The Philadelphia Eagles’ blockbuster trade of quarterback Carson Wentz didn’t exactly bring them a blockbuster return. In the end, they couldn’t even get an unconditional first-round pick for their former franchise quarterback.
So what does that mean for the Jets, if they ever do decide to trade Sam Darnold?
Probably not much.
Darnold’s trade value, according to multiple league sources, is probably the same as it was before the Eagles made their deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday. The Eagles got a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that could become a first-rounder if Wentz meets some playing time incentives.
The return for Darnold, according to those sources, has long been projected to be a second-round pick, plus maybe another mid-to-late rounder. And those sources told SNY on Thursday after the Wentz deal was made that their thinking on Darnold’s value hasn’t changed.
“Why would it?” said one NFL source. “It’s hard to compare the two situations anyway. I could make the argument that Wentz is the more valuable quarterback. But another team is going to say that Darnold has a higher ceiling.
“In the end it’ll come down to what it always comes down to: How badly does somebody want him, and how many teams are involved?”
Those factors are hard to predict, especially since Darnold isn’t currently on the market. There definitely could be more teams interested in the 23-year-old Darnold than there was for the 28-year-old Wentz, who was reportedly only seriously pursued by the Colts and the Chicago Bears. The Bears dropped out earlier in the week, ending the Eagles’ hopes of a bidding war. In fact, they may have only gotten as much as they did because the Colts coach, Frank Reich, was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator when Wentz had his best season back in 2017.
Wentz actually had three strong seasons from 2017-19, which is another big difference between him and Darnold. In that stretch, Wentz had a completion percentage in the mid-60s, either topped 4,000 yards or was on a 4,000-yard pace each season, and totaled 81 touchdowns with just 21 interceptions. Darnold obviously has nothing on his resume that can compare to that. Even last year, when Wentz was bad, Darnold was worse.
There are many around the NFL who believe strongly in Darnold’s potential and believe his struggles were the result of poor coaching and a bad surrounding cast. But his lack of any decent production in three years could be difficult for some to discount.
“There are so many unknowns with Darnold,” said another NFL source. “He’s got a ton of potential, but he’s also had three years to show it. You’re taking a chance that he’ll be better away from the Jets, that he’s not damaged goods. He probably will be good in a better situation.
“But then you’ve only got a year to figure him out before you have to pay him, too.”
Wentz, of course, has already been paid, getting a four-year, $128 million contract extension in 2019 that included more than $100 million in guaranteed money. But even that wasn’t quite the anchor on his trade value that it appeared to be. The Eagles will still bear the burden of that deal, even after the trade, since they have to absorb an NFL-record $33.8 million in dead money on their 2021 salary cap.
The Colts, meanwhile, get a franchise quarterback at a relatively affordable price. Wentz’s cap numbers with the Colts are $25.4 million, $22 million, $25 million and $26 million the next four years. He’s also easily cuttable after the 2022 season when his guaranteed money ends. And while Darnold’s cap number in 2021 is only $9.8 million, that number will balloon to about $25 million in 2022 if his fifth-year option is picked up this May – something any team that trades for him would surely do. That alone would make him more expensive than Wentz, and that’s before any talk of a lucrative contract extension which would figure to cost a lot more.
“In the short-term it’s cheaper to have Darnold,” said one NFL executive. “But no one is going to trade for an untested, 23-year-old quarterback thinking it’s for the short-term.”
So Darnold is cheaper now, but might be more expensive later. Wentz has been far more productive, but Darnold might have more potential. Darnold might have more interested teams, but Wentz drew the interest of a former coach. It all depends on what’s most important to the teams involved.
The good news for the Jets, should they ever decide to trade Darnold, is there still could be plenty of teams involved. The Bears, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and the Washington Football Team all reportedly called about Matthew Stafford before the Detroit Lions traded him to the Los Angeles Rams. So they’re all in the quarterback market to some extent and most figure to at least call about Darnold, too. And throw in Pittsburgh too, since Steelers GM Kevin Colbert sounded uncertain about whether Ben Roethlisberger would be the Steelers quarterback next year.
If enough of them really want Darnold, then maybe a late first-round pick or a future first-rounder is possible. It’s just not what everyone expects.
“A bidding war is always a possibility,” said one of the NFL sources. “Is it likely? Even with all those teams involved, you’re still talking about a guy who hasn’t even had one good year.”