It’s hard to assess a trade five months before a single down is played, but the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers came out looking good.
Despite Jerry Seinfeld’s best efforts, there’s probably is no such thing as a “mutual breakup”.
But the New York Jets and Sam Darnold might’ve come as close as one can, especially when it comes to severing the relationship between an NFL squad and its franchise quarterback.
Darnold confirmed as much in his first statements as a Panther on Monday, a week after he was dealt from New York for a trio of draft picks. While Darnold ruefully stated that he throught he was destined to be the Jets’ quarterback for a long time, he’s ready to embrace a new opportunity in Charlotte.
“I imagined I was going to be the franchise quarterback of the New York Jets for a long time…once you realize that the team that drafted you is moving on, it stings a little bit,” Darnold said, per Carolina reporter Darin Gantt. “Getting that news that you’re going to be traded, of a team saying, ‘Hey, we didn’t want you,” for whatever reason, is hard. But right now, I feel great about it.”
How did each side find something to celebrate? ESM investigates…
Through social media schadenfreude, the Jets are a team whose simplest mistakes are turned into memes within minutes. That concept has hit a fever pitch during their decade-long playoff drought (an NFL-worst), but there may well be light at the end of their tunnel of rebuilding. Rare optimism can be found at One Jets Drive after the hire of Robert Saleh, whose arrival has spawned positive reviews both domestically and abroad.
But the good vibes bring forth a perilous responsibility: it must be surrounded by as little controversy as possible. Holding a quarterback competition would be an unwelcome distraction during. Once the games do get underway, it’s widely expected that fans will be back at MetLife Stadium. The last thing the Jets needed was spectators, no matter the capacity limit, screeching for Darnold’s backup every time he threw an incomplete pass.
But, having traded Darnold, the Jets have a clear-cut plan. Their quarterback controversy will end no later than the evening of April 29, when they choose second in the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland. General manager Joe Douglas more or less confirmed as much when speaking after the deal was done.
“There was…a discussion about us taking a quarterback at pick number two and having Sam here for the season…ultimately, we felt that that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam, the rookie quarterback, Coach Saleh and his staff, and the locker room,” Douglas said, per notes from the Jets. “We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward, in hitting the reset button.”
Darnold Gets Stability
On paper, Carolina isn’t too far removed from the Jets in terms of where they are on the NFL barometer. They won only five games last season and are seeking stability under a first-time NFL head coach in Matt Rhule. But one look at the Carolina ledger shows that they provide a more stable offensive situation than Darnold ever had in New York.
Darnold’s burden is immediately lightened through a run game headlined by Christian McCaffrey rather than a disgruntled Le’Veon Bell and a tandem of projects. The biggest sign of Panther progress was perhaps shown through McCaffrey’s absence: despite enjoying only three games with the 2019 All-Pro in the backfield, Carolina remained competitive. All but three of their 11 losses came by one possession while Robby Anderson, Darnold’s favorite New York target in his first two seasons, tallied a career-best 1,096 yards despite relative turmoil at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater was inconsistent in his first full-time starting gig since enduring a contact-free camp injury in 2015 and was relieved by XFL star P.J. Walker.
The coaching staff is also a welcome sight to any offensive player seeking his NFL fortune. Head coach Matt Rhule turned downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor into offensive blockbusters while offensive coordinator Joe Brady over saw the rise of Joe Burrow as the passing game coordinator during the LSU Tigers’ dominant national title run in 2019. Darnold took the time to appreciate the culture that Carolina is building during his opening statements.
“The culture that’s being set here is amazing,” Darnold said in Gantt’s report. “That’s probably the part that intrigues me the most about this.”
A Fine Addition to the New York Collection
While the immediate yield from the Darnold trade isn’t flashy…the Jets earned the 226th overall pick in the coming Cleveland selections…it’s pretty impressive on Douglas’ end that he was able to net a second-round pick (coming in 2022) for an injury-prone quarterback with a 13-25 ledger as a starter, even if the circumstances weren’t the greatest.
“With the premium picks, your first, second, third-round picks, those are the picture you’re looking to become starters on your team,” Douglas remarked through the Jets. “So, those ultimately end up being the picks that you spend the most time talking about.”
As a young Queens webslinger was told, however, with great power comes great responsibility. Quantity doesn’t automatically equal quality, and that axiom rings especially true in the NFL Draft. The Jets learned that lesson the hard way during the 2014 proceedings through John Idzik’s doomed dozen and it’s a nightmare that Douglas doesn’t take lightly.
“We have a lot of opportunity in front of us, 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds,” Douglas said in Jets notes. “But with that opportunity, we know we have to make the most of it and hit on these picks.”
Douglas presents himself as a guy who’s not interested in looking for excuses. But he’d have a good few in the holster.
He joined the Jets under unusual circumstances, placed in charge weeks before training camp opened after Mike Maccagnan’s post-draft firing. His first years with the organization have been handicapped by decisions he had no jurisdiction over (namely the Adam Gase hire).
Now, Douglas’ signings are getting closer to becoming the majority after several Maccagnan/Gase staples were shipped elsewhere. He has a handpicked head coach in Saleh and he’s about to have a handpicked franchise quarterback.
It’s official: Douglas is the captain now. For better or worse, this was a step the Jets needed to move toward. There are no more excuses, there are no more “wait untils”. Douglas’ era can officially begin and he can thus be judged appropriately.
“I think you feel pressure every day you walk into the building,” Douglas said in Jets notes. “You want to do this job to the best of your ability. You want to take the information that you have at hand and make the best possible decisions that you can make.”
Jets fans and the football-loving public at large are about to find out if they’re truly the right moves to end the perpetual rebuild…a rebuild Douglas now officially owns.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags