Sam Darnold has had a bit of a tough start to his professional career. He was drafted third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and was immediately paired with Adam Gase. The marriage crashed and burned as Darnold has gone 13-25 in his first three NFL seasons and Gase is now unemployed. Things were especially bad last year; many believed the Jets would go winless at the three-quarter point of the season, Darnold missed four games due to injury and he was downright disastrous when he did play.
New York has hired a new head coach in Robert Saleh to help recover from the havoc Gase's coaching wrought on the franchise. The team is still unsure if Darnold is the quarterback they want Saleh to team up with. They have the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft and therefore the first shot at any non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback prospect. Darnold still isn't even off his rookie deal after going top-five and has showed flashes at times, and the team knows as well as anybody that his supporting cast in that timeframe has not exactly been top-tier.
So on the one hand, Darnold had the talent to go No. 3 in 2018 and an argument can be made that very few quarterbacks could have done better than he's done in New York given the complete lack of pass protection, run game, receivers, and any semblance of an NFL gameplan. On the other, Darnold has done nothing that suggests the Jets should give him another chance and the opportunity to draft a quarterback with the potential of Justin Fields or Zach Wilson does not come about very often. If they decide to go the full reset route and draft a new quarterback, Albert Breer over at Sports Illustrated is reporting they'll have plenty of interest.
In his weekly column, Breer noted that the Jets have yet to make a decision on Darnold's future. They want to see Fields and Wilson throw at their pro days before making the final call. But a market will be there if they decide to move on:
"10) Status quo on the Sam Darnold front, with Darnold likely to be the next QB domino to fall. So what I told you last week stands: Eight teams have been in contact with the Jets about Darnold, and the team would like to see Wilson and Fields throw live at theit pro days before making a final call, but has relayed some flexibility on that to other teams. What kind of deal would get it done? My guess would be maybe something north of what Arizona got for Josh Rosen in 2019 (that was a two and a five)."- Albert Breer
Eight teams is a lot when you consider that the biggest non-Deshaun Watson quarterback dominoes have already fallen this offseason, with Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Matthew Stafford all on the move. Breer is guessing that they'd go for slightly more than Josh Rosen; it seems unlikely the Jets can weasel a first-round pick out of anybody, but maybe a second and a fourth would be enough to get a deal done. That's not terribly expensive for a former top-five pick reclamation project, especially considering Darnold is still only 23-years-old.
At this point, there aren't a lot of teams who are publicly committed to a quarterback for 2021. At least a few of those eight teams who have already called New York are probably just doing so to see if they can bring in some high-ceiling competition for a cheap price. But the Washington Football Team and the Chicago Bears still need a starter. A pair of mid-round picks is a small price to pay if either party is sold on Darnold as a long-term starter. They might be happy to fork those over even if they aren't entirely sold because the free-agent market holds no answer with the same talent and long-term potential as the USC product.
The Denver Broncos don't seem entirely sold on Drew Lock. The Carolina Panthers have been rumored to be in the market for an upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater. Each of the last two offseasons have brought rumblings of the San Francisco 49ers' discontent with Jimmy Garoppolo. Those three franchises might balk at giving up two picks with a starter already in place, but should be in the running if the Jets are looking to sell. That leaves three unknown teams. Teams looking to bring in young talent for cheap and will jump on Darnold if his price tag lowers.
A Darnold trade feels more likely than not at this stage. Breer has reported the price tag and the level of interest. We'll see where it goes, but the chances of Darnold being with a different franchise by draft night in late April grow higher by the day.