Panthers Rumors

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/16/22

With the NFL dropping the roster limit to 85 players today, we’ve got a long list of minor moves to pass along:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Las Vegas Raiders

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Commanders

Matt Rhule Names Ikem Ekwonu Panthers’ Starting LT

The Panthers had been in the midst of a competition for the left tackle spot this offseason, but the winner of that battle has been named. Head coach Matt Rhule announced on Tuesday that Ikem Ekwonu will be the team’s starter at the blindside moving forward (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic). 

The news doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the draft capital Carolina invested in Ekwonu. The No. 6 overall pick in April’s draft, the NC State alum was the first offensive player to hear his name called. Part of a trio of o-linemen in contention to be the first selected at their position (alongside Evan Neal and Charles Cross), Ekwonu received plenty of interest in the build-up to the draft, including from the Panthers.

Carolina has been in need of a long-term left tackle since Jordan Gross retired in 2014, so it came as little surprise when they added the six-foot-four, 320-pounder. Whether he would start at tackle or guard became an important question after his selection, however. Ekwonu played at both spots during his time with the Wolfpack, leading some to believe he would begin his career on the interior. The chances of that seemed to grow when 2021 third-rounder Brady Christensen took a significant number of starter’s reps at LT during minicamp.

That was still the case in practice as recently as last week. Overall, though, signs have pointed to Ekwonu ultimately winning out for the first-team spot. With the latter’s position confirmed, Person tweets that Christensen will now compete with 2019 fourth-rounder Michael Jordan for the starting left guard spot. Especially in the long-term, a left side of Ekwonu and Christensen should give Carolina some much-needed improvement up front.

It remains to be seen (at least officially) who will be the Panthers’ starting quarterback in Week 1. Whether Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold begins the season at the top of the depth chart, they will now know who is charged with protecting their blindside.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/15/22

Today’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

  • Waived: DE Carson Taylor

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

 Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions 

Green Bay Packers 

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts 

Jacksonville Jaguars 

Los Angeles Chargers

Miami Dolphins 

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Commanders

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/14/22

We will keep track of today’s minor moves here:

Arizona Cardinals

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Green Bay Packers

New England Patriots

  • Signed: CB Devin Hafford

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

The most notable name amongst the Cardinals’ cuts is Keke. The 25-year-old made 17 starts with the Packers over the past two seasons, and was claimed off waivers by the Texans in February. Houston cut him in May, however, leading him to the Cardinals. In the waning months of the offseason, the 2019 fifth-rounder will need to find another NFL home in time for Week 1.

Another recent Packers draftee being let go is Martin. The 2020 fifth-rounder made six appearances last season with Carolina, playing all-but exclusively on special teams. Each of the team’s other roster cuts had yet to play in for the Panthers, including Westry, who had showed potential in 2021 when briefly starting for the Ravens.

NFC South Rumors: Darnold, Christensen, Bucs, Murphy-Bunting, Werner

As Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield starts to run away with the starting job, questions have been raised about the future of incumbent starter Sam Darnold. When a rumor surfaced that Carolina may be shopping the fifth-year passer, general manager Scott Fitterer pulled Darnold aside to set him at ease, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic.

“I talked to Scott,” Darnold explained. “He said not to worry about it. To be honest, before he talked to me, I didn’t even see it. So I’m just gonna continue to do me and do what I can to put myself in a good position and put this team in a good position.”

Aiding Fitterer in convincing Darnold that he’s not likely to be dealt is Darnold’s $18.86MM salary. There could certainly be a team willing to make a call about Darnold if an injury occurs to their starter, but if the Panthers wanted to offload him, they’d likely have to eat some of his contract, as well.

