joe Douglas hasn’t made a final decision yet.
That’s not a problem. But it could be.
The Jets still have plenty of time before they have to decide whether to draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick on April 29. But the longer they wait, the more the potential trade market for Darnold will diminish.
In just the last few days, four potential suitors signed quarterbacks who likely settle their plans for 2021, including Chicago (Andy Dalton), Washington (Ryan Fitzpatrick), New Orleans (Jameis Winston) and New England (Cam Newton).
And Seattle, another theoretical suitor, made it clear they’re sticking with Russell Wilson when they rejected a mammoth trade offer from the Bears.
That’s five teams who could’ve been contenders for Darnold who now likely wouldn’t pursue him – or at least not as strongly as they might have done before. Of course, if Douglas – who has said he’d listen to offers for Darnold – ever does decide to trade his quarterback, there will still be teams interested. But it obviously would have been beneficial to the Jets to have as many bidders as possible involved.
The reason they’re waiting, though, is because Douglas is committed to a full evaluation of the 2021 quarterback class. The suspicion around the league is his favorite is BYU’s Zach Wilson, but there are other quarterbacks he plans to see and meet. He’s already attended the Pro Days for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. And he’s expected to be there when Wilson (March 26), Ohio State’s Justin Fields (March 30) and Alabama’s Mac Jones (March 23) have their Pro Days, too.
Then he and his staff will weigh those quarterbacks against Darnold, a player who multiple league sources said is well-regarded by new Jets coach Robert Saleh. They’ll consider their abilities and potential, plus the financial ramifications since the Jets have until May 3 to decide on Darnold’s $18.8 million fifth-year option for 2022.
And they’ll also consider how much they think they can get in trade for Darnold vs. what they could get by auctioning off the No. 2 pick.
So if they do decide to trade Darnold, who would be left in the bidding? There are four logical suitors, who should be interested to varying degrees:
Denver Broncos – In some ways, they’re the most likely. John Elway goes through quarterbacks like he’s picking out paint swatches at Home Depot. He’s nosed enough around the quarterback market this offseason that it’s clear he’s looking for an upgrade over Drew Lock. Elway supposedly loved Darnold in the 2018 draft, so much so that the Jets were worried he might try to trade up to No. 2 with the Giants to grab him. And if you’re in to reading tea leaves, NFL Network Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who once worked with Douglas in Baltimore, has continually mentioned Denver as a likely landing spot for Darnold.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers have looked into the available quarterbacks around the league too, amid speculation they wanted to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo. They actually could clear $23.6 million in cap space by cutting or trading him, so it makes sense, though that would be a bigger benefit now than it will be in a month. Regardless, Kyle Shanahan supposedly liked Darnold and thinks he’d be a good fit in his system. One question, though: If Shanahan thinks Darnold would be a good fit in his system, wouldn’t Darnold then be a pretty good fit in the Jets’ new system – which is basically the same thing?
Carolina Panthers – The worst-kept secret in the NFL this offseason is that Matt Rhule and the Panthers are looking to make a huge splash at quarterback and are expected to make a big run at Deshaun Watson if he’s ever made available. Clearly they’re not invested in Teddy Bridgewater for the future. But if they can’t get Watson, would they try to get Darnold instead? Maybe, but that doesn’t feel like a big enough splash. They seem more likely to make a blockbuster offer for the No. 2 pick so they can grab Wilson or Fields. That could be a deal to watch.
Houston Texans – If, if, if the Texans ever decide to trade Watson, the Jets will surely inquire and they’ll find out the price is three first-round picks, a player and probably more. Could Darnold be part of the package? Sure. It seems more likely the Texans would be interested in selecting a quarterback at No. 2 if they dealt Watson, but they might be interested in Darnold. The Patriots supposedly liked him in 2018 and new Texans GM Nick Caserio was an executive in New England then. Regardless, this is only an option if the Texans decide to blink first in their standoff with their unhappy quarterback. So far, they haven’t. No one knows if they eventually will.