Panthers Rumors

Steve Wilks Making “Strong Push” For Panthers’ Permanent HC Post

Since taking over for Matt Rhule in October, Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks has been making the most of a difficult situation. Although Carolina is 2-4 with Wilks at the helm, a missed extra point was the deciding factor in a Week 8 loss to the Falcons, and the Panthers and Ravens were tied 3-3 midway through the fourth quarter of their Week 11 contest before several late turnovers sealed a Baltimore victory.

Simply put, the Panthers have been more competitive under Wilks, and as Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports writes, owner David Tepper has taken notice. Earlier reporting indicated that Tepper would want an experienced option as his permanent replacement for Rhule, and while Wilks’ previous head coaching gig lasted only one season — a disappointing 3-13 campaign with the Cardinals in 2018 — his time in Arizona and his stint as Carolina’s interim HC will give him 28 games as a sideline general by the time the 2022 season comes to an end.

Whether that is sufficient experience for Tepper remains to be seen. One factor working against Wilks is that his background is on the defensive side of the ball; outside of his time as a head coach, all of his jobs in the collegiate and professional ranks have been as a defensive coach or coordinator, and per Jones, Tepper is seeking an “up-and-coming offensive mind.”

It’s worth noting that Jones’ report and the prior reports concerning Tepper’s desire for an experienced former NFL head coach do not necessarily mesh. Someone with significant NFL head coaching experience probably does not qualify as an “up-and-coming” offensive guru, which puts one in mind of Sean McVay before he was hired by the Rams, or Kevin Stefanski before he was hired by the Browns. If Tepper does tab someone other than Wilks as his permanent HC, perhaps it will be a candidate like Lions OC Ben Johnson, who — unlike Rhule when he joined the Panthers — at least has considerable NFL experience, even if none of it has come at the head coaching level.

One way or another, Jones says Wilks is “making a strong push” to have the interim label removed from his title. Carolina’s recent fortunes have been undermined by the team’s quarterback situation, as its 2020 Teddy Bridgewater acquisition and subsequent trades for former top draft choices Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield have yielded nothing but disappointment. The locker room support that Wilks presently enjoys, the adjustments he has made due to inconsistent QB play — adjustments that have resulted in an improved running game despite the trade of Christian McCaffrey — and the club’s competitive fire under Wilks will certainly give Tepper a lot to consider.

Of course, as Jones acknowledges, Wilks’ win-loss record over the final six games of the season will also factor into Tepper’s decision. Wilks’ efforts to secure the permanent HC post will continue in Sunday’s Week 12 battle with the Broncos, a game in which Darnold will make his 2022 debut.

Nebraska Hires Matt Rhule

NOVEMBER 27: Rhule and Nebraska have agreed to an eight-year, $72MM contract, per Rapoport (via Twitter). RapSheet says the deal will offset the “vast majority” of the ~$34MM the Panthers owed to Rhule.

NOVEMBER 26: Matt Rhule has found his next gig. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the recently fired Panthers coach will indeed be taking the Nebraska head coaching gig. Rapoport adds that the two sides have agreed to a deal.

NOVEMBER 25: The Panthers may soon have a way out of the nearly $34MM owed to Matt Rhule beyond this season. Nebraska has honed in on the former Temple and Baylor HC, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Low, who adds the sides are hoping to finalize a deal soon (Twitter link).

Rhule’s seven-year, $62MM Panthers contract includes offset language that would allow the team to avoid paying Rhule beyond 2022, should he be hired as a college HC for the 2023 season. The Cornhuskers may be close to fully clearing that path, with ESPN’s Pete Thamel adding a deal is expected. The Panthers’ part in this is not completely done, per Thamel, who adds that lofty through-2026 contract is part of the Rhule-Nebraska negotiations (Twitter links).

Nebraska fired head coach Scott Frost earlier this season. The one-time college powerhouse has not hit the 10-win benchmark since 2010 and has dipped in stature since its run at a national title in 2001. The Big Ten program is finishing out what will be its sixth straight losing season. Rhule’s status as a program-building coach would naturally be attractive for a team that has largely struggled to compete since leaving the Big 12. This would also be a new challenge for Rhule, whose previous rebuilds came in the American Athletic Conference and Big 12.

Rhule resurfaced this week, writing a piece for the33rdteam.com and appearing on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football; that re-emergence can be taken as a sign the veteran coach is ready to resume his career. The Panthers fired Rhule after a 1-4 start this season.

