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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
It’s no surprise that quarterbacks make the NFL go round, whether in the regular season, the playoffs or the offseason.
We’ve already seen multiple blockbuster trades involving signal-callers in 2021. The Los Angeles Rams dealt two first-round picks and Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford, and the San Francisco 49ers invested three first-rounders to move up and grab a passer in this year’s draft.
Monday’s deal between the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers wasn’t that massive, but it was substantial nonetheless.
After his three disappointing years in the Big Apple, the Jets shipped young signal-caller Sam Darnold to the Panthers. As ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported, the Jets received a sixth-round pick in 2021 and second- and fourth-rounders in 2022 in exchange for the 2018 third overall pick.
It’s not a surprise Darnold was dealt, although the return New York didn’t get is an eyebrow-raiser. It means big changes in more than just New York and Charlotte, though. This deal sent ripples across the league that will also impact teams picking in the top 10 of the draft, which begins April 29, and a certain veteran quarterback who now appears to be the odd man out.
Here’s a breakdown of the fallout.
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George Frey/Associated Press
The first ripple isn’t exactly surprising. More mock drafts than not already had the New York Jets drafting a quarterback.
Now, there’s absolutely zero doubt. The only question is which signal-caller not named Trevor Lawrence will be headed to the Big Apple.
For some time now, the general consensus has been that Zach Wilson of BYU would be the pick. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young even believes that selection is all but locked in.
“The Jets have committed to Zach and recruited the family,” Young said on KNBR Sports Radio’s Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks podcast (h/t Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post). “I just don’t know how that gets undone, but you know, look, a lot can happen.”
Oh, a lot happened all right.
By trading Darnold, the Jets not only locked in a quarterback at No. 2 but also greatly increased the odds Wilson will play early in his first season.
Still, some think that could be a problem if Wilson is indeed the pick. While watching film of the 6’2″, 214-pounder, Ted Nguyen of The Athletic wrote that Wilson needs more development than he expected before scouting him:
“While Wilson’s talent will likely get him picked in the top 10, he is a project. The team that drafts him will have to be patient and comfortable in its ability to develop him. He can benefit from sitting his rookie year while sharpening up his technique and learning how to improve his mental processes. There’s more of a boom-or-bust factor with Wilson than I expected before breaking down his film.”
It will now be awfully hard for the new regime in New York to exercise that level of patience with Wilson.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t generally had a ton of success in the NFL draft. The list of first-round busts over the last 30 years is…substantial.
But the Bengals appeared to land a long-term answer at quarterback in Joe Burrow last year. And while the 2021 draft has yet to happen, they are already having one of the best years of any team in the top 10.
We already knew the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall. You can offer caveats until the cows come home, but that’s what will happen. We also knew the San Francisco 49ers didn’t mortgage the future to move up to No. 3 overall and draft a wide receiver. Now we know the Jets are 100 percent locked into taking a signal-caller at No. 2.
Only the Atlanta Falcons stand between the Bengals and their choice of any non-quarterback in the class. And as Albert Breer reported for Sports Illustrated, the Falcons are open to trading down.
Say that Cincinnati is torn between Burrow’s old LSU running mate (wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase) and a mauling tackle to watch his backside (Oregon tackle Penei Sewell). In a worst-case scenario, the Bengals would be guaranteed to have access to one of them at No. 5.
All it takes is a quarterback-hungry team like the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots to move up to No. 4 for the Bengals to have their pick of any position player available.
Now they just need to choose wisely.
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Mike McCarn/Associated Press
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper made it clear on the Amazon series All or Nothing (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk) that he intends for the quarterback position to be a strength on his team.
“This league is set to be an 8-8 league,” Tepper said. “Everything is fair in this league. So if you have better coaches, better GMs, some advantages with facilities, advantages with the training, management process, whatever those, whatever it is, you know, analytics, whatever that is to give you an edge, that’s what you need. And you need a good quarterback.”
Tepper showed he wasn’t just blowing smoke by swinging the deal for Darnold. Whether the third overall pick in 2018 is a clear upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater is debatable, but it also means the Panthers might not be done yet in the 2021 draft.
Given Tepper’s fixation on landing a star quarterback and the fact Darnold is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, the Panthers could either draft another quarterback at No. 8 overall or even trade up. After all, Carolina gave up essentially nothing in the 2021 draft that would prevent another move.
The more likely scenario is Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer making it known that the No. 8 pick, which could very well be the last call for a top-five quarterback in this class, is now up for sale.
Trading back just a spot or two could land Carolina a 2022 second-rounder after it sent one to New York in the Darnold deal.
There is absolutely going to be interest in the pick.
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
Just over one year ago, Teddy Bridgewater signed a three-year, $63 million contract to replace Cam Newton as the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers.
Here’s hoping he rented instead of buying because the 28-year-old is probably changing teams again.
Bridgewater’s lone season in Carolina wasn’t especially impressive. While he completed a career-high 69.1 percent of his passes, he managed just 15 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions, won just four of his 15 starts and barely cleared 3,700 passing yards. Even if the Panthers can find a taker, the team still stands to eat $10 million in dead-cap charges.
However, Carolina could also clear just under $13 million off the books. And while Bridgewater wasn’t great last season, he also wasn’t terrible. A few teams could be willing to offer up a mid-round pick to land the veteran.
The New England Patriots could view Bridgewater as a younger alternative to Newton. While the Washington Football Team already added Ryan Fitzpatrick, it theoretically has the cap space to hedge that bet and acquire Bridgewater. Following Deshaun Watson’s trade demand and the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, the Houston Texans could be in the market for a quarterback.
Still, the most likely trade partner has to be the Denver Broncos. They have a clear hole at the game’s most important position since Drew Lock is no kind of long-term option, and they have the financial room with $28.3 million in cap space.
But there’s one more reason the Broncos should have interest in Bridgewater, and it’s because…
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Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
If the Denver Broncos were looking to land a replacement for Drew Lock at No. 9 overall, they might want to reconsider.
There is now a reasonably plausible scenario in which the draft’s top five passers are already gone by the time Denver is on the clock. At this point, the first three picks are going to be quarterbacks. You can take that to the bank.
That brings us to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4. As previously mentioned, they are reportedly willing to trade back in Round 1. The Detroit Lions at No. 7 could move down, as well. And now that the Panthers might have an upgrade under center in Darnold, the No. 8 pick could also be in play.
That’s three spots at which quarterbacks Nos. 4 and 5 could get selected, and that leaves the Broncos with four options of varying palatability.
The first is punting on a quarterback in Round 1 and rolling out Lock again. (That groan you just heard was from Denver’s fanbase.)
The second is staying put and rolling the dice that a quarterback makes it to No. 9. But the odds of that happening are getting longer by the day.
Option No. 3 is trading up. The Broncos are better positioned in that regard than a team like the New England Patriots because they wouldn’t be trying to climb as far up the board. But it still wouldn’t be cheap. A jump to No. 4 would likely cost a first-rounder in 2022, and even a move up a spot or two would cost a Day 2 pick (and likely more).
Option No. 4 is using that top-10 pick on a position player and swinging a deal for Bridgewater, which could make the most sense of the lot from a cost perspective.