The New York Jets shipped Sam Darnold off to Carolina on Saturday in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second, and a 2022 fourth. Carolina gets its much-needed quarterback of the future and the Jets get some picks to build around their presumed new franchise QB, Zach Wilson. Bearing something extreme, Wilson is primed to be selected second overall by New York in the upcoming NFL draft.
In the hours following the trade break, the internet exploded with a wide range of opinions. Everything from, “The panthers definitely won this trade” to “Sam Darnold isn’t worth a half-eaten tuna sandwich, let alone a second round pick,” was voiced all over social media following the blockbuster deal. As fun as it is to listen to casuals spew nonsense on the internet, that isn’t reliable intel. So, let’s take a deeper dive into the Panthers new offense with Sam Darnold under center as well as the Jets’ rebuilding blocks to see what this trade will really mean for both teams.
The Jets Failed Sam Darnold
Sam Darnold has the potential for a career resurgence in Carolina. The Jets could have hired a paper bag and it might have developed Sam Darnold better than HC Adam Gase and his multiple offensive coordinators. Darnold showed no signs of growth with regard to his decision-making, accuracy, or mechanics under Gase.
Darnold is an extremely intriguing prospect. I say prospect because that is essentially what he is. Sam Darnold has yet to play with reliable NFL talent and coaching. He’s been surrounded by an organization that is somewhere in between the level of a great collegiate program and a below-average professional team.
Sam Darnold is 23 years old, at this very moment he is the fifth-youngest starting quarterback in the league. In 2019, his last full season with the Jets, he was a 21/22-year-old with one decent offensive weapon, Robby Anderson, and very poor down-field awareness. It is ludicris to expect a second-year quarterback out of the PAC-12 to carry an offense with terrible protection by taking shots down the field, but that is exactly what the Jets required of him, and his stats reflected how poor that offensive scheme was. The Jets failed Sam Darnold, plain and simple, but the Panthers can get his career back on track.
How To Save Sam Darnold’s Career
First off, weapons. Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, David Moore, and Dan Arnold look like a Thanksgiving feast compared to the tin foil-wrapped leftovers that are Frank Gore, Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Herndon. Darnold already has a rapport with Anderson, having played with him in New York, and he now has two 1k-yard receivers, three wide outs with sub-4.45 40-yard-dash times, and the most complete running back in the league at his disposal.
Darnold’s offensive arsenal won’t be his only upgrade. This Panthers’ playbook and coaching are a much better fit for him than the Jets’. Here’s some stats to prove it. In 2019, Darnold’s last full season with the Jets, his Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) was 8.6. That’s the same as Patrick Mahomes’ and more than Matt Ryan’ IAY in that season. Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers’ starter for most of last season, had a 7.3 IAY. Bridgewater also had one of the league’s top completion percentages and a top-15 Completion Percentage Above Expectation (+/-) last season despite being one of the worst statistical quarterbacks. Darnold has struggled mightily in both of those categories in his young career.
Another statistical category that evidences the Jets’ failure of Sam Darnold was his Aggressive Percentage (AGG%). Darnold threw into tight coverage an astonishing 17.9% of throws in 2019. Bridgewater was at 12.2% last season. Again, Darnold shouldn’t be attempting so many tough throws in his second season with sub-par weapons and protection, and he won’t be on the Panthers next season.
Dear Jets, just because a quarterback can throw the ball very far, does not mean they should. The fact that Darnold had the same attempted air yards as the reigning MVP and more attempted air yards than Matt Ryan in the Falcons’ air-mail offense is astonishingly ignorant towards Darnold’s maturity as a passer and his development as a player. It’s important to give young QBs like Darnold “gimme” throws to increase his confidence and get him in his rhythm. Not only did the Jets not do that, but they put the weight of the team on this man’s shoulders and told him to run with it. Well, you can’t run with a $3.2 billion trash bag weighing you down, that’s for sure.
This Panthers offense is made up primarily of high-percentage throws: screens, check-downs, crossers, drags, slants, and the occasional deep shot. That is why Bridgewater was such an efficient passer last season and why Darnold will see a decrease in turnovers as well as an increase in yards and completions. I expect the Panthers to change their offense slightly to fit Darnold’s skillset, but they don’t need to switch up the route tree too much. If anything, I may give Darnold a bit more leniency with his arm and his legs. Let him be the dynamic, playmaking, gunslinger that he can be within the guidelines of the Panthers’ high-percentage offense. That is how Carolina will get the most out of Sam Darnold.
Overall, I like Darnold’s fit in the Panthers offense. For the first time in his very young career he will be surrounded by significant talent and will be coached by career winners, OC Joe Brady with the Saints and LSU and HC Matt Rhule with Temple and Baylor. Darnold will have all the tools to put together the best season of his career and lead this young Panthers team for years to come.
What This Deal Means for the Jets
The Jets got a HAUL of picks in exchange for a quarterback they were never going to start again. This leaves the Jets with a boatload of picks in the next two drafts to finish up their rebuild.
In the 2022 draft, the Jets have all of their existing picks along with an extra first, second, fourth, fifth, and two sixths that they have accumulated through multiple deals, including the Darnold and Jamaal Adams trades. Overall, that leaves them with 23 picks in the next two drafts, nine of which are in the first three rounds.
I say this with extreme skepticism because, well, it’s the Jets, but New York’s future looks incredibly bright. They have, presumably, found a stud QB of the future with Zach Wilson, they have some fantastic picks lined up, and they finally have a competent, hungry coaching staff.
I love the Robert Saleh hire as head coach. Saleh is a very well-respected, defensive-minded coach who’s intensity and love for the game can be felt through the television set to the viewers at home. You can just tell that this guy loves football and football players love him. His former 49ers coaches and players had nothing but the highest of praise for him. It is truly a new era in New York with Saleh at the helm. Don’t look now, but the Jets could be serious contenders within the next 3-6 years.
Who Won the Trade?
As of right now, I just can’t justify giving up a second, fourth, and sixth for Sam Darnold. As much potential as Darnold has, the Panthers had all the leverage in this trade and they still got taken for a ride. It’s common knowledge in the league that the Jets will take Zach Wilson with the second overall pick. That significantly decreases Darnold’s trade value because he goes from the Jets former no. 3 overall pick and QB of the future to a dispensable backup who the Jets are actively shopping.
I do think Darnold will succeed in Carolina, and it is not far-fetched to say that this deal could end up being a steal for the Panthers. However, based on Darnold’s current production and the open knowledge of the Jets’ upcoming draft pick, the Panthers slightly overpaid. Nevertheless, I think both teams benefited greatly from this deal and it will be very fun to watch how Darnold develops in Carolina.