Zach Wilson, Sam Darnold insist New York Jets-Carolina Panthers opener not about outdueling each other

It’s a nice weekend afternoon in New York City, and the two quarterbacks will play one of the biggest games of their young careers Sunday when the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers meet on the field at MetLife Stadium. For the Jets, it’s their first chance to show they can win with their new signal-caller, while the Panthers are looking to lock up the NFC South.

Over the last few weeks, the New York Jets have been gaining publicity for two of their starters. One, quarterback Sam Darnold, has been the subject of controversy due to his scads of press-worthy mistakes, while the other, linebacker Zach Wilson, has been making headlines because he has been getting injured.

After a spirited but unsuccessful battle to win the starting quarterback job in training camp, neither Sam Darnold nor the New York Jets’ coaching staff want the upcoming season to be about edging out the other quarterback.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Last offseason, Zach Wilson and Sam Darnold met for the first time at a training facility in Darnold’s hometown of San Clemente, California. Darnold was still the quarterback for the New York Jets at the time.

Their next meeting will be more significant.

On Sunday, Wilson will play his predecessor, who is now the starter for the Carolina Panthers, in a season opening rife with intrigue. Both athletes maintained on Wednesday that they aren’t trying to outdo each other.

Wilson said, “That’s definitely not something I consider.” “He’s gone off on his own now. He’s in a fantastic position right now. I believe the organization has already made a decision, and it is not because Sam is a bad football player. It’s just that they desired a new beginning.”

Darnold downplayed the significance of the matchup while speaking to reporters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Darnold responded, “But it is,” when it was suggested that it wasn’t just another game.

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The Jets traded Darnold to the Panthers on April 5 for a 2021 sixth-round pick, as well as second- and fourth-round picks in 2022, after months of speculation. The Jets, who selected Darnold third overall in 2018, made a significant, if not stunning, shift. He was once thought to be their long-term solution, but he struggled last season. They decided to start over in 2021 with a new coaching staff.

They were already focused on Wilson at the time of the trade, and he ended up being the second overall pick. The Jets considered keeping Darnold and drafting Wilson in the same draft.

Jets coach Robert Saleh remarked, “(That concept) got fairly far.” “Obviously, you can see how far along Sam was in the process when he was moved. I’ll just say it: we were fairly sure we’d be taking the young child, so the debate with Sam was about whether or not someone would make us an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

Wilson has made a strong impression both on and off the field. He was named one of their five permanent captains on Wednesday, after a vote by the players. It’s uncommon for a rookie to be honored in this way. Darnold was not a rookie captain in 2018.

Wilson said, “It’s a role to be taken seriously.”

When Saleh received the voting results, he took notice.

He added, “I was like, ‘Oh, look at that.’” “The manner in which he has conducted himself here, I believe, is more of a testimony to him. When you go into the cafeteria, he’s mingling with the O-linemen. He has a contagious personality. It’s a testament to him and the manner in which he’s conducted himself so far.”

Wilson and Darnold had no idea their futures would be linked when they met before the draft. That day in California, they exchanged pleasantries.

Wilson described him as a “super-cool person.” “We were simply talking about what it’s like to be in the NFL.”

Darnold stated after the trade that he was hurt by it, claiming that he had always imagined himself spending his whole career with the Jets. Now he has an opportunity to make amends in some way.

“Honestly, in the locker room, we’re all eager to play football — particularly in front of a crowd, especially here in Charlotte,” he added. “It’s incredible just to have the fans back.” It’s something we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time. I’m looking forward to facing the Jets and seeing what this football squad is capable of. I’m looking forward to simply playing consistently and within myself.”

David Newton, a reporter for NFL Nation, contributed to this story.

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