The trading of Sam Darnold was a bitter end to what was supposed to be a fresh start for the NY Jets.
Drafted third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Darnold showed flashes of brilliance in his three years as a starter. However, it never all meshed, and the bad eventually began to outweigh the good.
Now, the Jets and Sam Darnold are both moving on. The Jets have been hard at work scouting which quarterback to take with the second overall pick, while Sam Darnold is already enjoying life in Charlotte.
But putting scouting and drafting to the side for a few minutes, let’s take a look back at just what all went wrong for the Jets.
While it would be easy to start at the time of Darnold’s draft, we’ll first assess the Mike Maccagnan era up to that point.
How the NY Jets completely failed Sam Darnold
There’s no hiding the fact that Maccagnan wasn’t a very good general manager for the Jets. Of the five drafts that Maccagnan headed in his time with the team, two entire drafts no longer remain on the current roster. Even the 2017 class has Marcus Maye as the lone player still on the team.
Moving on to Darnold’s rookie year, it was likely the most talented roster he had to work with. Second-year undrafted free agent Robby Anderson was already a fan-favorite and fellow rookie Chris Herndon was looking like he was a gem of a pick in the fourth round.
However, head coach Todd Bowles was in his final year as the Jets’ head coach. He didn’t know it at the time, but his inconsistency at the helm was what would eventually lead to him being sent to the chopping block.
Darnold himself experienced the highs and lows of a rookie. Darnold went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers, and of course, showed signs of promise in his first start against the Detroit Lions in a 48-17 win.
But as the season ended in a 38-3 loss to the New England Patriots, the Jets rightfully moved on with the future looking bright.
Then it all fell apart when the Jets signed one of the worst head coaches in NFL history in Adam Gase. The Jets looked to be in dysfunction before the season even started. Gase openly admitted to not wanting to pay Le’Veon Bell, and Maccagnan was fired following the 2019 NFL Draft.
A draft that gave Darnold little to no help, as the only offensive picks were tight end Trevon Wesco and offensive tackle Chuma Edoga.
The Jets looked like a team shot out of a cannon in Week 1, leading AFC East rival Buffalo 16-0 at halftime on the back of turnovers. When the game ended 17-16 in a loss for New York, it looked like things were only going to get worse.
Darnold missed the next three games with mononucleosis. In his first game back, he once again looked like “the guy” in a 24-22 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
But after throwing four interceptions in a primetime game against the Patriots, Darnold infamously muttered that he was “seeing ghosts” into a hot microphone on the sideline. In hindsight, that looks to be the beginning of the end.
In a flash, the team found themselves sitting at 1-7. A 7-9 finish to the year was the worst thing that could have happened to Sam Darnold and the Jets, as it ensured that Gase would be the head coach for another year.
For the first time in his career, Darnold would receive a bit of help from new general manager Joe Douglas.
Douglas added five offensive players in the 2020 offseason, including four offensive lineman and wide receiver Breshad Perriman. In the 2020 NFL Draft, franchise left tackle Mekhi Becton was taken with the 11th overall pick, as well as Denzel Mims in the second round.
The biggest shake-up in free agency was the failure to re-sign Robby Anderson, a move that Joe Douglas would later come to publicly regret. Anderson and Darnold had developed chemistry, and Darnold would be forced to move on with a brand new room of receivers.
It seemed like this year was do-or-die for Sam Darnold and Adam Gase. Sure enough it was, but for all the wrong reasons.
With a Week 1 roster of Frank Gore as his running back, as well as Jamison Crowder, Chris Hogan, and Braxton Berrios as his main receivers against a scary Bills defense, it went about as well as you would imagine.
Darnold was hurt yet again early in the year, raising concerns about his durability. His wide receivers were not healthy until late into the season. By then, Joe Flacco had proven to be more successful being dealt the exact same hand.
Fans and media alike saw this as the end of the Darnold era, as many were calling for the team to lose in order to secure the No. 1 pick in order to draft Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson.
The team limped to a 2-12 season. Adam Gase was fired. Sam Darnold was traded. One of the most miserable eras in Jets history finished its chapter. Not all of the blame falls on Darnold, as his team did not do everything they could have to help the young quarterback.
After the firing of Todd Bowles, the Jets infamously passed on then Baylor head coach Matt Rhule. Darnold will be playing for him in Carolina next season, as well as reuniting with his former best receiver in Robby Anderson.
In terms of protection for the often haunted Sam Darnold, his offensive line was consistently one of the worst in the league. From 2018 to 2020, the Jets offensive line ranked 25th, 28th, and 29th respectively (according to Pro Football Focus).
His protection only grew worse as he spent more time on the team. Herndon’s lack of development and off-field issues did not help, and by the time Denzel Mims was healthy enough to play, the damage had been done.
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This hasn’t even touched upon the stubborn attitude of Gase to run the ball with anybody other than Frank Gore, or to gameplan against an opponent for more than 15 plays.
It got to the point where the team was outright apologizing for stunting Sam Darnold’s growth. With all guilty parties gone, it’s finally time for everybody to rebuild.
The Jets and Sam Darnold had a very toxic relationship. While it was great at the start, and there were flashes of brilliance, some things weren’t meant to be. It was likely both sides knew how it would end a few weeks into 2020.
Sam Darnold now has a new home in Carolina. Matt Rhule, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffery will all welcome him with open arms.
The Jets hold the second overall pick in the draft, as well as 22 total picks over the next two years, and will decide if Zach Wilson or Justin Fields can finally end the seemingly endless quarterback drought.
Although it wasn’t the ending that anybody wanted, it was what’s best for both the Jets and Sam Darnold.