Sam Darnold could be a gift to a franchise desperately seeking a quarterback to lead them. He’s 23, still on his rookie contract, and generally highly regarded. Quarterbacks like that are almost never available. If they are, there’s always a catch.
But there’s no catch here, if the Jets do end up with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. They’ll have no choice but to trade Darnold rather than give him another year or two to develop.
And they shouldn’t have trouble finding a partner who believes an investment in Darnold is worth the risk.
There are several NFL teams absolutely desperate for a franchise quarterback that should jump at a player like Darnold. There are several more with uncertainty at that position, and the idea of landing Darnold could convince them to make a move.
There are also quite a few teams looking for Quarterbacks of the Future, though Darnold is a bit of a gamble for teams in that group. They will be wary of his fifth-year option (for 2022) which will be more than $25 million. They’d essentially be forced into making the switch to Darnold by then because of the cost, which makes it complicated for teams with aging quarterbacks who have multiple years left on their contracts (like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan) or with aging, high-profile starters with big egos who may still have plenty of good years remaining (like Tom Brady in Tampa or Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay).
So who could be the serious bidders if Darnold is up for sale? Here’s a look at some of the possible players if GM Joe Douglas decides to make a deal:
Indianapolis Colts – Philip Rivers just turned 39 and is unsigned for next season. Jacoby Brissett clearly isn’t the future in Indy, and while they like fourth-round pick Jacob Eason, he’s still developmental. The Colts have a lot of pieces in place, including a strong defense and offensive line. Trading for Darnold and turning things over to him next year or in 2022 is a good way for them to stay on top. And it would be ironic, because the Colts were the ones who traded the draft pick the Jets used to select Darnold in the first place.
Chicago Bears – The Mitch Trubisky experiment is over, and it should be clear to everyone now that Nick Foles is just an NFL backup. And since the Bears won’t be drafting high enough to take an elite quarterback, spending a couple of picks on an already seasoned Darnold makes a lot of sense. They can even still draft a quarterback later in the first round as insurance.
Denver Broncos – John Elway is on a never-ending search for a franchise quarterback, and Drew Lock hasn’t shown any signs that he’s it. The Broncos have made big moves for quarterbacks before (see: Manning, Peyton). If Elways sees potential in Darnold, he wouldn’t hesitate to make a deal.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger will be 39 in March, is only signed through next season, and has flirted with retirement before. It’s not out of the question he’ll consider it again, especially if the Steelers (10-0) win, or even reach, the Super Bowl this year. They do have Mason Rudolph, a third-rounder out of Oklahoma State who wasn’t bad in eight starts last season. But Darnold is better and he could be more likely to keep them on top if Big Ben bails.
Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera is clearly not committed to Dwayne Haskins as his Quarterback of the Future, and while Alex Smith is a nice comeback story, he’s also 37. A quarterback like Darnold could be an instant spark for a team with a strong defense and a few offensive weapons. Imagine Darnold going head-to-head with Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the NFC East for years.
New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton seems very committed to Taysom Hill as Drew Brees’ heir, and the Saints are financially committed to him through next season. But plans change, and they could change if Hill doesn’t start playing better right now with Brees on injured reserve. Darnold, with his arm and mobility, seems like a quarterback Payton could love – and fix.
Detroit Lions – With a new GM and coach on the way, there is a lot of talk that the Lions will move on from Matthew Stafford, who turns 33 in February and has three more years left on his contract. Trading him won’t be easy. But if they can, trading for Darnold makes sense since they don’t have a replacement on their roster. How willing and able they are to attempt that double deal won’t be known until the next GM and coach are in place.
Carolina Panthers – They have a major financial commitment to Teddy Bridgewater through 2021, but they could get out of his deal after that. Bridgewater, who just turned 28, has been fine, but Darnold may have a higher ceiling and could upgrade their future if the price is right.
Philadelphia Eagles – They’ve got big problems, with Carson Wentz having an alarming decline and being signed through 2024 with no easy out. They also drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round last year, but who knows if he’s really their long-term answer? If they could find a taker for Wentz or get out of his deal, maybe they call their old friend, Douglas. Darnold would figure to be an upgrade, but it’s hard to see exactly how a deal for him would work.
Jacksonville Jaguars – There’s no question their new GM will move on from Gardner Minshew. Of course, the Jaguars are just as likely as the Jets to draft in the Top 2, so they’ll have a shot at either Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields. That figures to take them out of the trade market. They’re only an option if their draft position falls.
New England Patriots – All you need to know about Bill Belichick’s commitment to young Jarrett Stidham is that he went out and signed Cam Newton to run the Patriots in their first post-Brady season. There have long been rumors that Belichick loved Darnold in the 2018 draft. But there’s no way Douglas would even consider sending a franchise quarterback to the Patriots. It would be the most Jet-thing ever if he did that and Darnold went to New England and finally became a star.