Sam Darnold

Panthers Pick Up Sam Darnold’s Option

The Panthers have officially picked up Sam Darnold‘s fifth-year option, per a club announcement. This was the expected move after they passed on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to select South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn at No. 8. 

[RELATED: Panthers Pick Up D.J. Moore’s Option] 

The Panthers came into Thursday night knowing that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were virtual locks to go Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Unlike other teams, they weren’t all that wild about North Dakota’s Trey Lance, who went No. 3. Fields reportedly held “intrigue” for the Carolina front office, but they chose to bolster the secondary instead.

Meanwhile, it’s undoubtedly a confidence booster for Darnold, who is coming off of a turbulent stretch with the Jets. Darnold, still just 23, has yet to deliver on the hype he carried in 2018. Last year, he ranked last in QBR among qualified passers and he has yet to eclipse 20 touchdown passes in a season. He’s also missed at least three games in each of his three seasons, including a lengthy stay on the sidelines due to an enlarged spleen.

The once-coveted prospect will replace Teddy Bridgewater (now with the Broncos) under center. Surrounded by old pal Robby Anderson, star running back Christian McCaffrey, and fellow ’18 draftee D.J. Moore, Darnold has a great opportunity to reignite his career.

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2022 NFL Fifth-Year Option Tracker

NFL teams have until May 3 to officially pick up their options on 2018 first-rounders who are entering the final year of their rookie deals. In a change from years past, fifth-year option seasons are fully guaranteed, rather than guaranteed for injury only. Meanwhile, salaries are now determined by a blend of the player’s position, initial draft placement, and specific performance metrics:

  • 2-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternate Pro Bowlers) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag.
  • 1-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag.
  • Players who achieve any of the following will get the average of the 3rd-20th highest salaries at their position:
    • 75%+ snaps in two of their first three seasons
    • 75%+ average across all three seasons
    • 50%+ in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will get the average of the 3rd-25th top salaries at their position.

With the deadline looming, we’ll use the space below to track all the option decisions from around the league:

Updated 4-30-21, 4:24pm CT

  1. QB Baker Mayfield, Browns: Exercised ($18.858MM)
  2. RB Saquon Barkley, Giants: Exercised ($7.217MM)
  3. QB Sam Darnold, Panthers (via Jets): Pending ($18.858MM)
  4. CB Denzel Ward, Browns — Exercised ($13.294MM)
  5. LB Bradley Chubb, Broncos — Pending ($12.716MM)
  6. G Quenton Nelson, Colts — Pending ($13.754MM)
  7. QB Josh Allen, Bills: Pending ($23.106MM)
  8. LB Roquan Smith, Bears: Exercised ($9.735MM)
  9. OT Mike McGlinchey, 49ers: Exercised ($10.88MM)
  10. QB Josh Rosen, Cardinals: N/A
  11. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers (via Dolphins): Exercised ($10.612MM)
  12. DT Vita Vea, Buccaneers: Exercised ($7.638MM)
  13. DT Daron Payne, Washington — Exercised ($8.529MM)
  14. DE Marcus Davenport, Saints: Exercised ($9.553MM)
  15. OT Kolton Miller, Raiders — N/A (extension)
  16. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Bills: Pending ($12.716MM)
  17. S Derwin James, Chargers: Exercised ($9.052MM)
  18. CB Jaire Alexander, Packers: Exercised ($13.294MM)
  19. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys: Pending ($9.145MM)
  20. C Frank Ragnow, Lions: Exercised ($12.657MM)
  21. C Billy Price, Bengals: Declined ($10.413MM)
  22. LB Rashaan Evans, Titans: Pending ($9.735MM)
  23. OT Isaiah Wynn, Patriots: Pending ($10.413 MM)
  24. WR D.J. Moore, Panthers: Exercised ($11.116MM)
  25. TE Hayden Hurst, Falcons (via Ravens): Pending ($5.428MM)
  26. WR Calvin Ridley, Falcons: Pending ($11.116MM)
  27. RB Rashaad Penny, Seahawks: Pending ($4.523MM)
  28. S Terrell Edmunds, Steelers: Pending ($6.753MM)
  29. DT Taven Bryan, Jaguars: Pending ($7.638MM)
  30. CB Mike Hughes, Vikings: Pending ($12.643MM)
  31. RB Sony Michel, Patriots: Pending ($4.523MM)
  32. QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens: Exercised ($23.106MM)

Latest On Sam Darnold, Panthers’ Draft Plans

Shortly after the Panthers’ trade for quarterback Sam Darnold was completed, it was reported that Carolina would pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option for 2022. After all, it wouldn’t make sense for the team to trade three draft picks for a young passer without giving that passer at least two seasons to show what he can do.

