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Could Sam Darnold be traded to the Colts?

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Jets have one of, if not the worst, coaching, front office and personnel situations in all of football. Their coach is hated by players, fans and media, their front-office hasn’t been able to acquire good talent in a long time and their team is one of the worst in terms of talent. Sam Darnold, a former third overall pick, is having his career wasted in one of the worst environments and the 23 year old is still young enough in that a change of scenery could be what he needs to completely turn his career around. Darnold already has three years of experience, is a former third overall pick and is younger than Joe Burrow, all of which show just how high his ceiling can be.

With that being said, could Darnold be traded to the Colts? Indianapolis has quarterback questions, especially in the long-term, so a young quarterback in Darnold could potentially solve a major issue. How much would it cost and is it worth it?


The Colts Quarterback Situation Today & Moving Forward

The Colts currently have three quarterbacks on the roster:

  • Philip Rivers
  • Jacoby Brissett
  • Jacob Eason

Rivers and Brissett are both free agents in 2021, and based on their play over the last two seasons (Rivers this year and Brissett last year) I’d be surprised if Ballard even looks at them after the season, let alone thinks about re-signing either. Both are taking up approximately 46M in cap space, which is an absurd amount considering their current talent level.

Jacob Eason is a bit of a wildcard, but he had to fight for the 3rd quarterback spot in the shortened offseason and with no preseason games or in-game experience, he is far from ready to play in an NFL game. He was already a raw prospect coming out of college and with little experience, he is the definition of a project. I highly doubt he will be in the conversation for the starting spot next year or even in 2022. As a fourth round pick, he might not even be on the roster next season!


Sam Darnold’s Career

Darnold has a 31-39 record with a 39:32 touchdown to interception ratio and 6681 passing yards (6.7 YPA) on a 59.8% completion percentage. He has spent the last two seasons with Adam Gase, which have been disastrous and he spent his rookie season under Todd Bowles as his head coach and Jeremy Bates as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Bates has not worked in the NFL since his firing in 2018. It’s clear he’s never had the right staff around him, but how is he as a player?

Instead of breaking down specific good throws, I found a good video of his best throws from 2019 which showcases good touch, movement in the pocket, good arm strength and the improvisational ability that all quarterbacks in today’s age need. It’s important to note that these are just his best throws, which showcases how good he CAN be and not how good he is.

I wrote a scouting report on Darnold for the 2018 Stampede Blue NFL Draft Guide and I wasn’t very high on him at the time. He was an unfinished product, who had many mechanical flaws, wasn’t safe with the ball and lacked a lot of experience. Three years later, not much has changed and his environment has a much to do with that then him. I only gave him a late 2nd round grade, despite the fact he was the 3rd overall pick, but I did believe his ceiling would be as a borderline top 10 quarterback and I still believe that. The good thing is he’s still young enough that his ceiling could still be reached.

In terms of his lowlights, it’s ugly. In 2018 (rookie season), 7.5% of his passes should have been intercepted. He forces the ball a lot and gets punished with a lot of interceptions (32 interceptions in 30 games is a lot and those don’t count dropped or missed interceptions). Here is a video that showcases his lowlights in year 1 and 2. He stares down his targets, forces bad throws, makes bad decisions and lacks some awareness. Good coaching, a good offensive line and receiver corps plus learning with Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, two veterans, could help a lot with this. This video does show the downside of his game.

As you can see, there is a big range with Darnold. His good play is fantastic and looks like a top 10 quarterback and his bad stuff barely qualifies him as a backup. The good news with his bad stuff is that with a good quarterback coach and mentorship, it can be fixed. This isn’t an unfixable issue such as arm strength, very poor athleticism or extremely bad accuracy. The bulk of his issues happen with his head, which as mentioned before, can be fixed.


Sam Darnold’s Value

How much is he worth? If the Colts were to trade for him, how much would it cost them? According to Adam Schefter, he believes the Jets would not be able to get a 1st round pick for Darnold based on what he’s heard from general managers around the league.

Schefter relays good points from other general managers; it would be tough for the Jets to get a lot for Darnold if teams know they are going for Trevor Lawrence and the first overall pick and knowing Darnold has struggled this season with injuries. He believes the Rosen deal to Miami, which costed the Dolphins a 2nd and 5th round pick, would be a good starting point for most teams. While Rosen is not a good quarterback now (and on the Bucs’ practice squad), at the time of the trade, he was in a similar situation as Darnold and did start several games in his rookie season.

A general manager said “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.”

I believe the Jets should be able to get a 2nd round pick for him for the following reasons:

  • He’s young with a lot of potential
  • There seems to be a good amount of demand for him, which would drive up the price
  • He’s been screwed in terms of coaching, so a team would be more inclined to believe they can “turn him around”, making the risk more worth it

I believe his value sits at a 2021 2nd round pick and a 2022 3rd round pick or a 2021 2nd round pick and a 2021 4th round pick. Both come out to around the same thing, it would just depend on what the Jets general manager values more.


Is It Worth It?

When it comes to the quarterback position, it’s worth taking risks. It’s the most important position on the football field and if you hit big, your team can win a Super Bowl. The difference between a good quarterback and a great quarterback is what has led to many Super Bowl wins. Alex Smith was a very good quarterback for many years in Kansas City; the Chiefs took a huge gamble trading up for Patrick Mahomes, an unproven, raw quarterback in the top 10. Mahomes sat out a season to develop with the best coaches and a great mentor in Smith and in his 2nd season he won the MVP. In his third season, the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. The addition of Mahomes is what put the Chiefs over the top, even though they could’ve remained contenders with Smith at the helm. There are many examples of this throughout history.

I believe it’s worth the risk for the Colts. The Colts are going to be picking, at the very worst, in the mid-teens based on how their team is playing this year and their schedule. Even if they were to package their 1st and 2nd round pick from this year plus a future 1st round pick, that would not be close to enough to get a generational talent in Trevor Lawrence and might not even be enough to get them into the top 3. There are some other talented quarterbacks in the mix, such as Justin Fields or Kyle Trask but are just as risky as a player like Darnold and would cost more. I don’t believe the draft is a good place for the Colts to look for quarterbacks. The other day I wrote about the Colts potentially targeting Dak Prescott and while I think there’s a chance that could happen, the Colts getting Darnold is more realistic.

Considering the Colts only have one quarterback on the roster next season (Jacob Eason), their two current players right now are not viable options for 2021 and the market for quarterbacks is someone thin, I think it’s worth it for the Colts to take a risk and trade their 2nd round pick and a future 3rd round pick for Sam Darnold. If it doesn’t pan out, the Colts still would have a 1st and 3rd round pick in this year’s draft plus their 1st and 2nd round pick in next year’s draft, so it’s not a very risky trade for the Colts. If he pans out, then they have their QB1 for years to come.