There has been no movement on the Sam Darnold trade front over the last few weeks. This, combined with the increasing likelihood that the New York Jets will select BYU's Zach Wilson with the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, is leaving all of us to wonder what, exactly, the Jets plan to do with Darnold. The longer the team waits to make a decision, the harder it will be to extract maximum value in any transaction as other franchises choose alternate avenues to fix their QB issues.
With three weeks to go until the main event, it remains a possibility that the Jets could keep Darnold, still pick Wilson, and let them duke it out in training camp. This would not exactly be an optimal use of resources; Darnold will have less trade value than ever if he can't beat out Wilson, and if he does, the Jets just spent the second pick on a guy who will sit on the bench his rookie season. The only way that plan works out is if Darnold plays so well New York can extract a first-round pick from another team in a trade during or after the 2021 season, and the odds of that happening are very low considering how far the team is from being competitive outside of signal-caller.
The Get Up crew discussed all that on ESPN this morning. Adam Schefter pointed out that the pool of potential trade partners for Darnold has dried up considerably after the QB movement of the offseason to this point. The NFL insider rattled off all the likeliest suitors before the offseason began (Bears, WFT, Colts, Rams, Lions) and the ways they addressed the position over the last few months. Schefter then posited, based on the circumstances, a new team could enter the ring for Darnold, one that wasn't as obvious as the previous options: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It makes a lot of sense for the Steelers to outfit Darnold in black and yellow. Their QB of the future is not on the roster unless Dwayne Hasksins turns everything around in a very short timeframe, which seems unlikely after his disastrous career to this point. Ben Roethlisberger is back for 2021 but looked washed in 2020 and Pittsburgh knows they can't rely on him between his declining play and injury history. Theoretically, Darnold is the perfect buy-low candidate for a team that can compete for the playoffs off the strength of the defense and skill-position players.
The issue would be if the Jets were actually willing to sell low. In the above segment, Mel Kiper Jr. continued his enthusiastic defense of Darnold and said the Jets can't just trade him away for a third-round pick. Getting anything more than a third-round pick at this juncture seems optimistic, to say the least. Any team could easily talk themselves into Darnold's potential as a 23-year-old former No. 3 overall pick but that doesn't mean they'll start a bidding war for his services. Other franchises are aware that the math behind keeping Darnold and taking Wilson won't work out in New York's favor.
Still, the Steelers could be a dangerous squad if they get a better player than this version of Roethlisberger under center sometime soon. Were I in charge, I would suggest trading a conditional third-rounder that could be a second-rounder based on percentage of snaps played, similar to how the Colts pulled off the Carson Wentz trade. It's worth sinking a third into a Darnold experiment considering both the timeline of the rest of the roster and recent failures trying to find a mid-round quarterback who could one day replace Roethlisberger.
The Jets can posture all they want about keeping Darnold while taking Wilson, but it won't give them any leverage. The opportunity cost of going that route is too high and wouldn't make for an easy start to the Robert Saleh era. They'll trade Darnold, and when they do, the Steelers make a lot of sense as a team that should be at the front of the line to make a trade.