Once coveted by NFL teams, Rhule saw his stock around the league take hits during his time in Carolina. The Panthers went 11-27 under Rhule, but he has always been viewed as a candidate to land another college HC gig. Rhule is 47-43 as a college coach. His first years at Temple and Baylor are largely responsible for that near-.500 mark; Rhule led three 10-win seasons prior to trying his hand in the NFL. He looks set to follow several coaches who failed to make the college-to-NFL transition — Chip Kelly, Bobby Petrino, Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban among the recent examples — to return to their former level.

Should this Nebraska hire come to fruition, it will take David Tepper off the hook for the widely criticized contract he gave Rhule in 2020. The Giants were also courting Rhule that year, and the seven-year college HC wanted to return to that organization — where he previously operated as O-line coach — over accepting Tepper’s offer. But John Mara bowed out of the Rhule sweepstakes, hiring Joe Judge instead of matching Carolina’s offer.

Quarterback issues derailed Rhule in Charlotte, but the Panthers did add some pieces under Rhule — Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn — that came up at the trade deadline. Panthers interim HC Steve Wilks axed Rhule’s defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, as well. Snow having worked with Rhule at Temple and Baylor would make it logical to expect he will resurface in Lincoln.

Week 12 Injured Reserve Return Tracker

After two years of giving teams free rein on injured reserve transactions, the NFL reinstated limitations this offseason. Teams can now activate up to eight players from their IR, PUP and NFI lists combined. That will reintroduce some strategy into how franchises proceed with their activations over the next few months.

Players who were carried over to 53-man rosters after cutdown day must reside on their respective injured list for at least four weeks. Once a team designates a player for return, meaning the player returns to practice, the activation clock starts. Teams have 21 days from those return-to-practice points to activate that player. If no activation commences in that window, the player reverts to season-ending IR.

Here is how teams’ IR, NFI and PUP situations stack up for Week 12 so far:

Arizona Cardinals

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 3

Atlanta Falcons

Designated for return: 

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Baltimore Ravens

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 4

Buffalo Bills

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 7

Carolina Panthers

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Chicago Bears

Eligible for activation: none

Activations remaining: 3

Cincinnati Bengals

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activated: 

Activations remaining: 3

Cleveland Browns

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 4

Dallas Cowboys

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Denver Broncos

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 3

Detroit Lions

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Green Bay Packers

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 4

Houston Texans

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 3

Indianapolis Colts

Eligible for activation: none

Activations remaining: 6

Jacksonville Jaguars

Designated for return:

Activations remaining: 8

Kansas City Chiefs

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 6

Las Vegas Raiders

Designated for return:

Activations remaining: 6

Los Angeles Chargers

Eligible for activation: 

Activated:

Activations remaining: 6

Los Angeles Rams

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 2

Miami Dolphins

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Minnesota Vikings

Designated for return: 

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 7

New England Patriots

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

New Orleans Saints

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 3

New York Giants

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 3

New York Jets

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 6

Philadelphia Eagles

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Pittsburgh Steelers

Designated for return:

Reverted to season-ending IR:

Activations remaining: 6

San Francisco 49ers

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 1

Seattle Seahawks

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 6

Tennessee Titans

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 3

Washington Commanders

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activated:

Activations remaining: 4

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/26/22

The league’s minor moves and standard gameday elevations for Week 12:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

New York Jets

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 11/22/22

Today’s practice squad transactions:

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

  • Signed: RB Tyreik McAllister, LB Ray Wilborn
  • Released: LB Harvey Langi

Houston Texans

  • Signed: DB D’Angelo Ross

Indianapolis Colts

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Panthers To Start Sam Darnold In Week 12

Steve Wilks said last week he wanted Sam Darnold to see some action. While the Carolina interim HC was not yet certain when that would come, clarity emerged Tuesday.

Darnold will start against the Broncos in Week 12. The Panthers are pivoting to their primary 2021 starter, who has missed all of this season due to the high ankle sprain he suffered during training camp. This will be Darnold’s 50th career start.

Despite Baker Mayfield coming over in July, completing a long-rumored trade, Darnold remains the Panthers’ highest-paid quarterback. He is tied to an $18.9MM fifth-year option. The team also paid more to land Darnold than it did to acquire Mayfield, sending the Jets second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for the former No. 3 overall selection. Injuries have marred Darnold’s Carolina run, but Mayfield beat him out for the Panthers’ QB1 gig during training camp.

