The air of inevitability was unmistakable the second general manager Joe Douglas refused to publicly commit to Sam Darnold when asked about the quarterback last month. It became obvious that Darnold’s time with the Jets was at an end, and all that needed to be determined was where he’d end up and when.
Those answers came on Monday, when Douglas traded the 23-year-old to the Carolina Panthers.
When asked in March if he’d listen to offers for Darnold, Douglas told reporters, "I will answer the call if it’s made."
The call came from Panthers coach Matt Rhule, who might have been Darnold’s coach two years ago if the Jets had not interfered with his plans to organize his coaching staff. Instead, Darnold joins Rhule with the Panthers. The former Baylor coach, who lost out to Adam Gase when the Jets decided in 2019 that he wasn’t the right fit, now gets to work with Darnold in Carolina, where the quarterback is expected to replace incumbent Teddy Bridgewater.
Rhule seemed most interested in acquiring Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans, but with Watson embroiled in a sea of legal troubles stemming from accusations that he behaved inappropriately with numerous massage therapists, the coach looked elsewhere.
Elsewhere became Darnold, who has a bigger upside than Bridgewater but has been flawed in his three seasons with the Jets, so much so that Douglas and recently hired coach Robert Saleh are ready to move on. Their most likely target is BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, whose pro day workout March 26 seemed to enthrall Douglas and Saleh.
Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young’s interview last week with a San Francisco radio station corroborated that speculation, with Young saying that the Jets have in fact zeroed in on Wilson at the No. 2 overall pick behind presumptive first choice Trevor Lawrence, who is heading to Jacksonville and Urban Meyer.
The Jets never explicitly ruled out keeping Darnold and drafting a quarterback, but you could just tell from Douglas’ remarks that he was ready to sever ties and start over at the most important position in sports. He spoke about Darnold as having a great future in this league without saying his future would be with the Jets — a stark contrast with his comments before the 2019 trade deadline, when he referred to Darnold as "untouchable."
Thus, Monday’s trade is simply not a surprise.
And it’s good news for Darnold, who in many ways got a raw deal with the Jets. He once was the 2018 draft’s most appealing quarterback, with fans from several lousy teams advocating tanking in hopes of drafting the USC star.
The Jets got what they thought was a huge break when the Browns settled on Baker Mayfield, and an even bigger one when the Giants opted to draft Saquon Barkley instead of a quarterback. General manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles wasted no time making Darnold the third overall pick, and they thought their quarterback prayers had been answered.
Bowles was gone after a year, Maccagnan was out after two, and Gase coached a quarterback he inherited from a regime no longer there.
Darnold did his best under trying circumstances, but there were too many turnovers for Douglas’ liking. Faced with the prospect of dumping a ton of salary-cap space into a quarterback in whom he no longer believed, Douglas cut bait, getting three draft picks in return for Darnold, who wasn’t highly sought after in a year in which quarterback movement was head-spinningly active.
Darnold now gets to work with a good, young head coach and a vibrant offensive coordinator in Joe Brady, who was Joe Burrow’s guru at LSU before going to Carolina last year. The Panthers are a promising team on the upswing, and now Darnold has a chance to enjoy coaching and roster stability, neither of which he had with the Jets.
Douglas has added even more draft capital as he builds his team and surrounds his soon-to-be-announced quarterback with more talent.
It’s as good a deal as he could find. It’s a deal that had to be made.
Especially for Darnold’s sake.