NEW YORK — The New York Jets traded quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, ending a stint that was marked by a few flashes of brilliance, inconsistent play and unfortunate injuries.
And with the Jets holding the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, they’re likely moving on to another young signal-caller who they hope will deliver the team back to respectability.
New York announced it acquired a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft and second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft.
The 23-year-old Darnold was considered an untouchable player on the roster in his second season, but it became clear the Jets could move on when general manager Joe Douglas backed off that stance in March. Douglas praised Darnold, but acknowledged he would answer calls from teams interested in acquiring him.
The speculation only grew when Douglas, new coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur all traveled to Provo, Utah, to watch quarterback Zach Wilson’s impressive passing display at BYU’s pro day.
With the second pick, the Jets are widely expected to take either Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Then-GM Mike Maccagnan traded up to select Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick in 2018 out of USC. Darnold’s California cool personality played well in New York and he seemed unfazed by the lofty expectations and the Big Apple spotlight.
But a foot injury as a rookie, a bout with mononucleosis in his second year and a shoulder injury last season sidelined him for stints. And when he did play, Darnold’s mistakes overshadowed the positives. That led to serious doubts as to whether he could ever truly lift the franchise. Former coach Adam Gase also acknowledged he didn’t help Darnold enough to thrive in their two seasons together, and the Jets lacked playmaking talent to help him take the next step in his development.
Another likely determining factor was his contract. Darnold was entering the fourth year of his rookie deal and was scheduled to count $9.8 million against the Jets’ salary cap. New York would have had until May 3 to decide whether to exercise Darnold’s fifth-year option — which would have cost the Jets between $15 million and $20 million, fully guaranteed.
And that was a price — and a risk — that proved too high.