Behind the scenes of Jets' Sam Darnold trade and how it went down

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Ralph Vacchiano
·4 min read
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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold pass vs Los Angeles Rams
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold pass vs Los Angeles Rams

All that talk about how much the Jets liked and believed in Sam Darnold wasn’t just a smokescreen. In fact, they liked him so much that they at least considered keeping him around.

That was at least part of the Jets’ internal discussion before they decided to trade him to the Carolina Panthers on Monday, according to a source.

There are still strong supporters of the 23-year-old Darnold inside the Jets’ office, and some believed he could still be their starter in 2021, even as the Jets brought a new quarterback – presumably BYU’s Zach Wilson – along, the source said.

In the end, though, the Jets decided that such a pairing of two young quarterbacks would likely be too messy in New York.

Also, the source added, once the Carolina Panthers met the Jets’ asking price of a second-round pick, plus something else, New York wasn't sure they would ever get more in return for Darnold than that.

And so, on Monday, the Jets traded their former franchise quarterback to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick this year and a second- and fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Here’s what else we know about that trade, from various league sources, and how it all went down...

Interest from other teams

There were several other teams that had expressed interest in Darnold over the past month or so, including the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers. One source believed that Washington had also called before they signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It’s unclear if any of them made anything more than preliminary inquiries. It appears that the Panthers were the only team to engage the Jets in substantial talks.

When talks heated up

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said the talks heated up when he met with Jets GM Joe Douglas on the field at the Ohio State Pro Day in Columbus, Ohio, last Tuesday (March 30).

They continued all last week, then slowed over the holiday weekend. He said they talked again Monday morning, then paused for a few hours to consider everything, before agreeing to a deal.

The Jets' guide for a deal

The guide for the deal was the trade the Arizona Cardinals made in 2019, sending quarterback Josh Rosen – like Darnold, a QB from the Class of 2018 – to the Miami Dolphins for a second- and fifth-round pick.

They were always asking for more than that, a source said, which is why the Panthers offered a second and a fourth.

Fitterer said that Panthers were adamant about not giving up those picks this year, so the Jets agreed to take them next year instead if the Panthers threw in a 2021 sixth-round pick, which they did.

The Panthers' plan

The Panthers had made it clear they were going to upgrade their quarterback situation from Teddy Bridgewater this offseason and were seemingly in on all the quarterbacks who had been signed or traded over the last few months.

The Jets were concerned that if they turned this deal down, the Panthers' aggressiveness would lead them to find another option, perhaps trading up in the draft (with the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4?). If that happened, the market for Darnold would really dry up and the Jets didn’t want to take that chance.

Why the Panthers took a chance on Darnold

Fitterer was the Seattle Seahawks’ director of player personnel back in 2018 when Darnold was drafted and he said on Monday that even back then “he was a guy that I really liked.”

That’s interesting because last May, ProFootballTalk reported that while the Seahawks were engaged in contentious contract negotiations with quarterback Russell Wilson in 2018, the Cleveland Browns tried to trade for Wilson by offering the No. 1 overall pick in that draft.

The deal didn’t happen, obviously, and the Browns took Baker Mayfield. But Darnold was linked again to the Seahawks this offseason when trade speculation about Wilson surfaced again.

Fitterer sounded particularly excited about how Darnold will fit in offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s scheme in Carolina. He also recognized that he might have just gotten a franchise quarterback, cheap.

“He’s only 23 years old,” Fitterer said of Darnold. “A lot of these quarterbacks don’t mature and hit their prime until 24, 25, 26. If this is a quarterback we can hit on at this price, it’s definitely worth the gamble.”

Jets clear more cap space

Not that the Jets needed the cap space, but they cleared about $4.7 million by trading Darnold to the Panthers.

He’ll still count for $5 million in “dead money” on their cap, though.