The mismanagement of quarterbacks in Carolina has found a scapegoat in offensive coordinator Joe Brady. The second-year coach, surrounded with a multitude of optimism when he was hired in January of 2020, has now found himself unemployed 28 games into his NFL tenure. The former passing game coordinator at LSU in 2019 as the brain trust for the Joe Burrow-led Tigers on their way to a national title, Brady’s firing has swayed attention to Panthers leadership and the exact track, if there is one, of their franchise.
With players like Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Cam Newton at the helm since the start of last fall, the quarterback is where the issues begin for Carolina on the offensive side of the football. Bridgewater, a dink-and-dunk talent who was looked upon as a gap starter in what was a gun-slinger heavy 2020 NFL Draft, led the Panthers to one of the league’s worst offenses last season, amassing the NFL’s eighth-worst points per game total. And while much of the year was trial by error in Matt Rhule’s debut campaign in which Carolina ultimately finished the season 5-11, missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, a fresh face at quarterback looked to be in the cards as spring rolled around to pair with the uber-talented Brady.
A team burdensome to attempt to mock for leading up to draft night, the Panthers, despite Justin Fields and Mac Jones still available on the board, opted to select South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn eighth overall. A talented corner whose rookie season has been cut short due to a broken foot, his selection has ushered in a bevy of skepticism as Bridgewater has made his way to Denver, and Sam Darnold, has, well, been underwhelming to say the least following a preseason trade with the New York Jets. At first, the trade looked to present Darnold with a breath of fresh air and an avenue to escape his past demons in the Big Apple, as Darnold led the Panthers to an unblemished 3-0 start. But he has since been benched, injured, and his days as a Panther look to be all but over with Newton now in charge. That leads me back to Brady.
As we’ve seen far too often in both college and the NFL, coaches, no matter what, are the burden of blame. It’s just the way things are and will always be. Someone has to bite the bullet, and while it’s usually the head coach when things go south, Rhule isn’t going anywhere, and with Carolina’s offense once again representing one of the league’s worst, it’s fallen on Brady to pack his bags.
But, when do we begin to point the finger at general manager Scott Fitterer, or whomever hand-picked the trio of Bridgewater, Darnold, and Newton? A franchise now without a clue of what bag to grab out of next with a long-term solution under center in mind, Fitterer couldn’t have thought it was going to end up differently than it has, could he? Was a drastic change in play really expected from Darnold? And while initial improvement was evident when Christian McCaffrey was adjacent, when it came to the former top-five selection shouldering the offensive workload once No. 22 was shelved—with the onus on Darnold to process, produce, and lead—he faltered, as many expected. And what about the signing of Newton? Although Carolina attempted to calm the masses by assuring that the signing of the former MVP wasn’t a marketing ploy to sell jerseys, then what was it? An addition where Fitterer believed Newton was the “best” option to put the Panthers in place to win games? Stop.
Brady’s firing is a misplace of blame, and a potential franchise-altering subtraction for a roster infused with talent primed to return the Panthers back to relevancy. Which begs the question, what’s next for the 32-year-old?
While he could go jobless the rest of the NFL season and entertain interest this spring, it’s hard to ignore his collegiate roots. With a slew of high-prestige job openings becoming available, including the potential of joining newly minted Tigers head coach Brian Kelly in Baton Rouge, Brady should be garnering a boatload of attention from Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione. A program without an identity following the departure of head coach Lincoln Riley, Brady’s youthful energy, NFL background, and championship pedigree from his days at LSU should see him atop the list of Castiglione’s call list.