Quarterbacks have remained the central focus of the 2021 offseason as several found new homes via trade. It started with Matthew Stafford departing Detroit for Los Angeles in a blockbuster deal. Then Carson Wentz followed suit, leaving Philadelphia for Indianapolis. The next domino to fall ended up being former #3 overall pick Sam Darnold. After three frustrating seasons, the New York Jets decided on a fresh start. So they sent him to the Carolina Panthers for 2nd, 4th, and 6th round picks.
It’s a mutually beneficial move. New York holds the 2nd overall pick and their new regime can pick their own quarterback. Meanwhile, Darnold gets away from the pressure cooker of that city to a much more modest market where he can look to resuscitate his career under a capable coaching staff. Where it gets interesting is who else was involved on the young quarterback prior to the deal coming into place.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network shined some light on this.
One would think several QB-needy teams would’ve checked in with the Jets on him at some point. The Chicago Bears being among them. They need a fresh start at QB as well. Darnold represents the sort of talent that can grow into something special. As it turns out? They never even inquired. Two other teams were involved in serious discussions for Darnold. The San Francisco 49ers and Washington Football Team.
Note on the #Jets trade of Sam Darnold to the #Panthers: Prior to FA, two teams to take a hard look at Darnold were the #49ers and WFT, sources say. Washington had conversations about it & SF inquired about what it would take to happen, tho NYJ wasn’t ready to make a move yet.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 7, 2021
No mention of the Bears, which is rather interesting. Remember Washington did pretty much the same thing as them. They signed a longtime veteran in Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal. Yet they still discussed Darnold. This would seem to indicate what has been theorized for some time. That Andy Dalton was pretty much the primary target for Chicago from the jump. Hence why coaches were reportedly “thrilled” when the team got him.
Why did the Bears not explore Sam Darnold?
There are a couple of reasons that might explain it. Timing is one thing. It was clear around the start of free agency that the Jets weren’t ready to part with Darnold yet. Their data on the 2021 draft class was still incomplete. If Chicago had waited to see if he became available, it almost certainly would’ve cost them their chance to sign Dalton. They couldn’t risk striking out on one while waiting out another who might not materialize.
The other possibility is the simple belief he wasn’t going to help them. Watching how Sam Darnold plays the game, he’s much more of a backyard style of quarterback. One who thrives on making plays outside the structure. Matt Nagy is a head coach who believes in structure. In executing the offense as it was drawn up. That is typical of the West Coast style of system. Improvisation is fine, but only if you can also do what the playbook demands. Darnold showed in New York he couldn’t always do that.
Granted, that wasn’t entirely his fault.
Former head coach Adam Gase did a poor job trying to develop him. The kid had no help in New York. His game deteriorated substantially as a result. He is going to need a significant amount of work in order to clean up most of the problems that plague him. We’re talking a year or two. This Bears regime doesn’t have that kind of time. They needed somebody who can help them win now. That is why Dalton became their guy.