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Dealing Sam Darnold gives Jets a fresh start with chance to draft QB with second overall pick

Jets GM Joe Douglas discusses his trade of Sam Darnold

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas says that the team wouldn't have traded quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers if they had a lower draft pick.

The Jets went back and forth on what to do with quarterback Sam Darnold. They discussed every possible scenario, including holding onto him and still drafting a quarterback with the No.2 pick.

But general manager Joe Douglas ultimately decided the best move would be to deal Darnold and start fresh. The Jets did that on Monday, sending Darnold to Carolina for a sixth-round pick this year and second- and fourth-round choices next year.

"We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward, "Douglas said during a Zoom call Tuesday. "Hitting the reset button."

Douglas said that the scenario of keeping Darnold and taking a quarterback would not have been good for Darnold, the rookie QB, new coach Robert Saleh and the locker room. Douglas wisely avoided a potential headache so the Jets could start anew.

This was the expected outcome, and it was made easier by where the Jets are picking in the draft.

Douglas said if the Jets, who went 2-14 last season, were drafting lower they would be "fully comfortable moving forward with Sam." But at No. 2, they obviously believe they will get a quarterback that can eventually lead them to the playoffs.

All indications are that it will be BYU’s Zach Wilson, but Douglas isn’t ready to publicly commit to anything.

"There is an unknown factor when you’re talking about rookies and young players," Douglas said. "But ultimately the amount of work that our coaching staff has put into this draft class, the amount of work that our scouts have put into this draft class, we feel good about the type of person we’re going to be able to bring in."

Douglas wasn’t here when the Jets drafted Darnold out of USC three years ago with the No.3 pick. At the time, they believed they found the quarterback who would lead them for the next 12-15 years. The Jets still felt that way before this season. But Darnold’s and the Jets’ struggles made Douglas look at things differently.

It wasn’t all on Darnold. But he certainly didn’t help himself with nine touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 12 games. His 72.7 passer rating ranked 35th in the NFL.

Douglas said the Jets discussed keeping Darnold and using the No. 2 pick on a playmaker, or an offensive lineman. The Jets probably could have dealt it for more draft capital and filled a couple more needs. The fact that they didn’t means they’re pretty locked in on who they want at No. 2.

"We felt really good about the draft class as a whole and the quarterback class specifically," Douglas said. "That this was an opportunity to hit the reset button financially so to speak."

That’s an important factor as well.

Darnold is due to make $9.8 million this season. The Jets would have had to make a decision on his $18.8-million fifth-year option by May 3. They cleared his salary off their books, will have a young quarterback on his rookie deal and more draft picks to do what they didn’t do for Darnold – surround him with the proper pieces.

Douglas’ wheeling-and-dealing has led to the Jets having 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds. Douglas should have more than enough assets to bolster the offensive line and get more weapons and explosive playmakers.

"It’s incumbent on us to get these decisions right," Douglas said. "We have to surround our next quarterback with as much talent as possible."

Douglas is a staunch believer in building through the draft. But in the last 19 months he has traded the Jets’ first-round picks in 2015 (Leonard Williams), 2017 (Jamal Adams) and 2018 (Darnold). Douglas didn’t draft any of those players. But he doesn’t want that trend to continue.

"When I walked into this building in June of 2019, I never thought we would be sitting here and talking about, trading Leonard, trading Jamal, Darron Lee was traded before I took this job and now Sam," Douglas said. "Ultimately we want to be a great team that drafts, develops and retains their players, not draft, develop and trade."

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