The dominoes just keep falling. Monday saw another big piece of the quarterback puzzle get put together as the New York Jets finally made the move to trade Sam Darnold. The Jets and the Carolina Panthers agreed to terms on a deal that sends Darnold to the Panthers in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round pick, 2022 second-round pick, and a 2022 fourth-round pick. The trade obviously has major ramifications for the two teams involved, but it also changes the landscape at the top of the draft order.
For the Jets, the trade makes all of the sense in the world. New York can now select their new quarterback of the future in BYU’s Zach Wilson, while also picking up additional picks to help build the roster to ensure Wilson succeeds. In Wilson, the Jets are getting an athletic quarterback who has outstanding accuracy, instincts, and creativity both inside and outside of the pocket. The decision likely came down to the fact that Darnold is about to be done with his rookie contract and will soon need to get paid like a franchise quarterback—whether he is one or not. The Jets can now restart their clock with a quarterback on a rookie deal and look to build around that player and compete while their cap space isn’t all invested in a quarterback.
For the Panthers, there are multiple layers to this decision, but it just says that they must have evaluated Darnold in comparison to Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones and came to the conclusion that Darnold moving forward is the better option. I say that because I’m not sure I see the rationale in doing this trade now when it's impossible to know which quarterbacks were going to be available at No. 8 overall. As a matter of fact, it's now very likely that at least one of Fields, Lance, or Jones would be available, and the Panthers could have stayed at No. 8 and got one of the quarterbacks.
The notion that the Panthers did this trade because Atlanta said no to them for a trade-up to No. 4 overall doesn’t quite make sense because they could have tried to strike a deal with Cincinnati at No. 5 or Miami at No. 6. Unless there were other teams in on Darnold, I think the wiser move would have been to wait and see how the draft played out, but again, if Carolina just loves Darnold, then this is the right move for them.
Before Monday’s trade, one of the bigger remaining questions about the draft was how the Panthers would address their quarterback position. Well, now that the team not only traded for Darnold but also reportedly picked up his fifth-year option, the team will no longer be selecting a quarterback at the top of the draft. The move for Darnold allows the team to be flexible at No. 8 and really sit back and select the best player available—and if the quarterbacks still go high, the Panthers will have some outstanding players to choose from.
Here are three players I believe the Panthers could strongly consider.
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Now that Carolina is no longer in the quarterback market, the team can now shift its focus to addressing other needs with its top pick. If Sewell is on the board, it means that Cincinnati, Miami, and Detroit all passed on the best tackle in the draft—that is a very unlikely scenario, in my opinion. Now, if Sewell does somehow fall to Carolina, then I expect they’ll run this card in. Sewell is a physical offensive tackle who has excellent size and athleticism. At just 20 years old, Sewell is oozing with upside and will only improve with more reps and coaching. Sewell fills a huge need for the Panthers as they don’t currently have a player you feel great about at left tackle. Sewell will give the Panthers their left tackle of the future and together he and Taylor Moton will make for an outstanding tackle duo to help keep Darnold upright.
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
If I were a betting man, this is who I believe will be a Panther come draft day. Since I believe Sewell will be gone by No. 8, the Panthers turn their attention to the next best offensive lineman available, and that’s Slater. Like Sewell, Slater can step in from day one and be the team’s left tackle of the future. Slater is an excellent athlete with outstanding bend, balance, and anchor in pass protection. He plays with excellent technique and is a very good run blocker as well. Slater also has versatility in that he could play multiple positions along the offensive line for the Panthers and, depending on who they feel gives them the best five players out there, Slater could start inside at guard before kicking out to tackle in later seasons.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
If the Panthers opt to go defense, which I can't really picture as they drafted literally all defense last year, the team could look to add the draft’s best corner in Surtain. The Panthers failed to adequately replace James Bradberry who left in free agency back in 2020 and they could certainly use some help opposite Donte Jackson. Surtain is a plug-and-play corner that offers outstanding size and athleticism but also is technically sound with very good instincts. Surtain’s ability to match up man-to-man on the outside should be very appealing to defensive coordinator Phil Snow—and adding Surtain to a defense that already has a young core that consists of Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, and Brian Burns would be very fun.