San Francisco 49ers Rumors: Will the Team Trade For Sam Darnold?
In the weeks leading up to the draft, what the New York Jets decide to do with Darnold could set off a chain reaction that impacts many teams looking for a quarterback. The Jets currently have the second overall pick in the draft. Conventional wisdom has stated that they are going to take a quarterback at that spot. The Jets seemingly want to start fresh at that position under newly hired head coach Robert Saleh. He was formerly the defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Perhaps that friendly relationship makes a potential 49ers trade with the Jets that much easier.
Darnold has spent the first three seasons of his career marred by a dysfunctional organization that has in all likelihood stunted his growth as a player. Darnold certainly has the tools to be a successful quarterback in this league. It is unclear how much his struggles are the result of a bad situation with the Jets. A coach somewhere around the league who believes that he can tap into his potential will acquire Darnold from the Jets. Shanahan was very impressed with Darnold in the lead up to the 2018 draft in which Darnold went third overall.
Cap Flexibility Key Factor
There are reasons to be excited at the prospect of him becoming the 49ers quarterback for a relatively small price. Setting aside the belief that Darnold has yet to reach his ceiling as a starting quarterback, his contract situation makes him appealing for the 49ers. In an offseason in which the team has multiple free agents that could leave, replacing a quarterback with a hefty salary with a relatively modest one could allow financial flexibility.
Darnold represents a cap hit next season at $9.8 million. He also is not guaranteed any money beyond this upcoming season.
He has a fifth-year option. Essentially Darnold can be viewed as a one-year proposition for any team seeking to acquire him.
That is enticing for any team unsure of whether Darnold can be a viable starter in this league projecting into the future. That is almost certainly most teams at this point.
While there is a case that his underachievement with the Jets was a product of organizational disfunction, no evidence exists yet showing he actually can put up decent production on a more stable team. A Darnold trade would be a one-year audition for the team acquiring him. Then they could decide to exercise that option for another year before Darnold hits free agency in 2023.
Pros of a 49ers Sam Darnold Trade
There are pros and cons to the 49ers acquiring Darnold. It is the type of decision requiring vigorous due diligence. Maybe he only needs the right system and coaches to unleash his full potential. That is what makes him such an interesting case. There is a reason that he went third overall just three years ago. He went four selections above Josh Allen. After this past season, Allen looks like he is approaching elite quarterback status. Perhaps Darnold would immediately show more signs of why he went that high if he were to go elsewhere.
Having a starting quarterback on their rookie deal is such a luxury for a team from a financial aspect. It allows other parts of the lineup attention through significant payroll allocation. Established starting quarterbacks eat up as much as 10-15% of payroll on the deal they get after that rookie contract. A starting quarterback making less than $10 million per season allows the team financial flexibility throughout the rest of their payroll. The 49ers can save significant amounts of money if Darnold is their highest-paid quarterback on the roster next season. It is unlikely that Jimmy Garoppolo gets traded to the Jets in any trade involving Darnold. They would presumably be taking a quarterback at number two.
Garoppolo only has a dead cap value of $2.8 million next season. Releasing him this offseason would give the 49ers about $42.4 million in cap space. Even when adding Darnold’s contract to the payroll, it would still give the team the type of cap space to bring back key free agents.
Cons of 49ers Acquiring Darnold
As far as the negatives of acquiring Darnold, most of what makes him enticing as a starting quarterback remain hypotheticals. Yes, the Jets have likely limited the type of player he would currently be had another organization drafted him. It is still unclear just how much he has been held back by that dysfunction, though. It is possible that Darnold just would not have been an above-average starting quarterback in the NFL regardless of where he ended up. Drafting quarterbacks is an inexact science. Plenty of quarterbacks drafted as high as Darnold, and even ahead of other quarterbacks who became stars, didn’t pan out in the league.
The 49ers might have reached the peak of what they could achieve with Garoppolo as their quarterback. It is important to note that it is also clear that his track record reveals that the floor is still pretty high when he is healthy, though. Garoppolo’s record as the starter on this team the last few seasons reveals that the team is in a great position if seen as their fallback option for next season. It is unknown if Darnold would ensure the same confidence as Garoppolo would in just allowing the team to be a viable playoff contender. Yes, Garoppolo is flawed as a quarterback. However, with this roster, it is apparent that he can adequately help steer the ship to success. The track record proves that.
Maybe Darnold has the potential to take this team further than Garoppolo can. However, it is at least, if not more, likely that Darnold would not play as well as Garoppolo has played on this team. Darnold is the great unknown. Choosing him over Garoppolo as their starter for next season seems like a risky bet on its surface when only taking into account the quarterback position.
49ers Could Still Draft a Quarterback
They may roll the dice on Darnold for a season while also drafting a quarterback with their number 12 overall pick. They could try out Darnold for a season with no commitment beyond that. Those savings can bring back key free agents. The team would also have a quarterback they took at number 12 that can presumably lead the team shortly.
It will likely come down to how they view Garoppolo relative to the money he is making. If they believe he can lead the team to a championship, they will view his contract as a solid deal and just the price of doing business. It is easy to see why they would be interested in acquiring Darnold, though. The upside is high. The price is low.
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