Call it the innocence and naïveté of youth, call it ambition and drive, or call it all of the above, but Sam Darnold had a mission in mind when he got the call from the New York Jets as the third-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The former USC star saw big things ahead for him and Gang Green, and, by all accounts, he came equipped with enough talent to make it all happen. The problem for Darnold is, well, he underestimated how dysfunctional of an organization the Jets truly are -- having now found out the hard way.
Having failed him both at the coaching and the front office level, the Jets decided to cut their (his) losses and trade him to the Carolina Panthers to make room for a quarterback reboot with the second-overall pick, hoping to have better luck at turning Darnold's successor into the long-term face of the franchise. As for Darnold himself, who admits the divorce "stings," this is all far from when and how he envisioned his career in New York would end.
The 23-year-old thought he'd do what none before him had done.
"My expectations were to go in there and play 20 years," Darnold said, via The New York Daily News. "And [to also] win Super Bowls -- that was the dream going in there. Obviously, it didn't work out. Just thankful for the opportunity that organization gave me the three years that I was with them."
No player in the history of the franchise has ever stuck around for two complete decades and that, in and of itself, says a lot. For not only would Darnold have had to be one of the most durable quarterbacks ever to reach that mark, he'd also have to still perform at a high level approaching Year 20 -- see Tom Brady for reference. Not even the most famous Jet of all-time, "Broadway" Joe Namath, made it to Year 13, finishing his career with the Los Angeles Rams after being waived by the Jets following a failed attempt at trading him away (yes, they even attempted to trade an eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer and the only QB to ever win them a Super Bowl).
The longest tenured player in Jet history remains kicker Pat Leahy, who stuck around for 18 years. Still, Darnold believed he could surpass that mark and go on to take the mantle as Namath's successor, but will instead now turn to trying to be what the Panthers need.
"I always thought that I could make it work in New York, just being honest -- I really did," Darnold said. "My goal never changed even though there was speculation about me getting traded. I always believed that I can make it work and that we were going to get pieces and just win some games in New York and can go to the playoffs, and eventually win a Super Bowl."
Only 17 years shy of his goal, he's packed that mission in his carry-on and taken it to North Carolina.