CHARLOTTE – The Panthers landed a first-round quarterback, without waiting to see if one fell to them with the eighth overall pick in this year's draft.
The Panthers added Sam Darnold in a trade with the Jets Monday, acquiring the former No. 3 overall pick in exchange for a late 2021 sixth-rounder and a second and fourth-rounder in 2022.
Doing so now gives the Panthers some flexibility for the draft, and keeping this year's high picks allows the ability to fill another position or positions of need.
While Darnold's play the last three years with the Jets wasn't enough to keep them from considering another quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick this year, there's reason to believe he's worth a shot in a new environment.
Darnold's still just 23 years old (he'll turn 24 in June), and hasn't exactly been in a place conducive to great offensive football.
After his best receiver (Robby Anderson) left in free agency a year ago, Darnold was largely without skill-position weapons, making it harder for any quarterback to succeed.
Between his first and second years with the Jets, Darnold went from head coach Todd Bowles to Adam Gase (11-23 in two years in New York). And while Gase has benefitted in the past from his previous association with Peyton Manning, there's more recent evidence of quarterbacks flourishing after parting ways with him. If the Panthers get the kind of production out of Darnold the Titans got out of Ryan Tannehill (who played for Gase in Miami), they'd likely be pleased.
Of course, Darnold also has more career interceptions (39) than games played (38), which is part of the reason he was available, in addition to the Jets having the ability to draft Brigham Young's Zach Wilson.
Darnold has one year left on his rookie deal at a reasonable $4.774 million in base salary and roster bonus. Assuming the Panthers want to guarantee having him for more than one year, they have until May 3 to exercise his fifth-year option of $18.858 million. That figure is guaranteed upon execution (in the past, it was only guaranteed for injury).
Picking it up is not without risk, but thinking of it as a two-year, $23.632 million deal takes some of the sting out of that decision.
Making the move for Darnold comes at a time when there was little in the way of certainty about the Panthers' chances of drafting a quarterback, even if they found one they loved.
The Jaguars are locked in on Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, and the Jets seem close to that level of certainty regarding Wilson. With the 49ers just trading three first-rounders and a third to get to the No. 3 spot, that suggests there's a quarterback there they feel strongly about. With the fourth (Atlanta) and seventh (Detroit) picks held by teams with some question about the future of the position, there's no way to guarantee the Panthers could draft one of the top five prospects (including Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones).
The Panthers still have incumbent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, leaving backups P.J. Walker and Will Grier. Bridgewater signed with the Jets in March 2018, just before they drafted Darnold, and he was traded to the Saints the following August.
The Panthers still has seven picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, (eighth overall, along with 39, 73, 113, 151, 193, and 222.)
View photos of Sam Darnold during his years with the New York Jets from 2018-20.