Deshaun Watson Decision: What’s next for Carolina Panthers without Deshaun?

Deshaun Watson’s list of acceptable destinations is down to two teams -- and the Carolina Panthers aren’t on it.

Deshaun Watson’s list of acceptable destinations is down to two teams — and the Carolina Panthers aren’t on it. Barring a dramatic plot twist, Watson will play for either the Atlanta Falcons or the New Orleans Saints in 2022. The Panthers learned late Thursday that they have been eliminated from consideration.

Carolina Panthers will not acquire Deshaun Watson via trade

Watson largely controls the trade talks because he has a no-trade clause. He has already blocked a potential trade to the Cleveland Browns. And on Thursday, he crossed the Panthers off the list of candidates.

That leaves the Panthers in the same exact place they were when the Watson Derby began — with a below-average quarterback room. The only quarterbacks currently on their roster are Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker.

Darnold was a massive disappointment for the Panthers in 2021 after they not only gave up a number of picks, including a second-rounder, to acquire him, but picked up his fifth-year option that guaranteed his 2022 salary ($18.8 million). In 2021, Darnold lost seven of his 11 starts, completed under 60% of his passes, averaged a paltry 6.2 yards per passing attempt, and threw 13 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.

Walker, meanwhile, was even worse statistically in his five appearances.

Panthers were interested in Watson for more than a year

That convinced the Panthers’ brain trust, led by owner David Tepper, to go big this offseason. They had been tracking the Watson saga for more than a year and likely would have made a significant trade offer to acquire him last winter if not for Watson’s significant, serious legal issues.

Now, they’re back to square one. They own the sixth pick in the NFL Draft, but this is a bad quarterback year — any of the top prospects would be a gamble.

Free agency, however, is no better. The biggest names (Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton among them) are all flawed players.

The trade market is probably their best bet. Baker Mayfield, Jordan Love, and Jimmy Garoppolo are all options. Nonetheless, the Browns sent signals Thursday that they will only deal Mayfield if they have a suitable replacement.

One more name to watch: Philadelphia Eagles backup Gardner Minshew, who intrigued the Panthers at the trade deadline.

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