The Jets announced on Monday afternoon that quarterback Sam Darnold had been traded to the Carolina Panthers, drawing to a close a rollercoaster three years for Darnold in New York. Let’s revisit some of the highs and lows:
High: The Jets draft Darnold in 2018
Mike Maccagnan knew the Jets needed to find a franchise quarterback if he was going to remain in his role as the Jets’ general manager. When he traded up to acquire the third overall pick, Darnold was widely expected to be drafted first overall, with the Jets likely to end up with Baker Mayfield. However, Darnold – viewed by some experts as a “can’t miss” prospect – was available at three and the Jets had their franchise savior. Or did they?
Low: An ignominious beginning
Darnold’s high profile debut could have had a worse start, although you could probably attribute this to a coaching staff trying to be too clever for its own good. A catastrophic throwback screen on the very first snap of his nationally televised NFL debut saw Darnold throw an embarrassing pick-six. While the Jets bounced back and won that game, Darnold struggled for consistency in the first half of his rookie year and eventually got hurt and missed a few games.
High: A promising stretch
After three games on the bench, during which he learned by watching veteran Josh McCown, Darnold played his most consistent football of the season over the last four games, perhaps suggesting he’d have been better off starting the year on the bench. While the Jets lost three of their last four, he threw six touchdowns with just one interception and put up a career-high 341 passing yards against the Packers.
Low: Struck down by mono
Optimism was high heading into the 2019 season. New head coach Adam Gase was a “brilliant offensive mind” that the Jets had hired to develop the Jets’ quarterback of the future. After an uneven opening day performance saw the Jets blow a 16-0 lead against the Bills, Darnold would miss the next three games as it was determined that he had contracted mononucleosis.
High: A bounceback and further optimism
Darnold returned in week five, with the Jets already 0-4. However, he passed for 338 yards and two scores to lead them to an impressive win over the Cowboys, highlighted by a long touchdown pass to Robby Anderson. If the Jets could just beat New England on national television, they’d be 2-4, back in the race, and it could signify the passing of the torch…
Low: Seeing ghosts
Unfortunately, the Jets were blown out 33-0 as Darnold had the worst game of his career. ESPN were widely criticized for broadcasting a clip of a mic’d-up Darnold saying he was “seeing ghosts” after one of his four interceptions. “Come on, you know this,” offered Gase, but it was obvious he did not.
High: A modicum of consistency
Down the stretch in 2019, the Jets, Gase and Darnold seemed to have figured things out somewhat. Despite already having fallen out of playoff contention, the Jets won six of their last eight to finish up with a respectable 7-9 record. If they could just protect Darnold and get him some weapons, perhaps he would realize his potential.
Low: 2020 – The Year from Hell
The 2020 season always seemed to feel like it was destined to fail. A truncated offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic and extra restrictions on practices was the last thing Darnold needed heading into his pivotal third season. He started slowly with his receiving corps decimated by injury, then hurt his shoulder against Denver, came back and continued to struggle, then got hurt again.
While this was going on, the Jets kept losing. And losing. As Darnold returned to the winless Jets with six games to go and a now-mostly healthy supporting cast on offense, there was hope he’d finish strong. However, while the Jets did manage to bank two wins, he still played poorly.
Clearly things didn’t work out for Darnold in New York, with his play regressing to the point where making Gase the scapegoat for his failings or blaming his supporting cast became no longer really tenable.
Although the likes of McCown and Bart Scott this week suggested the Jets should give him another chance, the main consensus was that a fresh start was probably the best thing for both Darnold and the Jets.
It’s too early to rule out Darnold still becoming a successful quarterback and making the Jets regret their decision, but this would have seemed improbable if he stayed with them. The Jets will instead try again, presumably with whoever they select with the second overall pick in April’s draft.