Sam Darnold Rumors: Latest Trade Buzz on Jets QB Before Free Agency Opens

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

NFL free agency begins Wednesday at 4:00 p.m., but one of the names on the lips of league insiders is still under contract to the team that drafted him.

At least for now.

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has been the subject of trade discussions since the end of the 2020 season, especially considering the team's position in the upcoming draft. The Jets amassed a miserable 2-14 record and will select second in April's NFL draft.

Might they select a quarterback? Possibly. Might there be a trade for Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has expressed interest in joining the team? Sure, if the pieces are there.

Perhaps the team holds on to Darnold and uses the draft (five selections in the first 86 picks) to build around him.

There is certainly chatter to suggest the No. 3 pick in 2018 out of USC may be on the move.


Teams Are Definitely Interested

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported there are three teams keeping a close eye on the Darnold situation: Chicago, San Francisco and Washington.

"Two of the three, Chicago and Washington, were playoff teams in 2020, aren't in striking distance to draft one of the top guys and may not think developing a rookie, given where they're at, is the best play," he said.

Adam Schefter of ESPN backed that report up, naming those three teams, as well as the Carolina Panthers, as potential suitors for Darnold.

On the surface, it is not difficult to see why those teams would be in-play.

Washington released both Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith in short order, leaving Taylor Heinicke as its starter. While Heinicke was impressive in his Wild Card Round loss to Tampa Bay, the proverbial jury is still out as to whether he can maintain that level of play over the course of a full season.

Inconsistent play in Chicago from Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles has left the Bears searching for that elusive championship-caliber quarterback. Ditto for Teddy Bridgewater in Carolina, even as head coach Matt Ruhle says all the right things about the former Viking and Saint retaining his starting job.

The third, San Francisco, may not be as in-play as Breer and Schefter think.

Appearing on The Murph and Mac Podcast, NFL insider Ian Rapoport ruled the 2019 NFC champions out of the equation.

"The response I've received on the Sam Darnold situation is, 'Do not expect the 49ers to be in it,'" Rapoport said. "Maybe it could change. I guess, theoretically, anything is possible. I never rule anything out in this ridiculous, stupid world. I do not expect the 49ers, as of my knowledge right now, to be in it."


Darnold Is Still a Valued Prospect

Despite performing below league-average in most statistical categories, there is still belief among executives that Darnold is a starting quarterback.

Dianna Russini of ESPN reported as much via her Twitter account.

Dianna Russini @diannaESPN

My favorite topic to ask GMs and Head Coaches around the league: the #Jets QB situation. I always want to know how they see if from their positions. The answers are always similar. Belief in Sam Darnold's ability is real. Most think he can be really good with the right cast.

ESPN's NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. supports the sentiment, at least in comparison to quarterback Zac Wilson, who would likely be the best QB available at the No. 2 position come April.

Sure, Darnold throws more interceptions than he should, but he was also the eighth-most sacked quarterback in the league in 2020. He has been under pressure consistently throughout his career, suffering no less than 30 sacks in any of his three seasons in New York.

Some of that can be attributed to a young quarterback holding on to the ball and trying to make things happen, but some of the blame must be shouldered by the offensive line and a scheme by former head coach Adam Gase that never really took advantage of Darnold's strengths.

If Darnold does move on from the Jets and end up in a more favorable situation elsewhere, it will be interesting to see if a change in scenery, coaching and offense benefits him or if the issues that were present in New York were more his fault than those general managers and head coaches, insistent on the QB's talent, thought.