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NFL Draft

What Should Jets Do If They Can’t Trade Sam Darnold?

  • The Draft Network
  • March 18, 2021
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The New York Jets entered the offseason as one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL. They were loaded with cap space, have a new head coach, hold the No. 2 overall pick, and have a quarterback on the roster that may or may not be traded. Well, a few days into the tampering then free agency period, the Jets have made some nice moves.

The team signed a pair of former first-round picks in linebacker Jarrad Davis and wide receiver Corey Davis. I am a big fan of both of these signings and the value that general manager Joe Douglas was able to acquire them. Jarrad Davis, a run-and-hit linebacker, never was able to find his way in Detroit in Matt Patricia’s Patriot-style defense, but I like the idea of him playing in head coach Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense allowing him to run and chase. I love the signing of Corey Davis, and I believe he will be an excellent security blanket for whoever is under center for this team. The Jets also went out and signed former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson, a player who has battled injuries but when healthy has flashed explosive pass-rushing ability. 

While the team has been active so far in free agency, the one move I, and many others around the NFL were expecting to see hasn’t occurred. As of publish time, Sam Darnold is still on the Jets, and the prospects of him being traded are growing slimmer by the day. 

Once thought to be the leader of the second-tier quarterback market behind Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, it was expected that the Jets would have an abundance of interest from other teams about acquiring Darnold from them, but that is no longer the case. Over the last week, we have seen teams such as the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Washington Football Team, and the Chicago Bears all sign veteran quarterbacks to one-year deals, seemingly taking them out of the Darnold sweepstakes. The Saints appear set to roll with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. The Patriots, who were never seriously linked to Darnold, will run it back with Cam Newton. While the two teams that I thought were Darnold’s best fits, Chicago and Washington, appear set to roll with a veteran stop-gap and look to be aggressive in adding a young quarterback in the draft. So, what originally looked like a robust market for Darnold, now appears to be very limited. 

Now, we don’t know if these teams made calls to Douglas and Douglas simply said Darnold isn’t available. While I wouldn’t agree with keeping Darnold, it is understandable that Douglas and Saleh believe Darnold’s struggles were a product of former head coach Adam Gase and the poor supporting cast around him. However, if it were me, I would trade Darnold and reset my quarterback clock because the team still isn’t close to competing so you might as well have a younger quarterback on a cheap deal.

There’s still a chance Darnold does get moved—and if he were to get moved, it would likely be because the Jets are able to land either Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. As it stands, these are both extreme long shots as there are rumors Watson doesn’t want to be a Jet, and the Seahawks have been adamant that they don’t want to trade Wilson under any circumstances. 

As each day passes and more and more teams find their answer at quarterback, it becomes much more likely that the Jets will wind up keeping Darnold. If this is the case, then what the Jets do with the No. 2 overall pick becomes very interesting because it has been long speculated that they would either draft Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. Here are some scenarios that we could see play out with the Jets' No. 2 pick if Darnold is kept on the roster.

Trade Down

In the event that the Jets keep Darnold on the roster, this is the most likely scenario. The demand for young quarterbacks outweighs the supply and because of that teams will look to be aggressive in moving up the board to secure their guy. Since the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t going to listen to trade offers, the Jets at two would then become the best possible option for a team to try and move up and guarantee they are in a position to select the quarterback they want. Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, and the San Francisco 49ers could come calling and offer the Jets multiple first- and second-round picks in exchange for their second overall selection. This extra draft capital will allow the Jets to try and build around Darnold and give him a supporting cast that is actually capable of winning football games. 

Penei Sewell or Kyle Pitts

If for whatever reason the Jets can’t find a trade partner, they will likely end up picking either Oregon’s left tackle Penei Sewell or Florida’s Kyle Pitts. Sewell would be an outstanding selection and would give the Jets the most talented young bookend tackles in the league. The Jets would be able to insert Sewell at left tackle and move last year’s first-round pick Mekhi Becton to right tackle and be set at the tackle position for the foreseeable future.

Pitts would also be a terrific selection for the Jets, too. While No. 2 overall may seem high for a tight end, Pitts could arguably be the best player on their draft board. Pitts is a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses and has the size, athleticism, and natural receiving skills to step in and produce immediately. If the Jets keep Darnold, surrounding him with players of Sewell or Pitts' caliber becomes priority No. 1. 

Draft a Quarterback Anyway

The biggest wild card option but maybe the one I would want to see happen the most is the Jets keep Darnold and still draft either Wilson or Fields anyway. They say if you have two quarterbacks then you have none, and while I subscribe to that philosophy, the Jets still don’t know what they have in Darnold and drafting another guy to compete with him will most likely yield a positive outcome.

The first outcome that could happen is that Darnold takes the next step and improves now that Gase is gone. The Jets could then opt to keep Darnold or trade him for a higher draft pick next offseason since his stock will be higher. Additionally, if Darnold improves, the team could trade Wilson or Fields for a top pick next year as their stock wouldn’t be negatively affected if Darnold beats them out because he took the next step.

The next outcome would be if Wilson or Fields is just simply a better player than Darnold and beats Darnold out in an open competition. This would likely be the best-case scenario because it means that Wilson or Fields hit big and the Jets just secured their new franchise quarterback. The Jets could then look to move Darnold after camp if a quarterback goes down with injury or they could hold on to him and release him next offseason.

Now, of course there is a scenario where Darnold stinks and Wilson or Fields ends up being a bust and the Jets remain without a quarterback, but I for one won’t judge the Jets for being aggressive in trying to solve the most important position in professional sports. 

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