Wary of waiting until draft day to find its next quarterback, the Carolina Panthers made a colossal move Monday afternoon as they traded three draft picks for New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.
Carolina gave up a sixth round compensatory selection in 2021 as well as its second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 to acquire Darnold, who was selected by New York with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
In 38 starts across three seasons with New York, Darnold posted a 13-25 record while completing 59.8% of his passes for 8,097 yards and 45 touchdowns against 39 interceptions. Darnold’s best year came in 2019, when he went 7-6 as a starter and completed 61.9% of his passes for 3,024 yards and 19 touchdowns against 13 picks.
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer told reporters Monday that he was impressed with Darnold as a college prospect out of Southern California, while adding that he believes we’ve yet to see the best out of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound quarterback.
Darnold is a gunslinger in the mold of a young Brett Favre, but he’s yet to put up seriously impressive numbers since a magical redshirt freshman season at USC that saw him complete 67.2% of his passes and throw for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Darnold was named the MVP of that year’s Rose Bowl.
“I think in this offense with Joe Brady, Matt Rhule and the weapons we have around him, that (Darnold) can take that next step with us.”
Darnold will have considerably more weapons around him than he did in his first three years in the league with the Jets. One familiar face, however, is receiver Robby Anderson, who played in New York during Darnold’s first two years in the league. During those two seasons, Anderson caught 102 combined passes for 1,531 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Carolina hopes players like D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey will help Darnold develop into the franchise quarterback the Jets hoped he’d be when they drafted him. That said, the Panthers still could opt to take a quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft.
Fitterer said in Monday’s press conference that acquiring Darnold allows Carolina flexibility with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. Instead of going gung-ho after a quarterback, the Panthers can now select the best player available at the spot, or they could trade up or down.
That said, most mock drafts that have come out since the trade have Carolina staying put and selecting an offensive tackle to help protect Darnold. Options there include Oregon stud Penei Sewell and Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater.
As far as what the team does now with Teddy Bridgewater, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the quarterback has played his last down with the team. Fitterer said Monday that the team has been in touch with Bridgewater’s agent.
“We’re going to find the right place (for Teddy), whether it’s here or wherever it may be.”
Bridgewater was a breath of fresh air for the Panthers in the first half of the season, but his play quickly fell off as Carolina ended the year losing nine of its final 11 games. Bridgewater finished the season completing 69.1% of his passes for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The Panthers haven’t made the playoff since the 2017 season. Since then, the team has posted an overall record of 17-31. The addition of Darnold as well as the return of a healthy McCaffrey have the organization hopeful the postseason drought will end in 2021-22.