Can former No. 3 pick Sam Darnold be the answer for the Carolina Panthers?

 By Zach Goins

April 5, 2021

Photo: Perry Knotts / AP

The Panthers may have found their quarterback of the future, and the NFL Draft is still weeks away. 

On Monday the Panthers acquired quarterback Sam Darnold from the New York Jets in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick, and a second and fourth-rounder in 2022. The deal is seen as a low-risk, high-reward move for Carolina, who will maintain their early picks in this year’s draft while receiving the former third-overall selection.

“We wanted to keep our picks this year– one, two and three. That was really important to us, especially picking as high as we are,” general manager Scott Fitterer said in a press conference Monday. “A lot of these quarterbacks don’t mature and hit their prime until 24, 25, 26. If this is a player that we can hit on at this price and he is our quarterback of the future, it’s definitely worth a gamble.”

At just 23 years old, Darnold has spent his entire three-year career with the Jets– and there’s no denying it hasn’t been great. In 38 starts, Darnold has amassed a 13-25 record, while throwing 45 touchdowns to 39 interceptions. But when you look at the Jets as a whole, it’s hard to blame just Darnold. 

Two of those years came with head coach Adam Gase at the helm, and Gase is no stranger to underachieving quarterbacks who later flourish on new teams– just look at Ryan Tannehill. Plus, the supporting cast in New York was never stellar. That most certainly won’t be an issue in Carolina, as Darnold joins Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore and reunites with former Jets star Robby Anderson on the offense. 

“In this offense, with Joe Brady, with Matt Rhule, the weapons that we have around him, that he can take that next step with us,” Fitterer said. “I was really excited to add someone of Sam’s caliber to our team.”

During their time together in New York, Darnold and Anderson accounted for 88 completions, 1,341 yards and 11 touchdowns, while boasting an impressive 88.5% completion percentage. Add offensive coordinator Joe Brady and his creativity on offense to the mix, and things look a lot brighter for Darnold than they ever did with the Jets.

The move also frees up Carolina to explore other options with the No. 8 pick later this month, as Darnold’s arrival all but eliminates the Panthers from drafting a quarterback at eight. With three quarterbacks likely to go in the first three picks, there was no guarantee the Panthers could get their guy in the draft, hence the Darnold trade. While Fitterer said the trade didn’t completely eliminate Carolina from drafting a quarterback, it’s likely they’ll have their choice of talented offensive and defensive linemen, tight ends, cornerbacks and more– all important foundational pieces that could help Darnold find success in his new home. During his press conference, Fitterer once again emphasized that the Panthers will be taking the best available player with the eighth pick.

So, what does Darnold’s arrival mean for the current quarterbacks on Carolina’s roster? Well, it’s no secret the Panthers are interested in moving on from Teddy Bridgewater, and this deal may have sealed his fate. Fitterer said the Panthers would find the best place for Bridgewater, whether it’s here or somewhere else– which sounds like it will most likely be somewhere else. That leaves backups Will Grier and P.J. Walker to compete behind Darnold.

The trade may end up biting Carolina a year from now, but only time will tell. At just $4.7 million in year one with the option of adding a second year for $18.8 million, it will be hard to feel too upset even if things don’t work out. Now, all eyes turn to the end of the month and what the Panthers will opt to do with their seven picks in the draft.

Watch Sam Darnold’s first press conference with the Carolina Panthers.

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