It seems like years since Sam Darnold saw ghosts. Wasn’t that long ago at all. Halloween 2019.
But it was a different lifetime for the New England Patriots. Tom Brady was still their quarterback, the Patriots defense actually seemed worthy of their self-applied “Boogeymen” nickname, the Tampa Buccaneers sucked, Cam Newton was a Panther and an offseason spending spree was a foreign concept.
It was also a different time for Darnold who still figured to be the player the Jets would build around for the foreseeable future.
Now? Darnold’s a Panther. Some kid most of us never heard of in 2019 – Zach Wilson – is about to become the No. 2 pick and replace Darnold. And the Patriots are still scanning the horizon for any signs of quarterbacking life outside of Newton or Jarrett Stidham.
What does the Panthers' acquisition of Darnold do to the quarterbacking landscape?
Most immediately, it means they aren’t taking a quarterback with the eighth overall pick. We can already assume that the first three picks are going to be quarterbacks. With that early run, only two quarterbacks who seem worthy of first-round picks will remain.
The Falcons, at No. 4, are going to get offers to trade down. The Patriots, with the 15th pick, could be in that mix. So too could the Denver Broncos who hold the ninth pick. The Panthers, though, are out of the mix and that’s a good thing for New England. Less competition if they do indeed fancy (fancy?) one of the remaining quarterbacks enough to give up a boatload to get him.
And it will be a boatload since the Niners swapped first-rounders with Miami to get up to No. 3 and also gave the Dolphins a third-rounder and two more first-rounders.
After the fourth pick – regardless of who uses it – there will be one first-round quarterback remaining. The Patriots will then have to deal up to get ahead of Denver. More likely, in my opinion? They’ll sit tight, take the best player available at No. 15 and then just roll into 2021 with Newton and Stidham.
If the Panthers move on from Teddy Bridgewater, the Niners from Jimmy Garoppolo, or the Jags from Gardner Minshew, there’s three more quarterbacks released into the wild. The Patriots can then act as they see fit.
One thing the deal does indicate? The Niners' first-round asking price for Garoppolo is out-the-window aggressive. If Darnold, cost-controlled on the last two years of his rookie contract, only draws a second, a fourth and a sixth, Garoppolo at $25M a year isn’t going to attract teams lining up to pay that wage and a high pick.
Are the Patriots just waiting for other quarterbacks to be dislodged? Are they loading up for a deal into the top 10? Or are they just content to let the chips fall and roll with their newly-purchased talent and their uninspiring quarterback combo?
Feels like Door No. 3 to me.