The third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, Darnold has three seasons under his belt, but most fans still truly have no idea whether he can be a long-term answer at quarterback.
The Panthers were willing to roll the dice to see if his draft pedigree could materialize into something they could work with for the near future.
Carolina didn’t have to do this, but they picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option, which will pay the young quarterback over $18 million fully guaranteed for the 2022 season.
This doesn’t preclude them from moving him if he has a bad season in 2021, but it was an interesting call for a franchise who hasn’t yet seen him play a down in their system.
Projecting what a contract extension for Darnold might look like would first imply that a prediction is made on how he’ll play this season in a change of scenery.
Sam Darnold is heading down to the Panthers in return for a 6th round pick and next years 2nd & 4th!
— The Pigskin Panel (@ThePigskinPanel) April 5, 2021
It’s possible he could light it up, and motivate Carolina to sign him to a sizeable deal.
It’s also entirely plausible he puts more inconsistent play on tape, and has to play out his fifth NFL season without any assurances.
Predicting Darnold’s 2021 Season
Despite having missed a few games in each of his three seasons in the NFL, Darnold’s physical skills in terms of mobility or tools to play quarterback aren’t really in question.
SAM DARNOLD DID THAT. #TakeFlight
— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2020
Barring some bad luck or an ill-fated hit from a defender, he should be present under center each and every week.
Since we’re making the assumption he’ll be on the field, his effectiveness on the gridiron should improve from his previous seasons in New York.
It may be a gross oversimplification, but playing with a guy like Christian McCaffery may change the narrative for the fourth-year quarterback.
CMC’s presence stands to help any quarterback to be sure, but his strengths will help mitigate Darnold’s perceived weaknesses.
The former USC signal-caller has had issues with interceptions (averaging 13 per season so far in his career) and sacks taken(averaging 32.6 each year of his career).
Having McCaffery as an elite option around the line of scrimmage to help streamline the game for Darnold figures to be an enormous positive.
The Panthers play in one of the most difficult divisions in the NFL, so their win-loss record might not significantly improve over 2020.
However, Darnold should put forth a compelling case to be the franchise’s answer at quarterback in 2021.
Completion Percentage: 62%
Predicted Contract: 2 Year Extension, $60 Million Total Value, $55 Million Guaranteed
Throughout recent seasons, fans are used to seeing quarterbacks receiving extensions that are lengthy and lucrative in nature.
The compensation level for elite talent at each position continues to increase each time a player is eligible for an extension, it seems.
If he is able to put forth the type of season projected above, expect him to receive a deal more in line with the one Kirk Cousins received with the Minnesota Vikings.
Darnold will probably be signed for 2-3 years, with his contract nearly fully guaranteed, at a lower total contract value range than his aforementioned peers.