We are within three weeks of the 2021 NFL Draft and the draft board is starting to take shape. It’s just about a foregone conclusion that the Jacksonville Jaguars, led by first-year NFL head coach and longtime college coach Urban Meyer, will select quarterback out of Clemson Trevor Lawrence.
After the New York Jets pulled the upset 23-20 road victory over the Los Angeles Rams, they essentially took themselves out of the Lawrence sweepstakes. However, on March 26th, the BYU Cougars had their pro day and it seemed evident that the New York Jets were smitten with their quarterback, Zach Wilson. That same day, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch traded up to the No. 3 selection for one of the remaining big three quarterbacks: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, or Alabama’s Mac Jones.
It was expected that Jets’ general manager Joe Douglas would want to select “his guy.’’ I’m sure he has no desire to have a draft pick in the top five in the upcoming years. There was a decision that had to be made about the Jets former third overall selection in the 2018 draft; the quandary was about quarterback Sam Darnold’s fifth-year option which was going to be worth $18.8 million, and had to be acknowledged by May 3 of this year.
Darnold hasn’t been given the best situation. His weapons were sub-par (at best), his coaching has been a real issue, and he struggled with injuries (and mononucleosis). He has a career touchdown/interception ratio of 45-39 while throwing for 8,097 yards, with a completion rate of 59.8 percent. The situation was suboptimal, but he was still prone to poor decision making, bad turnovers, and not being able to consistently generate offense. There are throws on his tape that really jump out, but the Jets made the decision to reset the clock and go after one of these quarterbacks - more than likely BYU’s Zach Wilson.
It’s Matt Rhule’s Carolina Panthers who traded for the young quarterback; the Jets receive a 2021 sixth-round pick, and 2022 second- and fourth-round selections for the 23-year-old. Incumbent starter of the Panthers, Teddy Bridgewater, is on the second year of his three-year, $63 million deal. Carolina lost far too many one score games last year and Bridgewater was a bit uninspiring, throwing 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
I really like this trade for both parties. The Panthers receive a young quarterback who many believed was a can’t miss kind of guy coming out of USC. He has promise and pedigree and he can be groomed by Rhule. The Jets, not having much leverage, were still able to extract a 2022 second round pick, and two additional selections.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Darnold to unlock his potential in Carolina with the minds of Rhule and the offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who helped the 2019 LSU Tigers win a National Championship. Many credit Brady with the meteoric ascension of 2020 first overall selection Joe Burrow.
There are reports that indicate that the Panthers will pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option which is sensible. Panthers general manager Scott Fiitterer’s alluded to a bit of uncertainty with Bridgewater.
”I think there’s things we have to work through, obviously. I already talked to Teddy’s agents. We’re gonna find the right place, whether it’s here, wherever it may be, we’ll figure things out, contract-wise, as well.”
Darnold has upgraded his weapons, his coaching staff, and, hopefully, this new slate can inspire some revitalized confidence and energy into the young player - he’s certainly a winner in this deal. I’m sure the likes of Christian McCaffery, D.J. Moore, and his former teammate Robbie Anderson can also help chaporne him towards success.
Sponsors have suspended their partnership with Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson. Nike stated they are deeply concerned about the allegations against Watson and they will “monitor the situations closely.” Watson has been accused by 22 women in civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct during massage encounters. Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin calls the claims “meritless.” There are still a lot of unknowns with this situation as the investigation is ongoing.
In other news, the Bengals have released long time third-down back Giovanni Bernard. The former second-round pick out of UNC will likely latch onto a team needy for a pass catching running back with experience. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins believes he can recapture his career in Baltimore; the 27-year-old was in one of the better draft classes in recent memory - 2014. The class consisted of Odell Beckham Jr, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry, and Allen Robinson - Watkins was the first one selected after a trade up to four. Watkins will now join a Ravens receiving room that consists of Marquise Brown, Devin Duvernay, Miles Boykin, James Proche, and even Binjimen Victor.
Carolina also signed A.J. Bouye this past week. Once thought of as a top 15 cornerback in the league, especially during his last year in Houston and his first two years in Jacksonville playing opposite of Jalen Ramsey, he’s now just a solid cornerback coming off an injury plagued year with the Broncos. The 29-year-old will likely slide into the second cornerback spot opposite Donte Jackson.
In college football news, three Notre Dame players had to miss their combine medical checks due to positive COVID-19 test results. The three players were tackle, and potential late day one selection, Liam Eichenberg; bullying offensive guard, and probable day two pick, Aaron Banks; and day three EDGE rusher Ade Ogundeji. These medical checks are important and the plan is to bring these players back to Indianapolis once they clear protocol in 10-days.