Jets trade Sam Darnold to Panthers, create clear path to take a QB at No. 2 in 2021 NFL draft

The New York Jets are officially in need of a quarterback.

The Jets have traded QB Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. New York is getting a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft and second and fourth-round picks in 2022.

With Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence a near-lock to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets are widely expected to be eyeing BYU's Zach Wilson at No. 2 later this month. Wilson was phenomenal as a junior in 2020 as he completed over 73% of his passes and threw for 33 TDs to just three interceptions.

If the Jets take Wilson or another QB at No. 2, that will be one spot higher than Darnold. The Jets used the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft to pick Darnold out of USC.

Darnold, 23, struggled mightily in New York. He was 729-of-1,219 passing for 8,097 yards and threw 45 TDs and 39 interceptions.

His best season came in 2019 when he threw for over 3,000 yards and completed over 60 percent of his passes in 13 games. The Jets went 7-6 in games that Darnold started that season.

The Jets weren’t trying to be competitive in 2020 and that took its toll on Darnold’s performance. Surrounded by an offense that didn’t have much skill-position talent, Darnold threw 11 interceptions to just nine touchdowns and averaged less than 200 yards per game. The Jets went 2-14 in 2020 and lost out to the Jaguars for the No. 1 pick by beating the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 15 and 16.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas had said that he would be open to keeping Darnold and a first-round QB on the roster in 2021. That always felt like posturing and trading Darnold seemed inevitable. And given Darnold's struggles under former coach Adam Gase, the Jets were only able to secure a second-round pick plus two other later picks for him.

"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," Douglas said in a Jets statement. "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 Panthers also had some fun on social media after acquiring Darnold. The team spoofed the "Monday Night Football" graphic that infamously listed him as out with mononucleosis.

Will Darnold start right away in Carolina?

Darnold joins a Panthers team entering its second season with Matt Rhule as head coach. The Panthers were 5-11 for a second consecutive season in 2020 but were outscored by 78 points fewer than they were in 2019.

A lot of that had to do with the acquisition of QB Teddy Bridgewater. The Panthers signed the Saints backup to a three-year, $63 million deal to be the team’s starter ahead of the 2020 season.

Bridgewater, 28, and Darnold will compete for the starting position ahead of the 2021 season as Bridgewater will count nearly $23 million against the Panthers’ salary cap this season.

But Darnold looks to be the Panthers’ QB of the future. Carolina can release Bridgewater ahead of the 2022 season and save $21 million.

Darnold’s contract expires after the 2021 season but the Panthers can pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal or sign him to an extension. It seems highly unlikely that the Panthers won’t do either of those two things. And per SI, the team will be picking up that option. Trading for Darnold sure seems like a sign that the Panthers believe he's their QB of the future and likely takes Carolina out of the running to choose a QB with the No. 8 pick on April 29.

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