What’s next for Sam Darnold after the Baker Mayfield trade?

With the Carolina Panthers trading for former Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield, what's next for Sam Darnold?

Sam Darnold’s prospects of ever becoming a franchise quarterback in the NFL took another hit on Wednesday. The Carolina Panthers completed a deal that sends former first-overall pick Baker Mayfield to Charlotte. This, in turn, leaves Darnold without a home as a starting quarterback in the NFL. So what comes next?

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Potential landing spots and opportunities in 2022 for Sam Darnold

Well, there aren’t many options when looking around the landscape of the league to pick up immediate playing time. While high-end QB play will never be abundant throughout the NFL, there are very few teams with obvious gaps at the position.

In theory, a few potential landing spots could be Detroit, Atlanta, or Seattle, but there is a flurry of issues with each.

Detroit has a $31.15 million cap hit on Jared Goff, with a dead cap number of $41.15 million if they cut him, which would be foolish. Darnold is owed $18.858 million in 2022. Unless Carolina cuts the former first-rounder, Detroit won’t be in the market.

The fault with Atlanta is obvious. They’re within the same division, and teams usually don’t do business like that. Additionally, they already have a mid-level backup/stopgap former first-rounder in Marcus Mariota. There is also hope that Desmond Ridder will develop into their eventual starter.

Seattle will already be having what the kids these days call a “mid-off,” so bringing in a third player to compete in that role at Darnold’s price would be absurd.

Aside from potentially being a locker room distraction, it would be preposterous for the Panthers to cut Darnold and eat that fully-guaranteed contract. But they have nobody to blame but themselves for picking up his option in the first place.

The best thing that Darnold could do for himself is to be a good teammate and backup in 2022. If Mayfield gets injured again, Darnold could have another chance to prove himself behind an improved offensive line.

Can Sam Darnold be a starter somewhere in 2023?

The real opportunity could come next offseason. About nine hours south on I-95, there’s a city called Tampa Bay, and their quarterback already retired once and is probably playing his swan song in 2022.

And behind Tom Brady are Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask. Darnold could go the Jameis Winston route and try to reestablish himself behind a talented offensive line with a talented coaching staff surrounding him. The only difference is Tampa Bay has weapons that New Orleans could only dream of without Michael Thomas on the field.

If Darnold wants his best shot at finding success and possibly building toward another decent payday, there is no better outlook than the Buccaneers for the future of his career.

If that doesn’t come to fruition, Darnold will most likely be forced into a long-term backup role if he wants to continue his NFL career.

There are some good options if that’s his fate. Indianapolis feels like a good spot to settle down in while Matt Ryan ages out. Frank Reich and the Colts’ passing attack rely on a lot of quick concepts similar to what Darnold thrived on at USC.

Speaking of Reich, one can never count out Washington in the QB carousel. Carson Wentz is volatile, and there is no successor in Washington currently. And while the Giants could be searching for a QB in 2023, it’s tough to imagine Darnold heading back to New York, even with Brian Daboll in the mix.

Darnold was a promising talent coming out of USC, but he’s an example of how difficult player evaluation is, how situations can often dictate success, and how often first-round quarterbacks just don’t pan out.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.

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