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Can Sam Darnold Follow Path of Other QBs Who Rejuvenated Careers With a New Team?

With the New York Jets sitting at 0-13 and on pace for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, there has been plenty of speculation that Trevor Lawrence is on his way in – and thus, Sam Darnold is on his way out. The third overall pick in 2018, Darnold could certainly benefit from a fresh start with a new team.

It wouldn’t be the first time a change of scene has rejuvenated a quarterback’s career.

It’s happened several times in recent years. Let’s look back at a few examples:

Ryan Tannehill

Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is one of the more prominent examples of this phenomenon. Tannehill was selected eighth overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2012. He spent six seasons with Miami, most of which could be classified as average.

– He threw 12 or more INTs in five of six seasons with the Dolphins

– He tore his ACL in the 2016 season, missing the team’s final three regular-seaosn games that year

Miami traded Tannehill (along with a 2019 sixth-round selection) to the Titans in March of 2019, receiving a fourth-round pick in 2020 and a seventh-round selection in the 2019 draft.

Tannehill has excelled in a Titans offense that is centered around Derrick Henry and the play-action. In 2019, Tannehill produced 1,095 passing yards off the play-action pass. After replacing Marcus Mariota in 2019, Tannehill was able to lead the Titans to the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Following this strong effort, Tannehill was awarded a four-year, $118 million deal with $91 million guaranteed.

Tannehill has continued his solid play in 2020. through 13 games, he’s completed 265 of 403 attempts (65.8%) for 3,209 yards, 28 TDs, 5 INTs and a 108.0 QB rating.

Matt Cassel

Matt Cassel was able to lead the 2008 New England Patriots to an 11-5 season after Tom Brady went down with an ACL injury in Week 2 of the season.

Cassel was drafted by New England in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. He spent three years on the Patriot bench behind Brady. When he stepped into the QB1 role, Cassel threw for 3,693 yards, completing 63.4% of his passes, and tallied 21 TDs and 11 INTs. During the offseason, the Patriots traded Cassel to the Chiefs, who signed him to a 6-year, $62.7 million contract in July of 2009.

In the 2010, Cassel led the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and their first AFC West division championship in seven years, earning an alternate Pro Bowl spot in the process.

Nick Foles

Nick Foles’ story, as we know, is unique. Following the 2017 season, Foles contemplated retirement, but in February of 2018, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and was named the Super Bowl MVP.

Foles’ up-and-down career:

2012: Foles was drafted by the Eagles in the third round (88th overall). He struggled a bit in his first season, going 1-5 before being placed on IR in late December.

2013: Foles set an NFL record for the best TD-to-INT ratio during this season (Brady broke his record in 2017 with 28 TDs and 2 INTs). Named to the Pro Bowl and was named offensive Pro Bowl MVP.

2014: Went 6-2 as a starter with 2,163 passing yards, 13 TDs and 10 INTs before suffering a season-ending collarbone injury in Week 9.

2015: Foles was traded to the Rams after going 10-6; he signed a 2-year, $24.54 million contract before the season began.

2016: The Rams released Foles; he joins Kansas City to back up Alex Smith

2017: Foles return to Philadelphia to back up Carson Wentz. After Wentz tears his ACL in Week 14, Foles carries the Eagles to a Super Bowl win over Tom Brady and the Patriots. In the playoffs, Foles goes 3-0, with 971 passing yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 2 fumbles and a 115.7 QB rating.

2018: Foles was in-and-out of the lineup, stepping in whenever Wentz went out with injury. The Eagles went on another playoff run with Foles at the helm, but their season was cut short by the Saints in the NFC Divisional Round. Foles went 5-2 as a starter (including playoff games), with 1,880 passing yards, 10 TDs, 8 INTs, 4 fumbles and an 83.3 QB rating.

2019: Signs 4-year,$ 88 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Foles struggled in Jacksonville, going 0-4 as a starter with only 3 TDs and 2 INTs.

2020: In March, Foles is tradd to the chicago Bears for a fourth-round draft pick. Foles currently has a 3-5 record in games he has played with the Bears. He’s thrown for 1,852 yards, 10 TDs, 8 INTs.

Where will Darnold go?

There are two destinations that make sense for Darnold. The first is the Indianapolis Colts. Philip Rivers turned 39 last week, so the Colts should be looking for a new QB sooner rather than later. Sitting at 9-4, in a battle with the Titans for the division, the Colts won’t be picking high enough in the draft to land a top QB prospect that way.

You can’t draw up a better situation if you’re a quarterback looking for somewhere to land. Indianapolis is a playoff team; they have a top 10 defense, an elite offensive line, developing young talent on the offensive side of the ball in players like Johnathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr., and offensive guru Frank Reich as their leader.

As the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, Reich was able to get QB Carson Wentz performing at a high-level in 2017 before his season-ending ACL injury. What was even more impressive was Reich’s work with Foles after Wentz went down.

The second destination that could make sense is Pittsburgh. This is another situation where the organization is dealing with an aging quarterback; Ben Roethlisberger will turn 39 in March. The Steelers are currently sitting at 11-2 with a defensive unit that is largely considered the best in football. There are plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball that would aid in Darnold’s development.

There is still no telling whether the Jets will trade Darnold once the offseason arrives. Darnold’s time in New York can certainly be classified as a struggle, but we have seen flashes of the talented quarterback he could potentially become. As we have seen with others, ometimes all that’s needed is a fresh start.