While trades involving quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were agreed upon long before the start of free agency last month, the New York Jets didn’t decided to move Sam Darnold until the first week of April.
Why wait when potential options for a trade could dry up? Jets general manager Joe Douglas said it was important for him to see the quarterback prospects in this year’s draft class in person before making a final decision on their plans for the position moving forward.
“I don’t know how every team approaches a quarterback [evaluation], but I’ve always thought it was a golden rule—you don’t ever take a quarterback until you stand near or next to a guy and watch him throw the football,” Douglas said, via Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. “None of the top brass were able to get out to a BYU game this year. There were no all-star games, no combine. You could see Mac Jones at the Senior Bowl. But other than that, your only opportunity to stand there and watch them throw was at a pro day.
“To me, that’s huge for a quarterback.”
Douglas made sure to see all of the quarterbacks that are under consideration for the Jets with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft over the previous several weeks. BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance were all given an in-person look by Douglas.
“Almost every pro day I went to I got something out of,” Douglas said. “A guy like Trey Lance, I thought Trey Lance had a strong arm, I walked away from North Dakota State saying, Wow, this guy has better arm talent than I thought on the tape. Getting a sense for it, watching the ball come out of his hand, you’re there, field-level, you’re seeing it—Does the ball drop at all at the end of the throw, is it accelerating through the guy’s hands? You really get a sense for that, that you wouldn’t normally see on tape.”
Having had the chance to see the quarterbacks at their pro day workouts gave Douglas and the Jets the boost they needed to decide they could move on from Darnold with the confidence that their choice to replace him could handle the job.
Douglas said they had a trade offer for Darnold under heavy consideration before free agency but that they hadn’t gotten to a point where they’d felt comfortable with the prospects just yet due to the abnormal process this year.
“It was a strong offer,” Douglas said. “We told them, Look, there’s still a lot of boxes left to check. And we just don’t feel comfortable, in case something happens with one of the top two guys, we don’t want to get caught in a bad situation, like one of two guys fails a physical and then we don’t have Sam. So we didn’t do anything.”
Once they did finally get comfortable, the Jets traded Darnold to the Carolina Panthers as they reset the franchise with a new path ahead under Douglas’ leadership.