It isn’t a well-kept secret in NFL circles. The Carolina Panthers are in fairly desperate need of a quarterback. Panthers coach Matt Rhule knows it. Panthers owner David Tepper knows it. Even incumbent Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold knows it. But what will they do to address the position this offseason?
What will the Panthers do at quarterback?
The Panthers are expected to be heavily involved in trying to upgrade the QB position and engage in a wide-ranging search that includes potential trades, free-agent options, and the NFL Draft, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The Panthers could move on from Darnold and look into everyone from Deshaun Watson — despite his unresolved legal issues — to Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Kirk Cousins, as well as the NFL Draft.
As far as the draft, the Panthers hold the sixth overall pick in the first round. It’s unlikely that any quarterback is ranked high enough to warrant drafting one at that spot. However, general manager Scott Fitterer could trade back and explore everyone, such as Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, and North Carolina’s Sam Howell.
The Panthers could also try to build around Darnold (guaranteed $18.858 million for 2022) and see if they can improve the offensive line to a point where he can be a more effective pocket passer.
Matt Rhule may be on the hot seat if things don’t turn around
During a season-ending press conference, Rhule, whom many around the league believe is on the hot seat if he doesn’t engineer a major turnaround this season, said that the Panthers “will look at everything” to find a quarterback that can make the team a contender.
“We recognize that we have to improve the overall quarterback play here,” Rhule said. “We’ve started four quarterbacks in two years, and that’s not a recipe for success. If you look at the teams in the playoffs, they have consistency at quarterback.”
Those quarterbacks in that span include Darnold, Cam Newton (who struggled last season and is considered unlikely to return), Teddy Bridgewater, and backup P.J. Walker (who went 2-0 as a starter).
Owner David Tepper on the QB position
“I think when you get to quarterbacks and the NFL in general, you always want to try to figure out, ‘Do you have the best that’s in the position of this right now?'” Tepper said when the team fired general manager Marty Hurney two years ago. “And that’s constant evaluation and re-evaluation of that. And that’s what we’ll constantly go through. It’s an ongoing process, and it’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win. That’s the most important position on the field.
“Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep evaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls. And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”
Who the Panthers could target in the offseason
Because the Panthers aren’t the only team that’s going to be in the quarterback market, they find themselves in a competitive situation.
In particular, the Watson situation bears watching. Watson played at nearby Clemson, winning a national championship. He is still facing 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault from his sessions with massage therapists. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, expressed optimism this week during a special court hearing regarding the NFL player’s deposition schedule that there may be a ruling on whether he’ll face criminal charges by April 1.
The Panthers are among the NFL teams closely monitoring the Watson situation. Watson has a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract and is reportedly open-minded toward several NFL teams, including the Panthers. Watson is due a $35 million base salary for 2021 that is fully guaranteed for skill, injury, and salary cap.
Who might Carolina covet outside of Watson?
Wentz’s stock has dropped significantly. Additionally, the Panthers weren’t among the teams that pursued him when he was on the trading block with the Eagles. Of course, the price might be low.
Garoppolo is regarded as more of a viable option for the Panthers and other teams. Especially when he’s healthy and surrounded by a solid defense and running game, Garoppolo is capable of winning football games.
Bottom line: Carolina needs help at quarterback. How they proceed will go a long way toward determining Rhule’s future.