It’s a somewhat surprising development given that owner David Tepper has spearheaded interest in Watson dating back to the spring.
Sure the star quarterback’s legal situation complicates things. But nothing has changed on that front over the past few weeks as Carolina was previously interested in acquiring the Pro Bowler.
This now begs one major question. Given the wide array of reports noting Carolina pulled out of Watson trade talks with Houston, one has to wonder whether general manager Scott Fitterer are attempting to save face.
Carolina Panthers in quarterback purgatory
This is a term coined to define a team that has no quarterback of the future on the roster and no one who can hold down the fort over the short-term.
Carolina acquired Sam Darnold in a trade with the New York Jets during the off-season, sending two picks in 2022 (second and fourth rounds) as well as a sixth-round selection in 2021 to Jersey in the process. This, despite the major struggles Darnold “enjoyed” during his three-year tenure with the Jets.
After some initial success this season, it’s been a downward spiral for Darnold in Carolina. That included the USC product being benched in favor of P.J. Walker during Week 7’s unsightly 25-3 loss to the hapless New York Giants. Darnold himself has been catastrophic during Carolina’s current four-game losing streak.
Sam Darnold stats past four games: 56% completion, 796 yards, 4 TD, 7 INT, 8 turnovers, 61.2 rating
It’s not a coincidence that the Panthers are averaging less than 20 points per game during this ugly streak. It also lends credence to the idea that Darnold will never be a starter-caliber quarterback and that Fitterer made a monumental mistake not only to trade for the quarterback but pick up his $18 million option for the 2022 season. That leads us to the question whether these Panthers are attempting to save face.
Related: Updated NFL power rankings
Carolina Panthers pulling out of Deshaun Watson trad talks is telling
First off, let’s look at the financials here. As of right now, Carolina is projected to have $43.67 million in cap room next season. Watson himself is slated to count north of $40 million against the cap.
Add in Darnold’s $18.8 million cap hit, and that’s roughly $60 million the Panthers would have had linked to the quarterback position if they pulled off this trade. This obviously isn’t sustainable in today’s NFL. And in reality, not a single team around the NFL would even consider trading for Darnold at his 2022 cap hit — creating a situation where Carolina is stuck with him.
That’s the backdrop here. Sure Tepper is worth multiples of billions. Money isn’t an issue for him. But this isn’t Major League Baseball. The cap plays a role. By picking up Darnold’s option for 2022, Fitterer showed his hand. It was nothing more than a pair of twos.
The Carolina Panthers can leak their lack of interest in a Watson trade all they want in an attempt to cover up what’s actually happening behind the scenes. They can point to the quarterback’s sexual assault and/or misconduct allegations all they want. None of this changed the cold-hard facts.
Carolina dropped the ball by trading for Darnold. The financial implications that came with that coupled with the two picks these Panthers are missing out on next year handcuffed the team. It’s an exercise in self-masochism, and will continue to lead to irrelevance on the broader NFL stage for Carolina moving forward.