A day after shipping Sam Darnold off to Carolina, Jets general manager Joe Douglas explained the move and hinted at what is ahead.
Without coming out and saying it, he did not throw any cold water on the idea that the Jets are committed to taking BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on April 29. Asked if it is fair to say the Jets are locked in on taking a quarterback after moving Darnold on Monday, Douglas did not disagree.
“I think that’s a fair assessment to say,” Douglas said. “I think based on the decision we made [Monday] you can kind of see the direction we’re heading.”
The Jets received three picks from the Panthers – a sixth-round pick this year, a second-round pick next year and a fourth-round pick next year – in return for the 23-year-old Darnold.
Douglas praised Darnold’s toughness and work ethic and said the Jets would not be making this move if they were not drafting this high.
“I think it’s safe to say that if our pick was a little later, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” Douglas said. “We’d fully be comfortable right now moving forward with Sam.”
But after debating the decision for months, the Jets settled on trading Darnold and hitting the reset button with a rookie quarterback.
“Ultimately, we felt like this was a decision that was best for all parties,” Douglas said.
The Jets considered holding onto Darnold to pair with the rookie quarterback this year, but feared the quarterback controversy that would develop and the potential for it to be a distraction.
“We felt that that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam, the rookie quarterback, Coach [Robert] Saleh and his staff and the locker room,” Douglas said. “We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward in hitting the reset button.”
Douglas said it was not an easy decision to part ways with Darnold.
“Sam’s a stud,” Douglas said. “Sam’s one of my favorite people on the team just from a personality, work ethic, toughness standpoint. When you make decisions like this, obviously there’s a human element to it. You hate losing good people. I do feel Sam’s best football is in front of him. I feel good about his landing spot, too.”
Darnold is the latest first-round pick to get traded by the Jets. They have moved Sheldon Richardson (2013), Calvin Pryor (2014), Leonard Williams (2015), Darron Lee (2016), Jamal Adams (2017) and now Darnold in recent years. Douglas traded Williams, Adams and Darnold. It is not a good look for the organization and one that Douglas needs to change.
“We want to be a great team that drafts, develops and retains their players not draft, develop and trade,” Douglas said.
The flip side of trading away all those players is Douglas is now armed with 21 draft choices in the next two years. He can rebuild a team that went 2-14 last year and has failed to make the playoffs for a decade.
“We felt really good with the value and the compensation we were able to get from Carolina,” Douglas said. “As we’re sitting here now, we have a lot of opportunity in front of us – 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds. But with that opportunity we know we have to make the most of it and hit on these picks.”
Douglas also knows that he needs to do a better job surrounding Wilson with a good team than he and his predecessor Mike Maccagann did giving Darnold help.
“We have to surround our next quarterback with as much talent as possible,” Douglas said.
By drafting Wilson, the Jets now get to start over with a quarterback on his rookie deal. Darnold has one year remaining on his contract and the Jets were not going to pick up his option for 2022. That would mean an extension next year. Instead, they can spend that money elsewhere.
“We felt ultimately at the end of the day this was an opportunity,” Douglas said. “We feel really good about the draft class as a whole and the quarterback class specifically. This was an opportunity to hit the reset button financially, so to speak.”