The Sam Darnold era with the Jets is over.
General manager Joe Douglas decided that Darnold wasn’t the franchise quarterback the Jets thought he would become when they drafted him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2018.
Douglas, who wasn’t the GM at the time, completed a trade with the Panthers on Monday, sending Darnold to Carolina for a sixth-round pick this year and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022.
This ensures that the Jets will use the No. 2 pick on a quarterback on April 29. BYU’s Zach Wilson has long been linked to the Jets with the No. 2 selection. Ohio State’s Justin Fields also is a possibility, but the general feeling around the league is that the Jets have Wilson ahead of Fields.
"I want to publicly acknowledge the commitment, dedication and professionalism Sam displayed while with the Jets," Douglas said in a statement. "He is a tough-minded, talented football player whose NFL story has not been written yet.
"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."
The move hardly comes as a surprise because Douglas didn’t draft Darnold and the Jets have a new coaching staff.
It was expected that Douglas, new coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur would want to pick the quarterback they believe can end the franchise’s long playoff drought and at least give them a chance to hold their jobs for more than a couple of years.
The Jets had sky-high hopes for Darnold after former general manager Mike Maccagnan traded up from sixth in the draft to get the No. 3 pick. Darnold showed flashes but never consistently demonstrated that he could be the first quarterback since Joe Namath to lead the Jets to a Super Bowl.
The former USC star went 13-25 as a starter in three seasons with the Jets, with 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions. Although Darnold’s decision-making was head-scratching at times, he was never given the right supporting cast to be successful.
Douglas shares in some of the blame. He famously promised Darnold’s parents that he would make sure he got his son protection and the weapons he needed to win.
The Jets have had a revolving door on the offensive line and the unit has underperformed overall. The Jets also never had star-caliber talent at the skill positions and an underwhelming running game.
The best receiver the Jets had in Darnold’s time was Robby Anderson, whom Douglas didn’t re-sign last year. Douglas has admitted that was a mistake. Now Darnold and Anderson have been reunited in Carolina.
Darnold probably needed a fresh start as well after all the criticism he endured amid some questionable coaching. As a rookie, he played for the defensive-minded Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who isn’t currently coaching in the NFL.
Two years ago, Jets CEO Christopher Johnson hired Adam Gase as coach, believing he could develop Darnold into a quarterback who could lead the franchise to greatness.
Darnold, however, seemed to regress in 2020, when the Jets endured one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
They went 2-14 and Darnold threw nine touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 12 games. Thirty-one other quarterbacks threw for more touchdowns, and Darnold’s 72.7 passer rating ranked 35th in the NFL.
He played his best football during the second half of his second year. That season started with Darnold contracting mononucleosis after a Week 1 loss. In the final eight games, he led the Jets to a 6-2 record with 13 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 93.3.
Douglas deemed Darnold untouchable in trade calls during that second season, but that changed with his performance in 2020.
Douglas wasn’t turning any team away, but he wanted to go through pro days with the college prospects before making any final decisions. He attended Wilson’s pro day in Utah less than two weeks ago and Fields’ pro day last week in Ohio. Things came together quickly for the Jets after that.
Now they are searching for their next franchise quarterback. Since the Jets last made the playoffs, 11 different quarterbacks have started for them. There will be another name added to the list this year.
Sam Darnold’s career stats in his three seasons with the Jets:
COMP % 59.8