Entering the 2021 NFL offseason, the future of Sam Darnold is in doubt. With rumors swirling around the New York Jets, let’s take a look at Sam Darnold’s contract and how he impacts the Jets’ salary cap in 2021 and beyond.
Sam Darnold signed a four-year contract following the 2018 NFL Draft
After being selected third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Sam Darnold signed a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $30.2 million. Darnold’s contract contained a $20 million signing bonus, $2.72 million in base salary, and $7.71 million in roster bonuses. Those roster bonuses are fully guaranteed and are paid on the fifth day of the Jets’ training camp in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Darnold has at least one more year remaining on his contract
With the 2021 offseason kicking into gear, the Jets have a tough decision to make regarding Sam Darnold and his contract. As part of all rookie contracts, teams have the option to exercise a fifth-year. The deadline for that decision with Darnold is May 3rd, 2021.
While discussion around other quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft involves a potential extension for the likes of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, the focus for Darnold is on whether the Jets will exercise the fifth-year option. If the Jets exercise the fifth-year option, Darnold’s salary in that year will also be fully guaranteed.
As Darnold has played over 75 percent of the Jets’ snaps in all three seasons, he will be eligible for the third-highest salary tier. The exact figure is not yet confirmed, but it is expected to be between $15 and $20 million.
What impact does Sam Darnold’s contract have on the New York Jets’ salary cap?
The structure of Sam Darnold’s contract has led to his salary cap hits being fairly balanced. Darnold counted $5.5 million against the cap in his rookie year. That has risen by around $1.5 million per year in the three years since. In 2021, Darnold is set to count $9.8 million against the Jets’ salary cap.
The Jets have plenty of salary cap space in 2021
Even with Darnold’s counting nearly $10 million on the salary cap, the Jets have $63 million of cap space in 2021. With 57 players under contract, New York has several options in the upcoming offseason. Therefore, they have no real incentive to work to reduce Darnold’s cap hit for 2021.
Can the New York Jets move on from Darnold ahead of the 2021 season?
The decision regarding the fifth-year option on Sam Darnold’s contract will heavily influence the Jets’ options. If they do not trade for or draft a new QB, they may choose to exercise the fifth-year option. That would give the new coaching staff under head coach Robert Saleh a chance to work with Darnold closely before making a decision.
However, assuming the fifth-year option is not exercised, what options do the Jets have with Darnold in the coming months?
The Jets gain no salary cap advantage by cutting Darnold
Due to the guarantees in Sam Darnold’s contract, the Jets gain limited relief by releasing him. Darnold would still count $9.62 million against the cap in 2021, saving just $0.92 million. Therefore, unless something serious occurs, it is unlikely the Jets decide to release Darnold in the upcoming offseason.
New York does have the option of trading Darnold
If Sam Darnold and his contract were to be traded, the Jets would receive some salary cap benefit.
The $5.02 million in prorated bonus would remain with the Jets. However, the remaining $4.77 million in base salary and roster bonus would transfer to the new team. The only caveat to that is if the Jets trade Darnold after the roster bonus has been paid. In that situation, they would hold the $3.85 million in roster bonus on their salary cap as well.
What salary would a team trading for Sam Darnold and his contract acquire?
Darnold presents a cheap one-year experiment for a team willing to trade for him. With just $0.92 million in base salary and $3.85 in roster bonus, Darnold would count a total of $4.77 million against the cap. Additionally, if a team were to trade for Darnold ahead of the May 3rd deadline, they would have more options.
The team acquiring Darnold could decide to exercise the fifth-year option. In that event, they would be trading for a QB for two years. With Darnold’s 2022 salary expected to be a maximum of $20 million, the team acquiring him would be signing up for two years at an average of around $9-12 million per year.
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