The Carolina Panthers thought they found their starting quarterback of the future when they started the 2021 football season 3-0. Sam Darnold had three 300-yard passing performances in his first four games. In his five starts since? None.
To make matters worse, the Panthers have lost 10 of their past 12 games. Needless to say, things look a lot different in Week 17 than they did in Week 3. The situation got so bad, they decided to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
Bringing in 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton didn’t provide a spark either, as he’s lost all five of his starts as well.
Despite trading a 2021 sixth-round pick in addition to their 2022 second and fourth-round picks for Darnold ahead of the 2021 season, he does not appear to be a viable option for the future. Not if this team wants to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
So who is? We’ve identified four candidates to be the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback in 2022.
Sam Darnold keeps pounding for another year
Yeah, we get it. Sam Darnold is probably not the first name any Panthers fan wants to hear in the starting lineup when the 2022 year begins, but it’s not unrealistic for the 24-year old QB to remain on the roster.
Should the organization decide to draft another young quarterback with their first selection, starting the more experienced Darnold may be the preferred route until they feel the rookie is ready. The third overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft has just one year remaining on his contract after the Panthers picked up his 2022 team option.
- Sam Darnold contract: $18.8 million in 2022
A trade away from Darnold remains an option, but since he’s set to earn such a large amount, teams will be hesitant to offer much, if anything at all. Unfortunately, this means the team may have Darnold on the roster for another year, even if it’s in the form of a highly-paid backup QB.
Draft and develop Kenny Pickett
The Carolina Panthers didn’t have the season they wanted. The only positive from this is being able to land a high draft pick, one that places them in a position to land another elite talent. Defensively, they are pretty good, with Pro Bowl talent on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Meanwhile, the offensive line is a wreck. But what are they to do? Select a top talent and run it back with Darnold/Newton and P.J. Walker? Probably not. Addressing their protection issues can be done through free agency and via the trade market as well.
Prior to their Week 16 L, the Panthers were in position to select seventh in the 2022 NFL Draft. Which places them in an ideal spot to land their quarterback of the future. Most speculate this is not the year for a bonafide franchise QB to come out of the draft, but each year there is at least one viable starting quarterback prospect.
While no clear-cut prospect has emerged above the rest, Pitt Panthers’ QB Kenny Pickett is one to keep an eye on.
Pickett spent an extra year developing at Pitt, and it served the QB well, catapulting him into the first-round conversation. He was highly productive in his final season, flashing accuracy, smart decision-making, and sneaky athletic ability. The Panthers shouldn’t hesitate to select Pickett if he’s still available with their first-round selection.
Panthers pounce on Jimmy Garoppolo
Trading for Jimmy Garoppolo would essentially be a repeat of the Sam Darnold trade, only this time the Panthers are getting a proven NFL starting quarterback, instead of taking a chance on continued improvement.
For the 49ers, this trade may seem appealing. They still land an experienced backup quarterback, who to be fair has shown an ability to play at a high level at times. Except, the 49ers would be asking Darnold to hold the clipboard as they usher in the Trey Lance era. Darnold could still be a capable backup while pushing Lance every step of the way.
- Jimmy Garoppolo contract: $27 million cap hit in 2022, can be cut for $25.6 million in cap relief.
The Panthers may be intrigued with Garoppolo, as he has started for a team that reached a Super Bowl and has a career 32-14 record as an NFL starting quarterback. Some speculate that Jimmy G can bring in a first-round selection in any trade, but that seems generous.
- Carolina Panthers trade: Sam Darnold, Yetur Gross-Matos, 2022 fourth-round pick, 2023 second-round pick
- San Francisco 49ers trade: Jimmy Garoppolo
Carolina Panthers lure in Deshaun Watson
The anticipated prize of the offseason, it’s only a matter of time before Deshaun Watson gets traded from the Houston Texans, provided he’s cleared of his sexual assault charges. The Panthers threw their hat in the ring before and they’re expected to get back involved once the offseason begins.
Trading for Watson would take a boatload of trade capital, which the Panthers are already a bit short on from the Darnold trade, but it’s a risk the team needs to take. There are few game-changing quarterbacks in the NFL, and the opportunity to acquire them before they’ve reached their prime is even rarer. Simply put, Watson would be the best quarterback option for the Panthers, and he’s already used to a failing offensive line.
It’s all about getting him to drop his no-trade clause, which, if the Miami Dolphins are no longer on the table with Tua Tagovailoa‘s emergence, Watson will have to head back to the drawing board for his next ideal landing spot. The Panthers need to do their best to convince Watson why their organization is the best fit.
- Carolina Panthers trade: 2022 first-round pick, 2022 fifth-round pick, Christian McCaffrey, Sam Darnold, A.J. Bouye
- Houston Texans trade: Deshaun Watson