Darnold, 25, has disappointed as a starter with the Jets and Panthers. Though, the USC product did have Carolina at 3-0 last season. Mayfield has enjoyed a better career than the player chosen two spots after him in 2018, nearly winning Offensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and then leading the Browns to the playoffs two seasons later. But he has been unable to recapture that form since a shoulder injury altered his Cleveland path in September 2021. Mayfield’s 17.8 QBR is well south of every other qualified passer this season.

The Panthers will start three quarterbacks for a second straight season, sending in Darnold after Mayfield and P.J. Walker stints. Carolina will also start a different QB for a third straight game. Although Darnold suffered his high ankle sprain first, his injury might have been the most significant. Initially given a four- to six-week recovery timetable, Darnold did not come off IR until before Week 10. Mayfield returned not long after suffering his high ankle malady; Walker is still recovering from his. While Mayfield reclaimed his QB1 gig against the Ravens, the Panthers scored three points.

In 2021, Darnold finished 29th in QBR — third from the bottom — during a season in which a shoulder injury took him off the field for a stretch. A fractured scapula shut down Darnold in early November of last year. Carolina’s season was already going south by that point, with injuries — most notably to Christian McCaffrey — leading to the team losing four straight after its 3-0 opening. Darnold finished 4-7 as a starter and closed his fourth NFL campaign with a 9-to-13 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio. Because Mayfield has struggled, the Panthers will give their previous QB1 another chance. Murmurs about Darnold eventually reclaiming the gig were emerging by mid-October, when Mayfield suffered his ankle injury.

Darnold, Mayfield and Walker are all set for free agency at season’s end. Matt Rhule drove the trades for both Darnold and Mayfield, and he coached Walker at Temple. It is safe to say the Panthers’ quarterback room will look considerably different next year. For now, Darnold will have a chance to rebound to some degree ahead of what would be his first free agency crack.

Panthers QB Notes: Darnold, Mayfield, Rhule, Herbert, Stafford, Tepper, Watson

Although the Panthers are starting Baker Mayfield in Week 11, they want to see Sam Darnold in action this season. Steve Wilks said he would like to give Darnold some work, though the interim HC did not indicate that would be certain to happen this week against the Ravens. “I’m interested in winning the game. This is not pay $250 to get to play,” Wilks said, via The Athletic’s Joe Person (on Twitter).

Carolina used one of its injury activations to move Darnold onto its 53-man roster last week, but the former No. 3 overall pick did not see any action against the Falcons. P.J. Walker is out of the picture for the time being, after becoming the third Carolina QB this season to suffer a high ankle sprain. Mayfield will make his first start since sustaining his ankle injury in Week 9. Here is the latest from what has become one of the more complex QB situations in recent NFL history:

  • After playing hurt last season, Mayfield has not turned it around. On the radar for a potential franchise-QB deal in 2021, Mayfield is on track for free agency for the first time. The market for the former No. 1 overall pick may check in at $5-$7MM on a prove-it deal, David Newton of ESPN.com notes. Mayfield’s 17.7 QBR ranks last in the NFL.
  • This situation has been in flux since Cam Newton‘s 2019 foot injury. Prior to the team making the Newton-for-Teddy Bridgewater change, GM Marty Hurney and most of the Panthers’ scouts were high on Justin Herbert. But Matt Rhule did not view 2020 as the window to draft a quarterback, with Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com indicating in an expansive piece the team saw a jump from No. 7 overall to No. 4 — ahead of the QB-seeking Dolphins and Chargers — as too costly. While then-Giants GM Dave Gettleman was not keen on trading down, going most of his GM career without ever doing so, the Panthers not making a push for Herbert has led to QB chaos.
  • After the Panthers determined Bridgewater — a preference of former OC Joe Brady — would be a one-and-done in Charlotte, they made a big offer for Matthew Stafford. Negotiations between new Panthers GM Scott Fitterer and Lions rookie GM Brad Holmes at the 2021 Senior Bowl led to Panthers brass leaving Mobile believing they were set to acquire Stafford, Fowler notes. It is interesting to learn how far the GMs progressed in talks, because Stafford made it known soon after he did not want to play for the Panthers. The Rams then came in late with their two-first-rounder offer, forcing the Panthers and others to look elsewhere.
  • Rhule then pushed hard for Darnold, Fowler adds, after Panthers staffers went through film sessions evaluating he, Carson Wentz and Drew Lock. The Panthers sent the Jets second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for the former No. 3 overall pick and picked up his guaranteed $18.9MM fifth-year option. Owner David Tepper begrudgingly picked up the option but became irked by the 2023 cost hanging over the franchise, per Fowler. Tepper is believed to have held up this year’s Mayfield trade talks in order to move the Browns to pick up more money on his option salary. The delay was connected to the Panthers already having Darnold’s fifth-year option to pay.
  • Tepper’s main prize during this multiyear QB odyssey, Deshaun Watson, was leery of the Panthers’ staff uncertainty, Fowler adds. All things being equal between the four finalists — Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, New Orleans — the Panthers were not believed to be Watson’s first choice. The Falcons were viewed as the team that would have landed Watson if the Browns did not make that unprecedented $230MM guarantee offer.
  • Fitterer offered support for a Mitch Trubisky signing this offseason, according to Fowler, who adds the team never engaged in extended talks with Jimmy Garoppolo‘s camp. While Garoppolo said the Panthers were in the mix, the team was believed to be leery of his injury history. Trubisky is in Year 1 of a two-year, $14.3MM deal. While Trubisky may well be available again in 2023, the Panthers — having added six draft picks from the Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson trades — will be connected to this year’s crop of QB prospects.

