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Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers in QB Purgatory Entering 2022 Season

  • Jack McKessy
  • May 24, 2022
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One of the worst spots an NFL team can be in is quarterback purgatory, and unfortunately for the Carolina Panthers, that’s where they are right now.

Despite selecting Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the 2022 NFL Draft, Carolina looks poised to enter the season with Sam Darnold starting under center.

The big reason the Panthers are in their current quarterback situation is the decision to trade for Darnold and exercise his fifth-year option before he played a snap for Carolina. After struggling with the Jets for his first three seasons as a pro, the Panthers bet hard on a change of scenery helping Darnold succeed in 2021.

They gave up three draft picks—including their second- and fourth-round picks in 2022—in the trade and exercised his option hoping it would save future money in contract negotiations if Darnold performed up to expectations. It didn’t work. Darnold struggled on the field and dealt with injuries that kept him out of the lineup for several games last season.

Then, instead of signing a free agent quarterback like Mitch Trubisky or Tyrod Taylor in the offseason, Carolina built up their defense and offensive line. The Panthers lost the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, too. Despite rumors that Carolina was looking into a trade for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo, neither has come to fruition (yet), leaving Darnold in the driver’s seat for now.

Carolina Panthers have limited options at QB

It’s hard to determine the Panthers’ best course of action for their short- and long-term future. They haven’t added any strong options to compete with Darnold for the starting job, even though his performance in 2021 strongly suggests he isn’t the answer. Corral’s status as a third-round selection makes it clear he isn’t in the mix for the starting job for this season.

The Panthers’ three realistic options from outside the organization boil down to Garoppolo, Mayfield, and another Cam Newton return. Garoppolo and Mayfield could be better starting quarterback options than Darnold for 2022, but they also have significant downsides.

For one thing, acquiring one of them would require Carolina to give up more future draft capital. Considering how hamstrung the Panthers were in this year’s draft with just one pick in the Top 100, giving up more picks in the future is setting the team up for long-term problems.

There’s also the possibility that both Garoppolo and Mayfield would cost more than they should because neither the 49ers nor the Browns want to part with them yet.

San Francisco’s investment in Trey Lance is still a huge question mark, and there’s a good chance Garoppolo will stick around to be the 49ers’ starting quarterback in 2022. In Cleveland, the winners of the Watson sweepstakes still don’t know how many games they’ll get out of their newcomer in 2022. Watson is under investigation from the NFL regarding the many accusations of sexual misconduct against him and could be suspended for a large portion of the 2022 season. If that’s the case, the Browns would want Mayfield around to start for them until Watson returns.

On top of the cost of either veteran affecting the Panthers’ future draft capital is the problem that Mayfield and Garoppolo are playing on expiring contracts in 2022. If Carolina were to trade for either of them, they’d be giving up draft picks in exchange for just one year of potentially average (or worse) quarterback play.

If Mayfield and Garoppolo aren’t good answers because of their cost, lack of team control, and questionable play, that leaves re-signing Newton as the best option for the Panthers, right?

No, not really.

Newton’s return as Carolina’s prodigal son for the back half of 2021 was overshadowed by some of his all-time worst performances. He didn’t win a single start, made some terrible throws that led to more interceptions than touchdowns and low completion rates (a 5-of-21, two-interception performance in his Week 12 start at Miami stands out).

Overall, Newton looked like a lesser version of himself. As much as Newton has meant to the Panthers’ organization, it’s hard to say re-signing him would be an upgrade over what they have now.

Darnold is undoubtedly not going to be the long-term future of the Panthers under center, but he’s going to have to be good enough this season. Carolina shouldn’t risk their future success on outside quarterbacks like Garoppolo or Mayfield, and Newton doesn’t give them a better chance to win than Darnold.

The Panthers will not contend for an NFC South title in 2022. It’s a division with Tom Brady back in Tampa Bay and a strong Saints team looking to at least snag a Wild Card spot. They shouldn’t give up on their future to try and win now.

Start Darnold and hope for the best with Corral. Thus is life in quarterback purgatory.

Written By

Jack McKessy