The Sam Darnold era in New York has officially come to a close. With the NFL Draft just weeks away from kicking off, the Carolina Panthers have acquired the former first-round quarterback in a trade with the Jets, as reported by CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones. The Panthers have since confirmed the trade and noted that they are sending a 2021 sixth-round pick along with second- and fourth-round selections in 2022.
Darnold's future with the Jets was in doubt once New York slotted themselves into the No. 2 overall pick at the 2021 NFL Draft. There, they are positioned to select one of the top quarterback prospects that make up a rather deep class at the position. Our own CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson has the Jets taking BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson, who has been the presumptive No. 2 pick throughout the pre-draft process. This deal that now sends Darnold to the Panthers all but confirms that the organization will be going with a quarterback at that top spot.
"I want to publicly acknowledge the commitment, dedication, and professionalism Sam displayed while with the Jets. He is a tough-minded, talented football player whose NFL story has not been written yet," said Jets GM Joe Douglas following the trade. "While all these things are true, 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 23-year-old had been with the Jets since 2018 when he was taken No. 3 overall out of USC. While Darnold has displayed potential throughout his three-year tenure with the club, it rarely translated to wins with the quarterback owning a 13-25 record as a starter. Of course, the lack of wins while in New York is not solely on Darnold's shoulders as the team dealt with a number of coaching changes and lack of talent across the rest of the roster for the young quarterback to truly help turn New York into a yearly contender.
With Carolina, Darnold gets a clean slate and joins an organization that has been feverously looking for a franchise quarterback this offseason. While the Panthers were said to be kicking the tires on Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, the club has since pivoted to Darnold, who is now looked at as their presumptive starter for 2021. For his career, Darnold has completed 59.8% of his passes, is averaging 213.1 passing yards per game and has a 78.6 passer rating.
According to CBS Sports research analyst Stephen Oh's projections, however, the Panthers are currently slated to be worse with Darnold at the helm rather than 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater. By replacing Darnold in for Bridgewater, Carolina's winning percentage drops 7.5% and its chances of reaching the playoffs decrease by 11.2%. Of course, the Panthers are hoping that the struggles Darnold faced in New York won't follow him to Bank of America Stadium and will be a far more efficient quarterback once he gets a change of scenery, thus actually increasing their chances of winning games.
What is intriguing about this acquisition from a Panthers standpoint is that it could allow the organization the flexibility to address other pressing needs across the roster with the No. 8 pick in the draft. Prior to this deal, Carolina was a popular destination for one of the handful of top-tier quarterback prospects in this class. With Darnold now in the fold, that's no longer the most pressing need and also puts the immediate future of Bridgewater into question. Meanwhile, Jones adds that the Panthers will exercise Darnold's fifth-year option, meaning he is under team control through the 2022 season.