Super Bowl LV has passed with a convincing Buccaneers victory. Now, the focus shifts to the upcoming 2021 NFL offseason and the subsequent free agency. For the New York Jets, the biggest headline might have to do with neither an outgoing free-agent piece nor the draft. Instead, the most notable topic has been the possible Sam Darnold trade, deemed by some inevitable.
How We Got Here
The Jets have surprisingly taken the task of dealing their starting quarterback away very seriously. After three seasons at the Meadowlands, the club has been said to be determined at completing the Sam Darnold trade. Moreover, Darnold has even been called a “hot commodity” on the market and NY has been rumored to be in the mix for Texans playmaker Deshaun Watson.
Sam Darnold has had an up-and-down stint with the Jets, leaving the organization with mixed feelings about his selection in 2018. Darnold gradually improved throughout his first two seasons. He reached a passer rating of 84.3 and a completion percentage of 61.9% in 2019, both career-highs. However, a sharp downfall during the 2020 campaign – under 59% accuracy and a rating of under 75.0 – brought question marks into the picture of his future with the Jets. As the team’s passing offense was one of the worst in the league, his part of the blame was often a topic of discussion.
New York could very well benefit from potentially replacing Darnold with Watson, although it will take a net loss of current and future first-round picks. Furthermore, it will be a much superior move compared to the prospect of drafting a quarterback with the second overall pick.
However, with Darnold’s market value having shrunk, finding a reasonable return would take a miracle. Therefore, Joe Douglas would be right to hesitate as regards whether the move would be worth it or not.
Sam Darnold Trade: Second and Third-Round Picks
This seems like a reasonably realistic trade package and by far the most beneficial for the Jets. Even more than the market is ready to pay, perhaps.
On February 8th, The Athletic claimed that Sam Darnold’s current value stands at a second-round pick at best. The Jets can have no hopes of getting a first-rounder in a Sam Darnold trade, no matter how much effort and lobbying they put on.
His display in 2020 has brought his value down dramatically. The highest agreeable price could peak at two selections in the rumored range. Therefore, a second-rounder and a third-rounder could be the most the Jets get out of a deal that involves the 2018 third overall pick.
While the best realistic return, those two selections don’t bring much to the shorthanded Jets roster. Only if they trade for Deshaun Watson will the team start with a better QB than they finished the 2020 season with. As already mentioned, this would be a much better step than drafting the likes of Justin Fields or Zach Wilson. Even then, it pales in comparison to the advantages of keeping Darnold and addressing the team’s weaknesses.
The Jets could still be able to do that in free agency after a Sam Darnold trade and a consequent Watson deal. However, two first-round picks will do a much better job than two day-two selections when it comes to bringing balance to the 2021 Jets roster.
Level of Likeliness: Average to slightly unlikely
Sam Darnold Trade: Second-Round Pick and a Player
As a third-round pick is even less valuable than a second-rounder, the Jets could go down a different route and demand a player instead.
One great benefit would be that New York could have a much better shot at getting short-term help at a position of need. A third-round selection, in addition to being years away from fulfilling its potential, would have a very small chance of providing a contributor to the Jets in 2021. Meanwhile, an undervalued cornerback, defensive lineman, or wide receiver, could turn out to be a bargain, virtually representing the same market value as a third-round pick.
According to Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, the current frontrunners in the Sam Darnold sweepstakes are the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. Interestingly, those two teams don’t happen to have many players that fit the afore-described terms.
Colts CB Rock Ya-Sin might be the best fit while bringing in fellow corner Kenny Moore would take adding extra draft picks to the deal. This isn’t something Joe Douglas would be willing to do if he intends to join the negotiations for Watson.
The Jets were a part of a similar trade last offseason. The deal that sent star safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks included Seattle’s Bradley McDougald in return. Although returns in NFL player trades often consist of only draft picks and a player at the same position at best, New York should be looking to get short-term help rather than a low-talent third-round pick that doesn’t match the Jets’ rebuild plan.
Level of Likeliness: Unlikely
Sam Darnold Trade: Second-Round Pick, Third-Round Pick, and a Player
At first sight, this seems like the most fruitful offer. However, it would only work if Douglas can pump up Sam Darnold’s value. The Jets have been said to be working on that but, given his recent struggles, that looks unlikely to impossible.
The reason why this only works if his value is higher than it is now is due to the variable that is the addition of a player in the deal. A mix of a third-rounder and a player now takes the slot that would previously belong to only one of those. Therefore, since there’s no option of relegating the pick but still keeping it in the third round, the result would be a worse player as a part of the Sam Darnold trade.
As the player portion of a potential deal could be where the gap between perceived value and potential performance is, a weaker player leaves the Jets with less flexibility. That means a missed opportunity to gain leverage ahead of a tough free-agency period, regardless of where the Deshaun Watson talks go if there are any.
Considering Sam Darnold’s current value, a player seems a better option than a third-round pick to accompany a second-rounder in a Sam Darnold trade. However, that only applies if the suitors have anything to offer that would help the New York Jets.
Level of Likeliness: Highly unlikely
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