At the time, it seemed as if the Jets finally landed their franchise quarterback.
Since then, Darnold has flashed his arm, mobility, and the tools necessary to become a quality quarterback. He has done so despite a lack of weapons, protection, and ultimately quality coaching to help him develop.
Yet, teams around the league, including the Jets, still believe he can become the starting quarterback that New York thought they were drafting.
From @gmfb Weekend on Sam Darnold's chances of returning to the #Jets. With Robert Saleh's coaching staff yet to evaluate the roster, free agents and the draft, it's hard to say for sure. But there's thought in the building Darnold's potential remains untapped. pic.twitter.com/RxPQhuspLD
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 23, 2021
Except, the clock is ticking for the Jets to make a decision as to whether or not he can do so with the Jets.
General manager Joe Douglas and new head coach Robert Saleh are building this team in their image, which means the Jets could turn to the 2021 NFL Draft for Darnold’s replacement. After all, by the end of March, all will have had their pro days.
Each day the Jets wait is another day a potential trade partner could make another move. Something that the Jets are now stuck watching.
The NY Jets are watching potential Sam Darnold suitors make moves
On Monday, the Washington Football Team, a team that is coming off of a close Wild Card Round loss to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were a potential suitor for Darnold.
Rather than make a move to acquire the 23-year-old quarterback, they turned to an old friend of the Jets in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
By no means is Fitzpatrick a long-term plan for Washington, but he is a win-now move. Additionally, his one-year deal worth up to $12 million doesn’t exactly scream backup, especially with Taylor Heinicke in the quarterback room too.
What Fitzpatrick’s deal means is that teams such as Washington are not going to sit around and wait for the Jets to determine whether or not they will move on from Darnold. And this became clear Tuesday afternoon.
The Chicago Bears opted to sign Andy Dalton to a one-year deal worth up to $13 million, as he will compete with Nick Foles for the starting job. Both Washington and Chicago made sense as trade partners, whereas others are a bit trickier.
Who knows if the Houston Texans would want Darnold back in a potential Deshaun Watson trade, as they did just sign Tyrod Taylor. Would the Seattle Seahawks really trade Russell Wilson and want Darnold back as his replacement?
Meanwhile, the verdict is still out on what the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and Denver Broncos plan to do under center.
The bottom line is, the longer the Jets wait, the fewer destinations for Darnold there will be.
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Sam Darnold’s value is decreasing
It was not long ago that the Arizona Cardinals played a similar waiting game with another 2018 first-round quarterback in Josh Rosen.
Arizona had a new regime take over, and one that evaluated their options under center in the draft given their underperforming quarterback on the roster.
Ultimately, the Cardinals found Rosen’s replacement before even dealing him, as they only received a second-round pick for a player taken just a year ago.
Looking at New York’s situation, they are heading down a similar road. They too are coming off of a horrible season that has them evaluating all options at quarterback.
Simply put, the longer Gang Green takes to make a decision, the less likely they receive the first-round pick once thought they could get in in return.
As playoff teams such as Washington or Chicago seemingly resolve their quarterback issues, they are less likely to deal a first-round pick for an inconsistent fourth-year quarterback.
That being said, the Jets could head into draft night with Darnold still on the roster and have to wait until they receive a Rosen-type return.
The job of all 32 NFL general managers is to field the best 53-man roster every Sunday, and they are all scrambling to do so right now through free agency.
And because the Jets are still evaluating their options at quarterback, the value of Darnold as an asset has decreased.