There’s a good chance, though, that Darnold stays put. As Person explained, “in a league that saw only 12 teams make it through the 17-game regular season in 2021 with one quarterback,” the backup quarterback is still a crucially important position. And, while Darnold may not rank highly among the starters in today’s game, he certainly ranks as one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league. The backup job appears to be his, too, as long as the Panthers continue to slow play the development of rookie third-round pick Matt Corral.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC South, starting with another note out of the Tar Heel state:

  • As certain as it seems that rookie first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu will start the 2022 season as the Panthers’ starting left tackle, Carolina is still giving last year’s third-round pick, Brady Christensen, plenty of snaps at the position. According to Person, Christensen took the majority of the first-team reps this past Thursday at the position. Christensen has a highly sought after versatility that gives the Panthers the option of playing him as a guard or a tackle. With Ekwonu still expected to win the starting job, perhaps offensive line coach James Campen just wants to ensure his best backup option has enough experience at one of the offensive line’s most important positions.
  • The Buccaneers‘ interior offensive line will look completely different in 2022 after the departures of Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet, as well as an injury that may cause center Ryan Jensen to miss a significant amount of time. Trade acquisition Shaq Mason will man the right guard position, while the left guard and center positions are still up in the air, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine. The center position is currently a battle between Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett. Leverett is also competing for the left guard starting job with Aaron Stinnie and rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke. A tweet from Bucs staff writer Scott Smith, though, may hint at one of the positions. Smith reports that assistant head coach & run game coordinator Harold Goodwin “hopes a decision (at left guard) will be made prior to the third preseason game” so that the new left guard can “build chemistry with Donovan Smith and (Hainsey).” Smith is projected to be the starting left tackle, so this comment from Goodwin may point to the fact that Hainsey has won the position battle at center.
  • We recently did a rundown of the Buccaneers’ cornerbacks room, but an update, provided by Matt Matera of the Pewter Report, may give us some new information. We claimed that Sean Murphy-Bunting was in a competition with Jamel Dean for the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Carlton Davis, but that the loser of that battle would still likely get plenty of time as the top option at nickel. According to Matera, though, Murphy-Bunting is no longer working in the slot and is solely competing with Dean for the outside job. Matera adds that Dean seems to have the inside-track which will leave Murphy-Bunting coming off the bench.
  • It appears that Saints second-year linebacker Pete Werner has taken hold of the starting weak-side linebacker position next to Demario Davis, according to Jeff Duncan of nola.com. Duncan comments that the staff’s confidence in Werner is high enough that it assisted in their decision to allow former starter Kwon Alexander to walk in free agency.

Baker Mayfield To Start Panthers Preseason Opener

It sounds like Baker Mayfield is getting the first crack at the Panthers’ starting QB gig. The team announced that their offseason acquisition will start today’s preseason opener against the Commanders.

[RELATED: Baker Mayfield Moving Ahead In Panthers QB Race]

Mayfield and teammate Sam Darnold have been alternating first-team snaps throughout training camp, but it will be Mayfield who will get the first look on Saturday. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler expects Mayfield to get one or two series before giving way to Darnold, who will also get one or two series (Twitter link). After that, the Panthers will likely lean on PJ Walker and rookie third-round pick Matt Corral for the rest of the exhibition.

On one side, it’s clearly telling that Mayfield will be playing alongside other definitive offensive starters, and throughout training camp, we’ve been given every indication that the former first-overall pick was in the lead for the starting QB job. However, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington cautions (on Twitter) that we shouldn’t take too much away from today’s game. Rather, the “true barometer” for the competition will come next week when Carolina practices against New England. According to Darlington, people with the team believe the QB decision will be made following that August 19 game against the Patriots.

Head coach Matt Rhule echoed that next week will be essential for the QB competition, noting that it was an “ongoing process” with no clear deadline.

“When we know, we know,” Rhule said (via Darin Gantt of the team’s website). “If we knew for sure, we would say it and just move on with it. When we, we know. Every day brings new evidence. Every day brings new insights. But at the same time, they’re both competitors. If one guy has a strong day, the next guy fights back the next day. I think it’s been healthy for our team. It’s been healthy for the staff. I think it’s been done the right way. I’m pleased with where it’s at.”

