The Jets had shipped away their once-dubbed franchise savior while Darnold was set to join a new organization that would hopefully build around him in ways his old team never did. There was cautious optimism on both sides.
However, we're now over a year removed from that offseason trade, and one thing seems abundantly clear. The Jets received downright ridiculous value for a quarterback who has proven very little in the NFL.
This much has been evident for a while now, but that notion is only further strengthened by the Baker Mayfield swap made on Wednesday. The Panthers have made trades for two of the top three picks in the 2018 NFL Draft in consecutive offseasons.
But one was acquired for significantly more than the other.
The NY Jets received incredible value in the Sam Darnold trade
The Panthers were desperate for a quarterback a little over a year ago. They missed out on Matthew Stafford, were forced out of the Deshaun Watson situation, and weren't in a position to target any of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas took advantage of that desperation and was able to coax a second, fourth, and sixth-round pick away from Carolina.
This was despite the fact that Darnold had shown little signs of growth in his three years in the league and was coming off easily his worst season. Sure, there was hope that he could turn things around with an improved supporting cast and many believed the Jets were to blame for his shortcomings.
But to invest that much capital, plus the inevitable fifth-year option, into a player like that was short-sided at best. It's easy to see that now with the benefit of hindsight.
Fast-forward a year later, and the Panthers were once again in the QB market after Darnold's disaster of a 2021 season. They set their eyes on a fellow draft-mate of Darnold's, Baker Mayfield, who was run out of town in Cleveland after another former failed Panthers QB target, Deshaun Watson, was acquired.
Of course, Mayfield's situation wasn't quite the same as Darnold's, although you can partially blame the Browns for that. Cleveland forfeited all leverage once they traded for Watson.
Every team in the NFL knew that the Browns no longer wanted Mayfield in the locker room, and they also knew that Mayfield had no intentions of ever suiting up for another game in Cleveland.
On the other hand, the Jets were able to retain significant leverage. They didn't publicly or privately move on from Darnold until the day he was traded. The difference in each quarterback's trade package is evidence of such.
While the Jets were able to recoup a second, fourth, and sixth-round pick for Darnold, the Browns were only able to land a future conditional fifth-rounder. All the while, Mayfield has been the better quarterback since entering the NFL, and it hasn't been particularly close.
Say what you want about Joe Douglas, but he has mastered when to cut bait and how to maximize value. We've seen it countless times in the past, whether it be the Jamal Adams trade, Chris Herndon trade, or even the Darnold trade.
That's not the only aspect of the job, but it's a big part of it.
While the Browns were forced to eat more than half of Mayfield's contract to recoup any sort of minor asset for their former No. 1 overall pick, the Jets were able to land three assets, including one that helped them add running back Breece Hall in this year's draft.
That's how you do business. That's how you maximize value. And that's how you (hopefully) turn a franchise around.