What is the plan? That is something that we as fans of a football team want to know during the off-season. We are bombarded with news of free agency signings, analyses of those signings, trade rumors, and mock drafts. What is true? What is just hot air? What is REALLY happening inside the facility of this team we love?
I love this frenzy of information and rumors almost as much as I love watching the actual games played in the fall. “Why?” you might ask. The answer is simple. Hope. Hope that we might sign a difference-maker. Hope that we might draft a star that helps us reach that next level. Hope that this year might be OUR year.
This has not been a quiet off-season for the Carolina Panthers. The team made an offer to move heaven and earth to land Deshaun Watson. It seems that heaven and earth are not enough when $230 million guaranteed are on the table. Carolina did not pony up that amount of cash to the relief of some fans like myself.
The team addressed some other needs in key free-agent signings. A big running back, a talented safety, the best punter in the league, and a pair of starting offensive linemen have put the team in a much better place than where we were at the end of the year. But there is a question we have to ask. The same question we have had to ask each season since the team cut Cam Newton before the 2020 season. “Who is going to be the Quarterback for the Carolina Panthers?”
There are several options the Panthers could avail themselves of, none of which the fans seem to be too enthusiastic about if r/panthers is to be believed.
Draft a QB. By all accounts, this is a weaker-than-normal quarterback class. Picket and Willis seem to be the guys on top but there are major reasons for concern for both prospects. Picket is seen as the most “NFL ready” but with a low ceiling for his abilities. Willis has “Boom or bust” written all over him. It is possible all of the experts are missing something. Tom Brady fell to the 6th round. Russel Wilson to the 3rd. Perhaps we're not giving these prospects enough credit but I caution Scott Fitterer and Matt Rhule with this. There is a lot more fools gold than diamonds in the rough to be found in the NFL draft. If you don’t see it clearly, it likely isn’t there. It seems to me that none of these quarterbacks available in this year’s draft are the type of signal-callers to elevate a franchise. If that is the case, rather than use the 6th pick on a quarterback that has little impact on the performance of your football team I would suggest drafting an offensive tackle. In the past eight seasons, the Panthers have had eight different starters at arguably one of the most important positions on the field, Left Tackle. In the 2022 draft, there are three left tackles that are viewed as plug-and-play starters as soon as they hit the field. Having a pick as high as number 6 with that many quality players in one position, a position you have had an egregiously high turnover rate in is a very rare opportunity. I would recommend addressing that need by drafting one of those tackles. Carolina might even have their pick of all 3 depending on how the first 5 picks go. The best course of action is to invest in the offensive line and protect the QB you currently have or one you acquire. Let’s look at some of those options.
Sam Darnold. To say that the Sam Darnold trade has not gone as the front office had hoped is to say that the sky is blue, it was obvious. He played well and then struggled mightily. So why stick with him? He is on the roster and is guaranteed $18 million. He has improved circumstances around him which should help him play better at the very least hopefully it won’t get worse. The addition of an offensive coordinator who has experience outside of drawing plays in the dirt at the schoolyard is an upgrade. (I’m sorry Joe Brady but you know it’s true). As mentioned Carolina has already added some upgrades to the O-line and if the team drafts a tackle at 6 then he has a greatly improved line.
Baker Mayfield. Baker just went through a messy breakup with Cleveland. The Browns gave up an enormous amount of draft capital and guaranteed money to replace Mayfield with a QB with so much off-the-field baggage he could fill an Amazon warehouse. That has to sting. To make matters worse he’s still on Cleveland’s roster. You can imagine he won’t be too keen on being at the mandatory OTA’s in a few weeks. Baker struggled this past season, but unlike Darnold, Baker has had success in the past. His all-time TD to INT is 92-56. Those are outstanding numbers compared to Darold’s 54-52. If Carolina can acquire Baker while giving up very little draft capital and working out a deal where Cleveland picks up most of his 2022 salary I believe he would be the perfect guy to bring in to compete with Sam Darnold for the starting job.
Cam Newton. I love Cam Newton. He is at the center of some of my favorite Panthers’ memories. However, sad as I am to say it, I believe it’s over for Cam. He no longer has the zip in his arm that is needed to be an NFL Quarterback. Cam was never the most accurate passer. Sometimes a ball would float and get intercepted. He made up for those mistakes with his ability to send the ball all the way downfield for a deep touchdown. He made up for his errors with his incredible play-making ability. It breaks my heart to say that his abilities have deteriorated. I wanted to believe he still had those abilities. We saw it for a minute in Arizona last year. Watching him in that game was an unforgettable football experience. That is how I want to remember him. I don’t want to remember what I saw for the next five games. Cam looked like a shell of who he once was. Five straight losses three of which were blowouts. It is fair to say that he wasn’t getting much help from the players around him. But the other players weren't the ones tossing footballs with seemingly zero velocity on them. Cam Newton, Thank you for everything but it’s over. I’m sorry.
In conclusion, as Draft day approaches the Panthers will quickly be on the clock with the 6th overall pick. What the front office chooses to do with that pick will have ramifications for years to come. If I was the one making the call my plan would be simple, draft the top tackle available. If no tackles are available the team could also draft the best player available unless of course, the phone starts ringing with offers to move back and acquire more day two picks. Before or after the draft, make an effort to trade for Mayfield, and let’s get to work.
No matter what happens, keep pounding.