Sam Darnold believed he was going to be the Jets’ quarterback for a long time and lead them to Super Bowls. He was stung when that dream ended and reality sunk in — the team that drafted him three years ago didn’t want him anymore.
The Jets traded Darnold to the Carolina Panthers a week ago Monday for a sixth-round pick this year and second- and fourth-round selections next year.
Darnold was expected to be the Jets’ franchise quarterback when they selected him with the No. 3 pick in 2018.
"When I heard the news that they wanted to trade me, it was tough," he said during a Zoom call Monday. "Any time you’re not wanted somewhere, that’s always a tough pill to swallow. But then it was the opposite feeling. You go from being unwanted and then all of a sudden, the people in Carolina wanted me and traded for me. You go from being unwanted to wanted.
"Things didn’t work out the way that I wanted in New York, but I was so excited for a fresh start and a new opportunity. It was bittersweet."
The Jets have the No. 2 pick in this month’s draft and are expected to take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. General manager Joe Douglas said it was a tough decision dealing Darnold and noted that he considered keeping him and still drafting a quarterback second overall.
But Douglas believed that wouldn’t have been the right thing for all involved, including new coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. So Douglas decided that "hitting the reset button" was the best thing.
"Getting drafted as high as I did, my expectations were to go in there, play 20 years and win Super Bowls," Darnold said. "That was the dream going in there. But obviously, it didn’t work out. I’m thankful for the opportunity that organization gave me, the three years that I was with them."
Darnold, who will turn 24 in August, played 38 games with the Jets. He went 13-25 and threw 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions. This past season, he was 2-10 in his starts and threw for nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
It wasn’t all Darnold’s fault. Former Jets coach Adam Gase failed to develop Darnold the way anyone hoped. The offensive line underperformed and the Jets lacked dynamic players at the skill positions and a potent running game.
There was speculation about Darnold’s future since late in the season. He said that uncertainty and being in limbo "was driving me insane."
He never expressed a desire to leave the organization, though, and believed he could succeed with the Jets right up until the moment they decided it was time for a change.
"Before the trade happened, I always thought that I could make it work in New York," Darnold said. "Just being honest, I really did. My goal never changed.
"Even though there was speculation about me getting traded, I always believed that I could make it work and we were going to get pieces and just be able to win some games in New York and go to the playoffs and eventually win a Super Bowl."
Darnold said it was "a relief" when he finally knew whom he would be playing for this season. He said he’s proved he can win in the NFL but that "timing wise," things didn’t work out with the Jets.
The Jets had to make a decision on his $18.8 million fifth-year option by May 3. The Jets now will have a young quarterback on his rookie deal and more draft picks and money to bolster both sides of the ball.
Darnold never complained or criticized the Jets for not surrounding him with the right weapons or getting him better protection. He praised the organization and Douglas and said he’s "forever grateful" to Jets fans.
Darnold believes the Jets are in good hands.
"I talked to Joe on the phone when the trade was going down," he said. "I think Joe is a great guy, first and foremost. I really do believe him and Coach Saleh are going to get that organization right."