Sam Darnold's 5th-Year Contract Option Picked Up by Panthers

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2021

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2021, file photo, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold rolls out to pass against the New England Patriots during the first half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. The Jets will get back on the rookie quarterback roller coaster three years after trading up to take Darnold with the third pick. With New York holding the second selection in a quarterback-heavy draft, general manager Joe Douglas dealt Darnold to Carolina and now has his eyes on another potential franchise QB. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The Carolina Panthers announced Friday they've exercised the fifth-year option in the rookie contract of Sam Darnold after passing on fellow quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft Thursday night.

"I'm not going to talk about other players; we brought Sam here for a reason," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "We're excited to see what he can do. We're excited to give him an opportunity. We traded for him because we believe in his potential."

Carolina acquired Darnold, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft, from the New York Jets this month in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick and second- and found-round selections in 2022.

Darnold didn't live up to expectations during his time in New York. He completed just 59.8 percent of his throws for 8,097 yards with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions across 38 games. He finished with more picks (11) than TDs (nine) in his final year with the Jets.

While there's no doubt he must elevate his level of play to become the Panthers' long-term answer under center, it's also fair to argue at least some of his struggles were related to the lackluster talent around him on offense in New York. That shouldn't be the case in Carolina.

The Panthers feature one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers in running back Christian McCaffrey and a productive wide receiver tandem of ex-Jet Robby Anderson and DJ Moore, and they upgraded the offensive line this offseason with the signings of Cameron Erving and Pat Elflein.

Carolina's decision to pick up the fifth-year option virtually locks Darnold in for a two-year audition since it guarantees his $18.9 million salary (and cap hit) for 2022, per Spotrac.

His success will be measured against how Fields (Chicago Bears) and Jones (New England Patriots) do early in their NFL careers because the Panthers could have selected one of those standout prospects and had them on more team-friendly rookie contracts for the next four years.

"To go from being unwanted to being wanted is huge," Darnold said after the trade. "Getting that news that you're going to be traded, of a team saying, 'Hey, we didn't want you,' for whatever reason, is hard. But right now, I feel great about it, and I'm excited to get here and get started."

Meanwhile, the Panthers used their first-round pick on South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn as they also look to upgrade a defense that finished 18th in points allowed per game (25.1) last season.

Carolina is scheduled to make two picks (Nos. 39 and 73) during Day 2 of the draft Friday night. Coverage resumes at 7 p.m. ET on the B/R appTwitter and YouTube.