However, the club has not exercised the option just yet. As Joe Person of The Athletic points out, virtually no teams have made official decisions on the fifth-year options for their 2018 first-rounders (the deadline to do so is May 3). So it could simply be that the Panthers’ brass just hasn’t gotten around to it.

Or, it could mean that the club is waiting to see if a collegiate passer it likes falls to its No. 8 overall selection. According to Person, the Panthers are not in love with Trey Lance or Mac Jones, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be the first two players off the board. So if Ohio State signal-caller Justin Fields — who is said to “intrigue” the Carolina front office — is there for the taking at No. 8, perhaps he could be the pick, which could lead to Darnold having his fifth-year option declined.

A source tells Person that Darnold’s option is still expected to be exercised. And with the Panthers having emerged as a legitimate trade-down candidate, perhaps this is all part of a ploy to drive up the price of the No. 8 pick. A trade down the board would allow Carolina to recoup some much-needed draft capital while still putting the team in range for one of the draft’s top cornerbacks (according to Person, the Panthers are high on several first-round CB prospects). Although Oregon’s Penei Sewell will likely be gone by the time the Panthers are on the clock, another quality LT could be had at No. 8 or a little bit later if the team chooses to move down.

In addition to Darnold, Carolina also has another 2018 first-rounder, D.J. Moore, to make a fifth-year decision on. The Panthers will almost certainly exercise his option, which checks in at $11.116MM, so the team may need to part with Robby Anderson in 2022. Which means, as David Newton of ESPN.com writes, a wide receiver like Alabama’s DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle could be in play. Either receiver would go a long way towards helping Darnold both this year and in the future.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Considered Trading Up For QB

Connected to Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford this offseason, the Panthers moved to Sam Darnold. They sent three draft choices (two in 2022) for the former Jets top-five draftee, who is on track to replace Teddy Bridgewater next season.

But the Panthers, whose quest to land a franchise quarterback was no secret this offseason, also considered making the kind of move the 49ers did. Carolina held internal discussions about vaulting up the draft board for a quarterback, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. However, the franchise that entered the 2020 offseason in rebuilding mode deemed the price to do so too extreme for its present situation.

[RELATED: Panthers Give Bridgewater Permission To Seek Trade]

It cost the 49ers their No. 12 pick, a 2021 third-rounder and 2022 and 2023 firsts to climb up nine spots to No. 3. The Panthers, who resumed Darnold talks with the Jets in Columbus while there for Justin Fields‘ first pro day, do not boast the roster talent the 49ers do at this point. Dealing away two future first-rounders for this draft’s second- or third-best quarterback, though the Jets are not believed to have received a firm offer for No. 2, would cost the Panthers chances at adding long-term starters. That said, Carolina did offer its No. 8 pick, Bridgewater and a fifth-rounder for Stafford in January.

With legal issues ensnaring Watson, his top would-be suitor will have Darnold under contract for two more seasons — on a rookie salary in 2021 and an fifth-year option price ($18.9MM) in 2022 — unless the sides agree to an extension. Darnold’s presence should not take the Panthers out of the running for Watson down the road, and Breer notes they should be expected to draft a quarterback at No. 8 — should one they like fall that far. Mac Jones and, to a lesser degree, Trey Lance have been the passers connected to the 49ers at 3. Lance and Fields seemingly have the best chance of falling to the eighth spot.

The Panthers did not want to part with their second- or third-round picks in this year’s draft for Darnold, Breer notes, so they and the Jets settled on a package that included a 2022 second-rounder as the centerpiece. The Panthers were offering their 2021 fifth-rounder, the same one they dangled as a Stafford throw-in, but swapped that out for a 2022 fourth to sweeten their offer to the Jets. The sixth-rounder Carolina gave up this year was a compensatory pick, the lowest of the team’s three 2021 sixths.

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Jets Notes: Douglas, Darnold, Wilson

Joe Douglas didn’t take the Sam Darnold trade lightly, and the Jets GM acknowledged how difficult it was telling the quarterback that he had been traded to the Panthers.

“[T]he swallow-hard moment for me was just making that call to Sam,” Douglas told SI’s Albert Breer. “You know how much work and dedication he’s put in the last three years here, how many rough situations he’s been through, and never wavered with his confidence. Still, when we had the call, I know in his heart of hearts that he feels he was the right guy to turn this franchise around. I just have so much admiration for how he carries himself.”

