FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Explaining the biggest trade of his two-year tenure, New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas said the decision to deal quarterback Sam Darnold was based largely on two factors — draft position and finances.
“I think it’s safe to say, if our pick were a little later, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” Douglas told reporters Tuesday on a Zoom call. “We’d fully be comfortable with moving forward with Sam.”
The Jets, picking second in the April 29 NFL draft, traded Darnold to the Carolina Panthers for three draft picks — a 2021 sixth-round choice, plus 2022 second- and fourth-rounders.
At No. 2, the Jets are expected to select BYU quarterback Zach Wilson.
Douglas downplayed the possibility of trading the pick. He acknowledged the obvious, saying they’re locked into a quarterback. But he wouldn’t say which one, insisting the final decision has yet to be made.
“We feel really good about the draft class as a whole and the quarterback class, specifically,” Douglas said. “This was an opportunity to hit the reset button financially, so to speak.”
That was a big factor, sources said.
The second pick in the draft will land a four-year contract worth $35 million, fully guaranteed — a fixed cost that will allow financial flexibility in the coming years. Meanwhile, Darnold was scheduled to count $9.8 million in the final year of his rookie contract. The Jets could’ve exercised his fifth-year option for 2022, but the cost would’ve been $18.9 million.
It would’ve been $28.7 million for two years compared with $35 million for four. There’s also a $5 million cap hit for trading Darnold.
Even though Douglas was complimentary of Darnold, the organization believes it will find an upgrade with the second pick. Darnold, drafted third overall in 2018, didn’t live up to expectations and was the league’s lowest-rated passer over the past three seasons.
Douglas admitted that the Jets didn’t do enough to help Darnold, saying they have to do a better job of surrounding the next quarterback with talent.
The team toyed with the idea of keeping Darnold and pairing him with a rookie, Douglas confirmed. Ultimately, the Jets decided it would’ve been a distraction for all parties.
“Ultimately, that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam, for the rookie quarterback, for coach [Robert] Saleh and his staff, and the locker room,” Douglas said. “We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward, hitting the reset button.”
Douglas said that he has conducted “conversations with a lot of teams,” including the Panthers, regarding the second pick but that he wouldn’t characterize any of those discussions as meaningful.
The plan is to stay at No. 2 and pick a quarterback. Barring an upset, it will be Wilson. If they had been picking in the 12-to-14 range, they would’ve rolled with Darnold, the GM said.
“Based on the decision we made [Monday],” Douglas said, “you can kind of see the direction we’re heading.”