The Jets are off to a woeful 0-5 start, and things are likely to get worse before they get better. At least in the 2020 season.
At this rate, New York is positioning itself to land the winning ticket in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Naturally, that would leave Sam Darnold — the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft — on the outside looking in, thus opening the door to speculation regarding Darnold’s future. Would the Jets consider cutting bait and trading him? What a potential return could look like?
At this point, it’s tough to imagine the Jets getting the first-round pick they would desire in a deal where they move Darnold. Then again, one general manager who spoke with ESPN’s Adam Schefter wouldn’t close the door on it. And to that end, Schefter painted a picture of how it could happen:
“[I]f the Jets were to want a first-round pick for Darnold, it would take the right formula and combination to make it work: a quarterback-needy team, out of position to select one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the 2021 draft, yet one that believes in Darnold and had a high grade on him coming out of USC.”
Three names Schefter drops as possible fits: the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, and Chicago Bears.
Of course the Bears are a perceived fit. They don’t have a long-term quarterback option on their roster, and for that reason if no other, they will likely be connected to every potential quarterback who is rumored to be available. If things unfold for each club as many of us expect, Darnold could conceivably among those possibilities for the Bears.
But does it make sense for the Bears to go after Darnold as their next hoped-upon long-term solution?
Darnold, 23, has completed just 59.8 percent of his passes, averages only 6.7 yards per attempt, and owns a career 79.6 passer rating. He does have more touchdowns (39) than interceptions (32), so it’s not a total disaster, clearly ball security is also an issue. He’s still young – three years younger than, for example, Mitch Trubisky – but he’s in his third year as a full-time starter, and has yet to show significant developmental progress. Maybe you cut him the tiniest slack for a head coaching transition in the middle of his young career, but not much.
There are also contractual considerations with Darnold, who is in the third year of his rookie deal. If you’re wanting to keep him around for the fifth year, you’ve gotta exercise that fifth year option after this season (and he might net about $20+ million for that year under the new CBA formula). Otherwise, you’re acquiring him only for 2021 at nearly $10 million, and then you’re playing the year out to see if he justifies an extension or a franchise tag. It’s not ideal.
In order for a team to trade any draft capital for Darnold, they’ll have to believe that he is more like the player who threw darts at USC than the one who has turned into a dud in NYC.
Back in 2018, PFF ranked Darnold as the second best QB prospect in the class — behind Baker Mayfield, but ahead of Josh Rosen, Mason Rudolph, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen (among others). Charlie Campbell (Walter Football) believed Darnold had “the best intangibles and the most ‘it factor'” of the 2018 draft-eligible quarterbacks. Matt Miller (Bleacher Report) favorably compared Darnold to Tony Romo and raved about his mental and physical skills. And in NJ.com’s round-up of what insiders were saying about Darnold, it’s noted that ESPN called him “the most complete quarterback” in the class with NFL.com’s comparison being Andrew Luck. That’s high praise — none of which Darnold has actually met yet.
So what does a trade even look like? Well, for starters, it’s not going down until the offseason, so don’t think a deal is in the pipeline at the moment. As for compensation, Schefter seems to come to the conclusion that it would be similar to what the Cardinals acquired when they dealt Josh Rosen to the Dolphins in 2019. In case you’re unfamiliar, Miami sent second- and fifth-round picks to Arizona to bring Rosen into the fold. Darnold has out-played Rosen to this point of their respective careers.
However, acquiring Darnold means a team will take on the most expensive year(s) of his rookie deal and must decide on the fifth-year option almost immediately. The feeling is the Jets won’t get the first-round pick they desire in a deal, and I’m not convinced they’d get a Rosen deal, either.
All things considered, I’m not totally sure where the Bears would fit as a landing spot for Darnold. Yes, the Bears need a long-term solution at the position. And sure, Darnold has raw talent and a unique prospect pedigree. Nagy might see untapped potential in a broken quarterback who needs a new home. But the draft compensation, financial costs in terms of cap space, and Bears’ position in what looks to be a win-now window makes me wonder if there’s much of a fit beyond the superficial.
In any case, we’ll keep an eye on what happens with Darnold as the situation develops. Because, while I see upside, Darnold’s floor is as shaky as it gets right now.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.