Sam Darnold has seemingly been on the trade block since the Jets were locked into the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. And, indeed, plenty of people thought the Bears would be a fit for the 2018 first-round pick. The idea sprouted in October, grew in November, and really took off in some circles at different points of this offseason. Chicago was viewed as a “team to watch” in a Darnold sweepstakes. One NFL writer even predicted Darnold would be the Bears’ QB1 in 2021.
It wasn’t my preferred option, but one that could have made sense had different scenarios played out at the end of 2020.
But while a change of scenery is in the cards, it won’t be in Chicago:
Filed to ESPN: Jets trading QB Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers for a 2021 sixth-round pick and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022, per sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 5, 2021
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Jets are trading Darnold to the Panthers. And the return for New York is quite nice. The Jets net a total of three picks in the haul, including second- and fourth-round selections in 2022. Nabbing a 2021 sixth-rounder isn’t too shabby, either. All in all, this isn’t a bad get for a player coming off a season in which he completed 59.6 percent of his passes, threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9), and posted a career-worst 72.7 passer rating.
For Darnold, this is as good as a move can get. Carolina presents a low-pressure environment, a coaching staff with fresh ideas as it enters its second year together, and an ownership group pushing for improvement. And, if that weren’t enough, Darnold has Christian McCaffrey to hand it off to early and often. In short, it’s a place where Darnold can start rebuilding his career in earnest.
On the other side of the coin, I’m curious as to why Darnold makes sense for the Panthers. They already had a short-term stop-gap in Teddy Bridgewater. Perhaps they’re trying to create a quarterback competition to push the incumbent. Maybe they see Darnold as clearly a better option. In any case, Carolina saw enough to give up three picks for the chance to create a change-of-scenery opportunity with the third overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft.
As for the Bears, the Darnold move eliminates the chance of a Bears-Seahawks-Jets three-way deal that sends Darnold (and draft capital) to the Seahawks (Pete Carroll apparently likes him!) and some sort of draft pick haul to the Jets with Russell Wilson going to the Bears. That felt like a fever dream scenario anyway. But it’s one that’s no longer on the table when it comes to the Jets. An optimistic version of me wonders if the Bears could coax Carolina into that deal, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.