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/12/22

Today’s minor transactions:

Buffalo Bills

  • Activated from active/PUP list: DT Eli Ankou

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

  • Released from IR with injury settlement: LB C.J. Avery

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Las Vegas Raiders

New Orleans Saints

  • Released from IR with injury settlement: CB Dylan Mabin

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans

Panthers Add Two Tight Ends

The Panthers added a pair of tight ends today. The team signed Nate Becker to a one-year deal, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter). The team also announced the signing of veteran Ryan Izzo. To make room on the roster, the Panthers waived/injured cornerback Devin Jones. They also cut wide receiver Andrew Parchment from the injured reserve with an injury settlement, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (via Twitter).

A former seventh-round pick, Izzo spent the first three seasons of his career with the Patriots, getting into 18 games. He started each of his 12 games during the 2020 campaign, hauling in 13 receptions for 199 yards. He spent time with four different organizations during the 2021 campaign, including stints with the Titans, Giants, Seahawks, and Titans.

Becker went undrafted out of Miami (OH) in 2019. Following a brief stint with the Lions, he caught on with the Bills, and he spent the better part of two seasons with the organization. He spent most of his tenure in Buffalo on the practice squad, although he did get into one contest. The 26-year-old spent the 2021 campaign unsigned.

All of Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, and Josh Babicz are currently sidelined with injuries, leaving the squad with Tommy Tremble, Stephen Sullivan, and Jared Scott as their only healthy TEs. Izzo and Becker will temporarily provide some extra depth at the position.

Jones just joined the Panthers last week, and he’ll likely land on IR unless he’s claimed on waivers. Parchment recently landed on injured reserve after getting waived/injured with an undisclosed injury.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/8/22

Today’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

  • Waived/injured: DT Bryce Rodgers

Carolina Panthers

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington Commanders

  • Signed: WR Matt Cole
  • Reverted to IR: WR Jequez Ezzard

Baker Mayfield Moving Ahead In Panthers QB Race

When the Panthers completed their months-long Baker Mayfield negotiations with the Browns, the expectation was he would beat out 2018 draft classmate Sam Darnold. That path may be starting to form.

It has become fairly clear this is Mayfield’s job to lose, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). Although Darnold has shown competency during camp, NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo adds Mayfield’s higher ceiling — which has begun to show itself at camp, via splashier plays — has him pointed toward QB1 duty.

[RELATED: Assessing Carolina’s 2022 Offseason]

Darnold has enjoyed a several-month head start on Mayfield in new OC Ben McAdoo‘s offense. Both Matt Rhule and GM Scott Fitterer wanted the Mayfield trade done by minicamp, which obviously would have allowed for the former No. 1 overall pick to begin on-field work sooner. As Mayfield assimilates further, a gap could begin to form. Mayfield’s knowledge of McAdoo’s system going into camp surprised the Panthers, per Garafolo (video link).

Rhule said he will hold off on determining a starter until after the team’s second preseason game (August 19), but if this battle continues its present course, Mayfield should start to see more than the 50-50 snap split as the regular season nears.

This points to a situation in which Mayfield, who took a pay cut from his fifth-year option salary to facilitate a trade to Carolina, starts over a quarterback tied to a bigger contract. Darnold is still attached to his full $18.9MM option salary. That will make the former No. 3 overall pick almost impossible to move. While a quarterback injury could change the thinking here, Darnold is not being shopped, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets.

As is the case with Jimmy Garoppolo, Darnold’s salary would almost certainly need to be reduced in order for him to be moved. Garoppolo has also shown far more than the USC product as a pro. Absent a major injury, no clear path — save for maybe Seattle — would exist to Darnold starting anywhere. No Darnold-Seahawks connections have been made. The team has been connected to Garoppolo, but only in a scenario in which the 49ers release him. If that is the Seahawks’ stance on Garoppolo, it is unrealistic to expect any Darnold trade interest to develop.