During the interview with Breer, Douglas revealed that the front office took their time determining how to proceed at quarterback. While the team would have normally completed their scouting much earlier in the offseason, they didn’t get a chance to see the top quarterback prospects in person until late March. Eventually, the organization decided that they’d feel comfortable taking a signal-caller with the No. 2 pick.

“I don’t know how every team approaches a quarterback [evaluation], but I’ve always thought it was a golden rule—you don’t ever take a quarterback until you stand near or next to a guy and watch him throw the football,” Douglas said. “None of the top brass were able to get out to a BYU game this year. There were no all-star games, no combine. You could see Mac Jones at the Senior Bowl. But other than that, your only opportunity to stand there and watch them throw was at a pro day.”

We explored some of the GM’s other soundbites earlier tonight, including the fact that the Jets had a competitive offer for Darnold earlier in the offseason.

Some more notes out of New York:

  • Joseph Person and Connor Hughes of The Athletic provided a detailed timeline of the Darnold trade, dating back to Jets season-ending loss to the Patriots in early January. Among the notable revelations from the article was the fact that the Panthers starting offer for the quarterback was a fourth-round pick, while the Jets were initially requesting a first-rounder (even if it was conditional). Douglas considered holding out until after the draft in pursuit of that first, but he ultimately decided to avoid the risk of the Panthers pivoting to a rookie or another veteran quarterback.
  • BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is the favorite to be selected second overall by the Jets. Wilson underwent shoulder surgery back in 2019, but NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the team continues to have no concern about the shoulder, especially after they got positive news from a recent physical. Based on advice from “trusted medical sources,” the organization has “zero issues about Wilson’s shoulder,” per RapSheet.
  • The 2020 sixth-round pick that the Panthers sent to the Jets in the Darnold trade is a compensatory selection, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini (on Twitter). That pick comes in at No. 226 overall.
  • We learned earlier tonight that the Jets re-signed cornerback Bennett Jackson. The 2014 sixth-rounder didn’t appear in a regular season game until the 2019 season, when he appeared in six games with the Jets and Ravens. He appeared in four games this past season for New York, collecting a single tackle.

Broncos Expressed Interest In Sam Darnold

Add another team to the list of organizations that apparently expressed interest in Sam Darnold. Albert Breer of SI.com writes that the Broncos had touched base with the Jets about a potential trade for the quarterback. However, the reporter described Denver’s interest in the former third-overall pick as “tepid.”

[RELATED: 49ers, Washington Expressed Interest In Sam Darnold]

We heard last month that the Broncos weren’t interested in Darnold, although that report indicated that the organization’s lack of interest was more about the asking price (a second rounder) than the player. The Jets were presumably eyeing Denver’s pick at No. 40; Darnold was ultimately traded to the Panthers for a deal that was highlighted by a 2022 second-round pick.

Of course, in hindsight, it’s not a huge surprise that the Broncos reached out to the Jets. For starters, going into the 2018 draft, previous Broncos GM (and current president of football operations) John Elway was interested in selecting the quarterback. Further, the organization has seemingly been on the hunt for a quarterback all offseason; the team reportedly showed interest in Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, and Andy Dalton.

Breer provided another interesting note on the Darnold trade, writing that the Jets received an intriguing offer for the quarterback in early March, but the team wasn’t yet convinced that they were going to take a quarterback with the second-overall pick.

“It was a strong offer,” GM Joe Douglas told Breer. “We told them, Look, there’s still a lot of boxes left to check. And we just don’t feel comfortable, in case something happens with one of the top two guys, we don’t want to get caught in a bad situation, like one of two guys fails a physical and then we don’t have Sam. So we didn’t do anything.”

Douglas noted that eight teams ultimately inquired on Darnold, with the Panthers offer eventually emerging from the pack.

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49ers, Washington Expressed Interest In Sam Darnold

The 49ers and Washington moved on to other quarterback plans this offseason, but going into free agency, the NFC teams had Sam Darnold on their respective radars.

Said to have received inquiries on Darnold in early February, the Jets indeed spoke to the 49ers about their former top-three pick, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The 49ers are not believed to have discussed this year’s No. 2 overall pick seriously with the Jets, but weeks before they made that seismic trade with the Dolphins, Rapoport notes they did ask what it would take to acquire Darnold.

Washington held conversations on the three-year starter as well, but Rapoport notes the Jets had not reached a consensus on their quarterback path yet. Washington then moved on, signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, who joins the re-signed Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen.

