What does the Sam Darnold trade mean for the Bears?

The Bears and Panthers sit near each other on the NFL’s most miserable merry-go-round — quarterback-starved and picking through other teams’ trash cans to try to solve the most elusive riddle in sports.

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The Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers on Monday.

The Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers on Monday.

Charles Krupa/AP

The Bears and Panthers sit near each other on the NFL’s most miserable merry-go-round — quarterback-starved and picking through other franchises’ trash cans to try to solve the most elusive riddle in sports.

The Bears traded for Nick Foles last year — a backup whose contract is now a liability — and signed Andy Dalton to a one-year, $10 million deal last month.

One year and two weeks ago, the Panthers handed free-agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a three-year, $63 million contract. On Monday, the Panthers gave up on him after 15 starts, trading three draft picks — a sixth-rounder this year and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 — for Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

Darnold is the most tempting of the four. He won’t turn 24 until June, making him seven months younger than Joe Burrow, last year’s top selection. The 2018 No. 3 draft pick from USC has the pedigree but a price tag that comes with it. The Panthers certainly will pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option for 2022, a fully guaranteed $18.9 million.

It would have been fascinating had the Bears tried the same tack, giving coach Matt Nagy a chance to revive Darnold’s career. But trading picks — even those a year into the future — runs counter to the Bears’ current approach of trying to support a middling quarterback with draft help. For all the criticisms of Dalton, he merely cost them money.

Removing Darnold from the Jets’ circus — former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase oversaw what might be the two-year nadir of the franchise — will make him better. Of the four starting quarterbacks traded this offseason, Darnold might have been the most polarizing. A sampling of league sources this offseason produced more non-believers than intrigued parties.

Monday’s trade, though, can still affect the Bears’ quarterback picture.

The Panthers, who are set to draft eighth later this month, likely determined their preferred college quarterback wasn’t going to last until then. If one of the five likely first-rounders does, the Panthers could trade the pick to a quarterback-needy team.

To get from Pick 20 to 8, though, might prove too costly for the Bears.

Unless the Seahawks change their minds about Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson’s legal problems are settled quickly, Bridgewater could be the last significant quarterback traded this offseason. The Bears checked in on him last offseason, and he’s now eminently available.

“We’re going to find the right place [for him],” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer told reporters, “whether it’s here or somewhere else.”

The Bears certainly wouldn’t consider trading for Bridgewater unless they reworked his contract to lower his $17 million base salary. They did something similar with Foles last year. Remember him? Foles would have to be traded if the Bears wanted Bridgewater. Even if the cap-strapped Bears could afford Bridgewater, that’s a lot of financial gymnastics for a player who won as many games in 15 starts last year as Dalton did in nine.

The Jets, meanwhile, will jump back on the same merry-go-round. Only three years after taking Darnold third, they’re certain to select a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick.

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