Sam Darnold is the newest member of the Carolina Panthers, coming over in a Monday afternoon trade with the New York Jets. The move to get Darnold drastically reshapes the team’s outlook for the upcoming 2021 NFL draft as well as the next couple of seasons.
While we’re a fan of any aggressive move to upgrade at quarterback, we still have questions about this trade. Here are four worth asking.
Will they pass on drafting another quarterback?
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In his press conference, general manager Scott Fitterer told the media that Monday’s trade started coming together at Ohio State’s pro day. In other words, Justin Fields’ performance convinced Carolina that he wouldn’t still be on the board at No. 8 overall. With Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence effectively spoken for, that only left them with a small chance to land one of this year’s top QB prospects. Rather than hope for Trey Lance to fall in their laps, they decided to make a move early. It’s an understandable decision given the way things were going. The 49ers’ trade up to No. 3 overall and Deshaun Watson’s legal issues made acquiring a quarterback significantly harder. By dealing for Darnold, the Panthers made sure they at least got somebody with upside who could be an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater in the right situation. It will be interesting to see if they feel Darnold is enough, or if they’ll still use one of their draft picks on a quarterback prospect.
What’s next for Teddy Bridgewater?
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Fitterer also told reporters that the Panthers will try to work out something with Bridgewater, whether here or somewhere else. We can safely assume that Carolina would prefer to trade Bridgewater and get his salary cap hit off the books right away. Trading Teddy is of course easier said than done, though. There are only a couple of teams with starting quarterbacks that are worse than Bridgewater and it’s difficult for any of them to justify giving up resources for what would only be a mild step up. If they’re stuck with him, they may have to try restructuring his contract to free up more room to help build around Darnold.
Did the Panthers panic and overpay for Darnold?
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Hours before the trade happened, we shared a report that the Jets were looking to get a second-round pick for Darnold but would probably settle for a third. Obviously, they wound up getting more than that. The sixth-round pick in 2021 is no great loss, but giving up second and fourth-round picks next year as well made this a pretty good haul for the Jets. The question here is who the Panthers were bidding against, if anybody. According to Ian Rapoport, Carolina was the sole suitor for Darnold. If that’s true it’s not a great look, because they likely could have waited until after the draft and gotten Darnold for a far smaller return.
Are Darnold’s issues correctable with good coaching?
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The biggest question regarding Darnold is whether he’s ready to take that next step Fitterer spoke of. There’s no denying Darnold’s physical gifts – compared to Bridgewater he has far more athleticism and arm talent. That said, he has had trouble putting it all together at this level after being a star at USC. Part of that is no doubt due to the awful coaching of Adam Gase and having had very limited receivers to work with in his career. That said, Darnold’s production is concerning enough in a vaccuum to wonder how much of an upgrade he really is over Bridgewater. If the Panthers can improve his decision-making, unlock his potential and get a Ryan Tannehill-like resurgence, they’ll look like geniuses for this trade. If not, it will set them back a couple seasons and might put coach Matt Rhule in jeopardy as soon as the fourth year of his contract.