Matt Rhule praised Sam Darnold‘s work at the Panthers’ latest OTA session, and exiting the team’s offseason program, the former No. 3 overall pick remains on track to be Carolina’s starting quarterback. But Rhule said the team is keeping the door open for an addition to this rather important position group, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets.
As teams do following minicamp, the Panthers will assess their roster to determine spots where veterans would provide needed assistance. While it would seem time is running out to bring in someone like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo and expect the newcomer to be proficient in Ben McAdoo‘s offense by September, Rhule said (via Person, on Twitter) an addition just before training camp would give a new player sufficient preparation time.
A trade or free agent signing just before camp would be asking a lot from a veteran quarterback, who would be well behind Darnold in the new offensive coordinator’s system. But the Panthers have been the only known team to enter into substantive negotiations with the Browns for Mayfield. Those talks, though, were not believed to have gone far.
A previous report indicated the Browns were willing to pay “a good chunk” of Mayfield’s fully guaranteed $18.9MM salary, but Person indicates differently, noting Cleveland was willing to pick up barely $3MM of Mayfield’s contract (subscription required). Unsurprisingly, those negotiations broke down, leading the Panthers to Matt Corral in Round 3. The Panthers are believed to want the Browns to pay at least $13MM of that money, leading to this staredown — one in which the Browns hope the Panthers balk at another Darnold season while Carolina envisions Cleveland cutting its four-year starter. Perhaps the Browns have budged a bit since the teams’ mid-draft talks, but this certainly is a sizable financial gulf. These two teams are also first and second in terms of cap space.
Various NFL staffers expect the Browns and 49ers to each cut their trade block-stationed QBs, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano, who adds a straw poll among those execs placed Mayfield as more likely to be Seattle-bound and Garoppolo to head to North Carolina. That would be understandable, with the flipside of this scenario potentially involving an intra-NFC West trade. The Seahawks are also interested in Mayfield as a free agent.
The 49ers have more of a timetable here, with Garoppolo’s $24.2MM salary nonguaranteed until the regular season starts. After that date, Garoppolo’s vested-veteran status locks in that figure, putting some pressure on San Francisco to either carry the salary or cut bait come September. Mayfield’s money is already guaranteed, giving the Browns the option hold onto him into the regular season. It will be interesting to see how the ex-Heisman winner proceeds to prevent such a scenario. Mayfield’s January surgery on his non-throwing shoulder has not been an issue for teams, per Graziano, whereas Garoppolo’s March procedure on his right shoulder hijacked the 49ers’ trade effort.
Carolina, which checked on Russell Wilson and met with Deshaun Watson, saw Darnold rank 29th in QBR last season. Though a healthier Christian McCaffrey and the improved offensive line the Panthers should have may change the fifth-year passer’s outlook, it would still seem a gamble for Rhule to tie his hot seat to Darnold for a second season.