For a few weeks now, one of the seemingly most clear-cut selections within the top 10 of the 2022 NFL Draft has been the Carolina Panthers taking a quarterback. According to league sources on Wednesday though, the Panthers have been talking to teams about trading back from the sixth overall pick.
Given Carolina’s current roster situation and draft capital, moving back is the wisest move they can make in this year’s draft.
A lot of the momentum toward the Panthers drafting a quarterback early in the first round has to do with the situation they put themselves in last offseason. Carolina had released franchise quarterback Cam Newton after 2020, then traded replacement Teddy Bridgewater to Denver after the 2021 season. To replace him, the Panthers brought Sam Darnold to Charlotte in a trade with the Jets and exercised his fifth-year option immediately.
For the first three games of 2021, it looked like a great move. Darnold appeared “fixed” with a change in scenery after struggling in three years with the Jets and the Panthers were off to a 3-0 start.
Everything went downhill from there.
Carolina and their new quarterback lost five of their next six games before Darnold got injured and missed five games. In desperation, the Panthers brought Newton back but he struggled and finished the season without a win as Carolina’s starter.
Now, the Panthers are stuck with Darnold for another year and in acquiring him from the Jets gave up their second and fourth-round picks in this year’s draft.
It’s clear Carolina doesn’t have faith in their current starting quarterback options. With Head Coach Matt Rhule entering a crucial year that could determine his future with the Panthers, the team may be even more desperate to take one of the top quarterbacks in the draft later this month.
That certainly seemed to be the direction they planned on going, with General Manager Scott Fitterer making comments indicating as much during this year’s annual NFL owner meetings.
“This will be interesting because the [offensive] tackles will be the best players on the board,” he said. “But we need a quarterback and at some point you have to take a shot, especially in the top 10. You hate to force it, because when you force it, you could make a mistake.”
While that wasn’t an all-out commitment to drafting a quarterback in the top 10, it sure felt like that’s the direction the Panthers wanted to go.
Of course, it is the time of smoke and mirrors, where many general managers do all they can to not tip their hand and reveal draft strategies. The recent news that they’ve been talking to teams about trading back suggests that those comments may have been a part of that game of deception.
Trading back would be the smart decision, after all. As Fitterer said, you don’t want to force the selection of a quarterback that early and have it be a mistake. While the Panthers badly need a new starting quarterback, they have many other pressing needs on their roster. As it stands now, Carolina doesn’t have the draft capital to fill many of them.
They’re missing the aforementioned second and fourth-round picks this year after trading for Darnold as well as their third rounder after giving it up to the Jaguars for C.J. Henderson. Courting suitors who want to move up into the top 10 would be the best way to build it back up.
Quarterback is obviously the sexy pick in any draft and it looks especially good for the Panthers after struggling through their quarterback situation in 2021. But not only are the quarterbacks in this draft lackluster, Carolina isn’t close to being in a position to contend. They have several other roster holes outside of quarterback and their division still has quarterback Tom Brady and a scary Saints team also fighting for playoff spots.
Making a move back from the sixth overall pick is the smart decision in the long-term. That’s the Panthers’ only pick in the top 100. Without more than one pick in the first three rounds, Carolina is unable to make more quality additions elsewhere on the roster early in the draft.
Rhule might be wary of losing his job and feel even more tempted to take a quarterback with the sixth pick, but there will be other quarterbacks available later in the first round and even into the second. Getting the opportunity to build up the rest of the roster by moving back is the right decision to make. The Panthers shouldn’t hold onto the sixth overall pick; they should trade back to build up their draft capital.