After trading for Darnold, should Carolina double-down at QB?
by Michael Obermuller
Just one season into a three-year deal with Teddy Bridgewater, the Carolina Panthers have traded three draft picks (including a 2022 second rounder) for Sam Darnold. This time, Matt Rhule and Joe Brady finally got their quarterback of the future — or did they?
From multiple reports, the Panthers may not be totally “out” on drafting a QB just yet. General manager Scott Fitterer knows just how crucial it is to get this position right, and he’ll bring in as many players as it takes to do it. Darnold is the presumed starter based on potential as of now, but statistically, he was far less efficient than Bridgewater in 2020.
QB, Year (Team)
Sam Darnold, 2020 (Jets)
Teddy Bridgewater, 2020 (Panthers)
Of course, Darnold was in Adam Gase’s system last season, a system that many blame for his failures, but maybe neither signal-caller deserves the job outright after a combined record of 6-21 a few months ago.
That’s Carolina’s mindset, but should they sacrifice even more draft capital and cap space on the position when they’ve already used so much? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Panthers drafting another QB in 2021.
Cases FOR Drafting a QB
The Player they Want Most is Available at No. 8 Overall
The word around the NFL is that Carolina wants Justin Fields, and their scouting would certainly back that up. Based on Albert Breer’s tweet above, the Panthers have shown heavy attendance at both of Fields’ two Pro Day events.
This would also make sense in concurrence with the Darnold trade. Supposedly, the Panthers previously tried to move up to either second or third overall, but the New York Jets decided not to budge from two, and the San Francisco 49ers beat them to the punch at three.
Reports have the Panthers less high on Mac Jones and Trey Lance, so the Darnold deal may have been insurance in the event that Fields is gone at eight. If a QB you LOVE is still on the board, you draft him, that’s Football 101 (especially if there’s no QB prospect you like in 2022).
Every team evaluates players differently. For example, the New York Jets new braintrust clearly evaluated Darnold differently than the Carolina Panthers, being that they believe a rookie has a higher ceiling than the former third overall pick in 2018.
Having said that, Carolina would not have traded for Darnold unless they thought he had more potential than Bridgewater. They should only consider drafting a QB if they truly believe he has a higher potential than both Sam and Teddy.
The stats above could support this theory alone, but it’ll also have to do with age, dual-threat ability, scheme fit, mentality and different raw skills like arm strength. A prospect like Fields would beat out the two veterans in almost every measurable category.
Can Never Have Enough QBs
This is the “multiple darts” argument, but it’s unlikely that Carolina would ever enter the 2021 season with three quarterbacks.
They could draft a QB at eight, then trade Bridgewater to a team like the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, or New England Patriots.
Case AGAINST Drafting a QB
Top QBs Are Gone Early
I know, duh, but I’m including this to point out that Carolina CANNOT and SHOULD NOT trade up for a quarterback. They already gave up three picks to get Darnold, and this rebuilding franchise still needs help elsewhere if they plan on succeeding long-term.
Most draft analysts have all five of the main QB prospects being drafted in the top 10, and some have them going one through five (or at least top seven). This may be out of the Panthers hands.
Although Bridgewater could theoretically outplay Darnold, I don’t think there’s an argument to keep Teddy over a rookie past 2022, so let’s focus on Sam here.
The latest NYJ disappointment is just 24 years old in June, and he’s had an odd start to his career. Whether due to injury or his baffling bout with mono, Darnold has yet to play a full season. This could be looked at as a con for the USC product, or it could mean that the best is yet to come.
Change of Scenery Could “Unlock” Darnold
The Jets also didn’t do Darnold any favors, hiring Gase to mentor him after one failed campaign with Todd Bowles and Jeremy Bates. Panthers OC Joe Brady is considered to be one of the brightest young minds in the game, which could act as a catalyst for Sam.
A skill-position core of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and David Moore also trumps anything the Jets ever armed Darnold with.
Even offensive line play was better in Carolina last season. Darnold had a pressure percentage of 27.3 compared to Bridgewater’s 19.8. Sam was also hit the same amount of times (38) as Teddy in three less starts, and was actually hurried once more than him despite the difference in games.
Available Cap Space & Draft Capital vs. Roster Needs
As I just pointed out, the Jets never put a quality roster around Darnold, so would it be wise for Carolina to do the same, even if they start a rookie QB?
Bridgewater currently has a cap hit of $22.9 million-plus this year ($20 million dead cap hit), and Darnold has a hit of $4.77 million. They have ALREADY picked up Sam’s fifth year option for 2022, which is another $18.85 million, and assuming they cannot deal Teddy, they’ll incure a $5 million dead cap hit when they release him next offseason. An eighth overall pick would add about $3.75 million this year and $4.7 million in 2022.
After the Darnold trade, the Panthers have seven draft picks in 2021, and five picks in 2022.
Carolina’s defense ranked 18th in points allowed last season. Their offensive line also ranked 18th according to Pro Football Focus. They even lost playmakers like Curtis Samuel and Mike Davis this offseason. They cannot afford to spend $31 million-plus and four total draft picks (including a first and second) on three QBs in 2021 when this roster is far from perfect.
I think it’s pretty obvious that the Panthers should give Darnold the opportunity in 2021. For better or for worse, they made their bed when they pounced on the Jets trade proposal. The only way they draft a QB is if they find a second trade partner for Bridgewater, which is possible, but I doubt they get much back in this scenario (besides cap relief). With the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers set up to be the powerhouse of the division for at least one more season, it’s probably smarter to add another layer of foundation around the quarterback position this draft. Then, after seeing what you have in Darnold, you can re-evaluate the situation in 2022.