A Panthers fan on the Sam Darnold trade
Thomas Zwiller | Monday, April 12, 2021
Last Monday, the news that the Jets had sent Sam Darnold away in a trade wasn’t all that surprising to me. I had been predicting that Darnold would leave New York since the Jets landed the second-round pick. What I wasn’t expecting was Sam’s new destination: the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers sent away this year’s 6th round pick and next year’s 2nd and 4th, a cheap haul for the once upon a time 3rd overall pick. As a Panthers fan, I was pretty surprised, and at first unpleasantly so. But, after thinking about it, I think I like the trade. Here’s why:
Current State of the Draft:
With the 49ers trading up to third, three of the five quarterbacks will be gone in the first three picks. The Falcons are at four, and I think it is a fifty-fifty chance they take TE Pitts or a QB. Then the Bengals pick, and they should take OT Penei Sewell or a WR. Then the Dolphins at six, and I am positive they take WR DeVonta Smith if available to them. The Lions pick at seven, and the odds are good they take a WR; they have Jared Goff and don’t need a QB at the moment. And then there are the Panthers at eight.
I think the Panthers would need to move up to fourth to be confident they can get their guy. Both the Falcons and the Lions could take a QB, and then the Panthers would be out of options. The Broncos could easily trade up to the Falcons or Lions; Locke hasn’t really performed up to scratch. The Panthers can’t really move up. For one, a top-five pick is going to be equal to the price of the 49ers trade. The Falcons are division rivals and wouldn’t want the Panthers to get a franchise QB. The Bengals might be willing to part with five, but giving up what the 49ers did just to jump three spots isn’t worth it.
Besides, the trade frees up the Panthers to fill another need. I think the Panthers can get Rashawn Slater, which would fill the need they have in O-Line. Should the Panthers be so lucky to see Kyle Pitts fall to them, they should draft him in a heartbeat.
The move also allows the Panthers to deal Teddy Bridgewater. If you think that the Panthers gave up too much capital, there is the potential for it to be recouped. I think Teddy is a solid backup at worst and an okay starter when in a good situation. He would do well in places like New England or Miami. Teddy could potentially be worth a third-round pick to the right team. I think he would need to rework his deal a little, but I genuinely believe he can be of value to the right team. The trade for Darnold gives the Panthers flexibility at the QB position, they can keep or trade Teddy and still feel secure at the position.
It’s a reasonably cheap trade. And, if the QB the Panthers like is still there, nothing prevents them from taking him. I know Matt Rhule said he liked Mac Jones. If the 49ers don’t take Jones like I think they will, and he falls to eight, take him. In summary, I think the trade offers the Panthers flexibility they didn’t have before.
In the grand scheme of all trades, future second, fourth and sixth picks are cheap, especially given that the Jets used the third overall on Sam. There is a mathematical way to value NFL Draft Picks. The first pick is worth 3000 points, and the last at just 2 points. The pick spent on Sam was worth 2,200 points, quite a lot. The Panthers sent picks valued at 580, 82, and 1 points — pennies on the dollar. This compared to the picks the 49ers sent to the Dolphins to move up to the third pick. The 49ers sent the twelfth pick, a third in 2021, 2022 first, and 2023 first which are valued anywhere from 2,565 points to 7,385.
There is something to be said for it being financially cheap as well. Sam will be a 4.77 million dollar hit on the Panthers cap, incredibly affordable when compared to Teddy Bridgewater or, for example, Ryan Fitzpatrick. And yes, Sam will jump up to 18.9 million should the Panthers pick up his fifth-year option. But if he jumps up to Ryan Tannehill levels (more on that later), that’s a bargain, Tannehill currently makes 29.5 million.
The jump in Darnold’s cap hit likely won’t end up mattering. Assuming we see the NFL salary cap rise next season, the hit’s impact will be lessened dramatically.
As I mentioned earlier, I think Sam Darnold has the potential to be like Ryan Tannehill. They both would be leaving teams devoid of talent and are arriving at teams with good receivers and an improvement in the o-line. They would be leaving the same head coach in Adam Gase and coming to good situations with excellent coaching. I have an incredible amount of trust in the ability of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady to repair the damage done to Darnold.
Assuming Darnold follows a similar trajectory to Tannehill the trade will basically put Scott Fitterer in prison for grand larceny. In Tannehill’s first year as a Titan, he threw 22 TDs, 6 INTs, and had 2,700 yards all in 12 games. He was able to sustain those numbers this year. Through sixteen games, he had 33 TDs, 7 INTs, 3,819 yards. Tannehill is starting from a higher floor, though; he had 17 TDs, 9 INTs, and just under 2,000 yards. This season, Darnold only had 9 TDs and 11 INTs with 2,200 yards. So I think a safe claim for Darnold is that he plays fifteen games, which would be the most of his career thus far. In those fifteen games, I think he could get 22 TDs, likely throw 11 INTs and finish with 3,558 yards.
Of course, these figures are dependent on injury; I’m assuming Anderson D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffery all remain healthy. If the Panthers can take Pitt or say they draft the WR that is available to them, I think that should at least add 2-3 TDs.
I feel that Sam’s departure from New York may do him some good. New York is the media capital of the world and can be hostile to athletes. I think that Charlotte will offer him a clean slate. I also think that the pressure to save the franchise and to play for his job is going to lessen. The Panthers have piece around him, and he will likely be extended a year. Good luck Sam!