San Francisco obviously took a much bigger swing, dealing two future first-rounders for the Dolphins’ No. 3 overall pick this year. This opened the door for the Panthers, who joined both Washington and the 49ers in the Matthew Stafford pursuit. Washington offered its first-round pick and change for Stafford. The Panthers offered their No. 8 overall pick and Teddy Bridgewater to the Lions but had to change course, pivoting to Darnold months later.

Darnold will head to Carolina for his fourth NFL season, while the 49ers have been connected most closely to Mac Jones at No. 3 overall. Jets GM Joe Douglas said the team likely would still be moving forward with Darnold were it not in possession of the No. 2 overall pick, which is expected to be Zach Wilson. Although other quarterback dominoes have moved this offseason, with Stafford and Carson Wentz trades shaking up situations elsewhere, there were a lot of moving parts in the Darnold saga.

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Jets GM Joe Douglas On Draft, QBs, Darnold

The Jets made one of the biggest moves of the offseason on Monday, trading Sam Darnold to the Panthers. Rather than shying away from the splashy deal, New York GM Joe Douglas gave a press conference on Tuesday to update the media. At that press conference, he made several interesting revelations. You can read most of those revelations in full courtesy of this Twitter thread from Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Perhaps most interestingly, Douglas said that the Jets weren’t looking to move on from Darnold at all costs. In fact, he said if they didn’t have the second overall pick, Darnold would’ve been returning for a fourth year in New York. “Having the No. 2 pick, I think it’s safe to say if our pick was a little bit later we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now. We’d be comfortable moving ahead with Sam,” he explained.

When asked if the team was locked in on taking a quarterback at number two, he didn’t try to obfuscate too much. “I think that’s a fair assessment to say,” he replied. Douglas said the team did consider keeping both Darnold and a rookie on the roster, like Josh McCown and others floated recently, but ultimately decided it wouldn’t have been good for the locker room.

Douglas declined to name a specific quarterback the team is after, although they’re now widely expected to take BYU’s Zach Wilson. He also seemed to indicate that Darnold’s impending price tag (the Panthers will pay him $18.9MM in 2022 by picking up his fifth-year option) was a factor.

We felt ultimately at the end of the day this was an opportunity to hit the reset button financially, so to speak,” Douglas said. Wilson will be pretty cheap for a handful of years on a rookie deal. While he didn’t explicitly confirm that’s where the team is looking, he may as well have. He was asked about Steve Young recently saying the team was committed to taking Wilson. To that, Douglas replied “Steve’s plugged in to BYU pretty well.”

He also said the team is “very excited” about 2020 fourth-round pick James Morgan, who could potentially backup Wilson. It sounds like the Jets could forego a veteran backup and roll with a very young quarterback room in 2021.

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Fallout From Sam Darnold Trade: Panthers, Jets, Rhule, Draft, Bridgewater

Although the Panthers and Jets had discussed a Sam Darnold trade for a bit, the talks centering around a trade that became official Monday heated up last week. Joe Douglas and Scott Fitterer discussed Darnold at Ohio State’s pro day on March 30, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. Other teams contacted the Jets on Darnold ahead of free agency, but during the time Douglas and Co. methodically evaluating this year’s draft-eligible quarterbacks, some would-be suitors moved on. By late last week, the Panthers were the last team left standing that would trade for Darnold, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). The Jets sought a package similar to the one the Cardinals received for fellow 2018 top-10 QB Josh Rosen, wanting a second-round pick and another mid-round pick or a player, according to Albert Breer of SI.com. (The Dolphins sent the 2019 No. 62 overall pick to the Cardinals for Rosen.) The Jets also proposed a pick-swap trade that would have sent Darnold and No. 23 to Carolina for No. 8, per Breer. The Panthers shut off that path but agreed to send a 2021 sixth, a 2022 second and a 2022 fourth for the former No. 3 overall pick. The Jets now have nine picks in Rounds 1 and 2 between this draft and next.

Here is more from the latest 2021 QB domino falling Monday:

  • Douglas pulled the trigger on a trade more than three weeks away from the draft and did so because Jets brass saw considerable downside in waiting for a better offer. The Jets did not want to lose out on the Panthers’ three-pick proposal, according to The Athletic’s Connor Hughes (Twitter links).
  • Perhaps paying customary lip service, Fitterer said (per Person, on Twitter) Monday the Darnold acquisition will not take the Panthers out of the quarterback mix at No. 8 overall. That pick, however, can now be used to help Darnold and accelerate the team’s rebuild. It could also be used as a trade chip. The quarterback-seeking Broncos hold pick No. 9, and at least one of the top five quarterbacks figures to remain on the board by then. A team keen on grabbing one of these QB prospects would seemingly be interested in jumping in front of Denver, should the Broncos stay at No. 9.
  • Teddy Bridgewater looks likely to be a one-and-done as a Panther. As a starter, anyway. He could be off to team No. 5 soon. The Panthers will try to collect a mid-round pick for their 2020 starter, Person notes (subscription required). But they have been trying to unload Bridgewater for weeks, Breer adds. Bridgewater is set to carry a $17MM cap number in 2021, and unless a Case Keenum– or Nick Foles-type situation emerges in which Bridgewater agrees to redo his deal to facilitate a trade, the Panthers will have a difficult time unloading that contract.
  • A virtual Darnold-Matt Rhule conversation played a role in Monday’s trade. When the Jets interviewed Rhule for their HC job in 2019, he spoke with Darnold. Rhule came away impressed with the quarterback, and Rapoport notes that meeting came into play when Rhule approved this trade (video link).

Jets Trade Sam Darnold To Panthers

3:26pm: Carolina will exercise Darnold’s fifth-year option, CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones tweets. This will tie Darnold to the Panthers through 2022 and fully guarantee Darnold $18.9MM next year.

3:03pm: The Jets are trading Sam Darnold to the Panthers, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Carolina will send back a sixth-round pick in 2021, as well as second- and fourth-round picks in 2022.

The Panthers had made no secret of their desire to upgrade at quarterback, and while Darnold is not coming off a particularly impressive season, he is a former top-three pick on a rookie contract. Although a previous report suggested the Panthers were not particularly high on Darnold, they had discussed him for weeks with the Jets, Schefter adds (via Twitter).

This trade also essentially confirms Jets GM Joe Douglas made his quarterback decision. The Jets have been linked to BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with their No. 2 overall pick. While some late rumblings suggested Darnold had support in the building for a fourth season, to either compete with Wilson or induce a trade-down maneuver, the Jets have been expected to draft Wilson and start over for a bit now. Douglas has now traded predecessor Mike Maccagnan‘s final two first-round picks — Darnold and Jamal Adams — over the past two years.

He is a tough-minded, talented football player whose NFL story has not been written yet,” Douglas said of Darnold. “While all these things are true, this move is in the short- and long-term best interests for both this team and him.”

Carolina had been the team most closely linked to Deshaun Watson this offseason. Owner David Tepper‘s desire to acquire the superstar Texans quarterback became known several weeks ago. Darnold is obviously well off the Watson tier, but the latter’s sudden off-field issues have quieted his trade market. The Jets were also linked to a potential Watson push. Both teams moving on signals the Pro Bowl quarterback may well be in Houston next season.

Darnold is still just 23 but has yet to deliver on the hype he carried in 2018. The Browns were connected to the USC prospect three years ago, but they opted for Baker Mayfield at No. 1 instead. Fixated on Saquon Barkley, the Giants refused to entertain trade offers that could have sent Darnold elsewhere. His New York stay produced occasional flashes, but the situation bottomed out in 2020. Darnold ranked last in QBR, among qualified passers, during his second season with Adam Gase. Darnold has yet to eclipse 20 touchdown passes in a season and has also missed at least three games in each of his three seasons.

The once-coveted prospect will be tabbed to replace Teddy Bridgewater, whose QBR figure ranked 17th last season. But Bridgewater has established a fairly low ceiling. Illustrated by this trade package, Darnold’s still remains relatively uncertain. Darnold will reunite with Robby Anderson in Charlotte, with Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore further illustrating the skill-position upgrade the maligned quarterback will receive. Darnold going from Gase to fast-rising OC Joe Brady represents intrigue as well.

The three-year veteran is due to count $9.7MM against the Panthers’ cap in 2021, but should Carolina pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option, his 2022 price would jump to $18.9MM. The Panthers will be forced to eat a chunk of dead money if they trade or release Bridgewater, who is attached to a three-year, $63MM contract. But Tepper authorized a long-term rebuild, giving Matt Rhule a seven-year contract. It would not surprise if the team picked up Darnold’s option for evaluation purposes. Considering Carolina’s interest in Watson, it would also not surprise if the Panthers made this move as a stopgap measure while Watson’s legal situation unfolds.

Holding the No. 8 overall pick, the Panthers can now focus on helping their Darnold-centered roster. This draft will almost certainly begin with three quarterback picks for just the third time ever. The Jaguars, Jets and 49ers’ choices will leave the rest of the QB-seeking crowd with just two of the much-hyped top five quarterback prospects for whom to vie.

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