Much like the way the Colts were able to land Andrew Luck thanks to one disastrous season without their previous franchise quarterback available, the Panthers used 2010 to bottom out and be in position to draft Cam Newton.
Like the 2011 Colts, the Panthers only endured one woeful season without a clear quarterback plan. However, the long-term signal-caller solution prior to Newton produced some memorable moments. And the years-long partnership came together on this date 14 years ago. The Panthers agreed to a five-year extension with Jake Delhomme on June 17, 2004, locking him in as their quarterback of the 2000s.
Illustrating where the quarterback market has gone in the past several years, Delhomme’s deal was worth only $38MM. But Carolina initially signed Delhomme, previously a Saints backup behind Aaron Brooks, for $4MM over two years in 2003. That fall signaled the beginning of a nice run for the Panthers. Delhomme started 15 games to help lift Carolina to its first Super Bowl, after the Panthers notched upset victories in St. Louis and Philadelphia. Delhomme’s explosive second half in Super Bowl XXXVIII (in a game where he threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns) had the Panthers poised for overtime, only an illegal procedure penalty gave the Patriots prime field position for a game-winning drive that ended Carolina’s championship bid.
Nevertheless, the Panthers saw enough from Delhomme to extend him the following summer, and he delivered the best statistical seasons of his career on this contract. Delhomme threw a career-high 29 touchdown passes in 2004 and followed that up with a 24-TD-pass 2005 — his only Pro Bowl campaign — for a Panthers team that stormed to the NFC title game.
Carolina’s return to the playoffs, in 2008, brought the beginning of the end for the Delhomme’s run with the franchise.
Delhomme was unable to shake the five-interception performance in a divisional-round loss to the Cardinals, but he nevertheless played out that extension — and signed another (for five years and $42.5MM) shortly after the seminal 2009 loss to the Cards — starting 11 games in the ’09 campaign. Carolina, though, cut Delhomme in March 2010 and pivoted to Matt Moore and second-round rookie Jimmy Clausen for that 2010 slate. The Panthers went 2-14 that season, securing the No. 1 pick and a path for a new regime to draft Newton.
Perhaps the Panthers retaining Delhomme for one more season would not have afforded them No. 1 overall real estate and thus shaken up a loaded 2011 draft, one that saw the Broncos, Bills, Bengals, Cardinals and Falcons select standout performers at the Nos. 2-6 spots. However, the QBs selected in the first round after Newton (Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder) did not prove to be remotely in Newton’s class, making that No. 1 slot extraordinarily valuable.
Newton eclipsed Delhomme’s franchise record for most quarterback starts (90) in 2016; he’s at 108 entering this season.