QB Sam Darnold says uncertainty ahead of trade to Carolina Panthers was 'tough' to deal with

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As thrilled as Sam Darnold appears to get a second chance with the Carolina Panthers, he admitted it was tough moving on from the team that drafted him and even tougher being kept in limbo the past three months while the New York Jets explored their options at quarterback.

"That was tough. I'm not going to lie,'' Darnold said Monday in his first public comments since the Jets traded him a week ago. "That was the tough part for me, just because ... I'm a planner. I like to have things planned out and what the next step was going to be.

"The uncertainty there was, for lack of a better term, driving me insane.''

The Jets never committed to Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft, after the 2020 season as they evaluated what they might do with the second pick of this year's draft. It wasn't until Ohio State's pro day on March 30 that talks with Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer escalated.

Six days later, the Panthers gave New York a sixth-rounder in 2021 and a second-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2022 to complete the deal.

Darnold called the trade "bittersweet'' because he never accomplished the goals he had set for himself coming out of USC.

"Obviously, getting drafted as high as I did, my expectations were to go in there, play 20 years and win Super Bowls,'' he said. "That was the dream, but obviously it didn't work out.

"Anytime you go somewhere and set lofty goals and those goals aren't met, that's tough. When I heard the news they wanted to trade me, that was tough. Anytime you're not wanted somewhere, that's always a tough pill to swallow.''

Darnold was 13-25 in three seasons with the Jets, including 2-10 last season. He had 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions with a completion rate of 59.8%.

He finished as the NFL's lowest-rated passer in 2020 (72.7), 36th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks. His career passer rating of 78.6 ranks 39th out of 39 since 2018.

Asked if the Jets gave up on him too soon, Darnold danced around with his answer.

"For me, personally, I believed I could make it work in New York,'' he said. "Now that the trade has happened, obviously that frame of thinking doesn't do me any good anymore. I'm ready to start here at Carolina and hit the ground running.''

Darnold had some fun when asked what kind of advice he'd give his successor, who is likely to be BYU's Zach Wilson, according to draft analysts.

"Have fun and don't pay attention to the media,'' Darnold said with a laugh. "Nah, I'm joking, guys. The first part is definitely true. Just have fun with it. At the end of the day, it's football.''

The Panthers traded for Darnold after failing to complete a deal for then-Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and realizing that the top three picks of the draft -- belonging to Jacksonville, the Jets and theSan Francisco 49ers -- likely would be quarterbacks.

Coach Matt Rhule doesn't believe Darnold's statistics or record define who the quarterback can be.

"You see his arm talent,'' he said on a Zoom call prior to Darnold's. "I don't think there's a game you watch where he doesn't make a play that makes you say, 'There it is.' He can fit the ball into tight windows and create with his feet. He moves around a ton. He extends plays with his legs.

"His arm talent and movement are a great fit for the players we have here that he'll be playing with.''

Rhule acknowledged that Carolina has given last year's quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, permission to talk to other teams.

"We'll just have to let that play out,'' he said. "Obviously we brought Sam here because we think he can play at a very high level.''

Rhule said Darnold, who doesn't turn 24 until June, gives Carolina the flexibility to take the best player available at No. 8 in the draft. He didn't rule out taking a quarterback there even though there are needs at left tackle and cornerback.

"We'll look at anything and everything,'' he said. "We recognize maybe there are positions we'd like to address in the draft, either via draft-day trades, post-draft trades or in the draft. I do think with the eighth pick you take the best available player. Now, if two guys are close, you take the guy that fits your need as well.''

Darnold said everything you would expect him to say about the Panthers and what they offer in terms of giving him a chance to win. He laughed about how owner David Tepper said he could come to him for advice on business or finance anytime.

He can't wait to play with running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Robby Anderson, his favorite target with the Jets in 2018-19, in addition to other pieces.

Reminded that Jets general manager Joe Douglas once promised Darnold's mother "to do everything in my power to take care of Sam with protection and playmakers,'' Darnold said he had nothing but respect for Douglas.

"With the promise to my mom, we all know how it is by now,'' he said. "It's a business. It's just what it is. I'll be able to go home and make sure she feels a little bit better now.

"Like I said, it's a business. My mom, I think she understands that now.''

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