The winless New York Jets only have to look at the opposing quarterback Sunday to see how another team handled a franchise-altering decision of the kind that they may face before the 2021 NFL draft.
The Jets (0-4) are solidly in the running for the No. 1 overall pick, which would mean the chance to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But they also have 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold, who was in the same draft class as Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Josh Rosen.
One year after trading up in the first round to select Rosen, the Cardinals — who play the Jets in New York on Sunday — used the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 on Kyler Murray and traded Rosen to the Miami Dolphins for second- and fifth-round picks.
A handful of NFL executives surveyed this week told ESPN they believe the Jets would receive similar compensation in a trade for Darnold if they finish with the No. 1 overall pick and decide that’s the route they want to pursue.
“I don’t think they’d get a [first-round pick] for Sam, but it also depends what he puts on tape the rest of the year,” one general manager told ESPN. “The problem is, [Darnold] is struggling with his accuracy, his durability — so they’re in a tough spot. And if everyone knows the Jets are taking a quarterback, then they won’t get as much back.”
Another GM also predicted the Jets wouldn’t get back a first-round pick for Darnold.
“The high-water mark would be a [second-round pick] for him,” one GM said this weekend. “I think they could get a [fourth-round pick] for him, but if he finished positive for him, they might get a 2 for him. In college, he was a turnover machine. In the NFL, he has been a turnover machine. I just don’t think he has the credentials to go for a 1.”
A third GM cautioned that a first-round pick was possible, adding, “If you still believe the guy is a top-pick-caliber QB, and consider his circumstances, you don’t close the door on it.”
But if the Jets were to want a first-round pick for Darnold, it would take the right formula and combination to make it work: a quarterback-needy team, out of position to select one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the 2021 draft, yet one that believes in Darnold and had a high grade on him coming out of USC. Teams potentially in that category this offseason could include the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints.
Whichever team that may decide to pursue a Darnold trade also would have to be willing to pick up his fifth-year option for about $24 million without ever having seen him practice, just one more complication to a deal.
Darnold will not play Sunday against the Cardinals because of a shoulder injury, meaning veteran Joe Flacco will start under center for the Jets. It marks the third time in Darnold’s short career that he has missed time. As a rookie in 2018, he missed three games with a sprained foot. He also missed three games last season as he recovered from mononucleosis.
Darnold, 23, has completed 59.4% of his passes this season for 792 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. The Jets are 0-6 when Darnold doesn’t start over the past three seasons, averaging 10.9 fewer points per game.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini contributed to this report.