Panthers Activate S Jeremy Chinn From IR

The Panthers will have Jeremy Chinn back in uniform in Week 11. They activated the veteran safety from injured reserve Saturday. Chinn has missed more than the four-game IR minimum, having last played in Week 4.

Playing both safety and linebacker during his two-plus seasons as a pro, Chinn has been one of Carolina’s most productive players since entering the league as a second-round draftee. The Panthers included Chinn among their top assets ahead of the trade deadline, protecting him alongside the likes of Brian Burns, D.J. Moore, Derrick Brown and Jaycee Horn.

Unlike that batch of recent first-round picks, Chinn has missed much of this season. He went down six plays into Carolina’s Week 4 game with a hamstring injury he later admitted was more severe than he initially realized. This abbreviated season stands to stall Chinn’s run of 100-tackle campaigns. He joins only linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason among Panthers who have begun their careers with consecutive 100-stop slates.

Chinn will slot back in alongside Xavier Woods at safety. The Panthers’ primary Chinn fill-in, Myles Hartsfield, is out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens because of an ankle injury. Carolina is still in good shape in terms of injury activations; the Chinn move only represents the team’s third of its allotted eight this season.

In addition to the Chinn activation, the Panthers signed linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe to their active roster from the practice squad and made cornerback T.J. Carrie and defensive tackle Phil Hoskins their two gameday elevations. Iyiegbuniwe will take the roster spot of linebacker Arron Mosby, whom the team waived Saturday.

WR Rumors: Diggs, Texans, Panthers, Hamler

Week 10’s VikingsBills thriller featured Stefon Diggs‘ first game against his former team. The 2020 trade that sent Diggs to Buffalo and a compensation package headlined by a first-round pick (Justin Jefferson) to Minnesota became one of the great win-win trades in modern NFL history. Diggs voicing his frustration about the Vikings’ run-heavy offense in 2019 led to Bills interest, laying the groundwork for the 2020 swap. Diggs requested a trade in October 2019, but after meetings with Vikings brass, the sides agreed to shelve the matter until 2020, Tim Graham of The Athletic reports (subscription required).

After a season in which Diggs drew just 94 targets in 15 games, the Vikings worked with the wideout’s agent to find a fit. The Jets and Patriots reached out, and Graham adds the Texans were in the mix as well. A Texans trade would have been interesting, considering they ended up trading DeAndre Hopkins on the same day Diggs was ultimately dealt. Houston ended up acquiring Brandin Cooks later that spring. Diggs did not ask for a new contract from the Bills immediately. His camp worried an extension request upon arrival would scuttle a potential deal, Graham adds, but the Bills understood money needed to be moved to accommodate the trade asset. Buffalo did so later that summer. Diggs ended up playing two years on his 2018 Vikings-constructed deal before inking a four-year, $96MM Bills pact this offseason.

Both Diggs and Jefferson are 2-for-2 in Pro Bowls since the trade, with both heading toward more accolades this year. Jefferson will be eligible for a monster extension in 2023. Here is the latest from the NFL’s receiver landscape:

  • Although the Texans used their No. 1 waiver spot to claim Amari Rodgers on Wednesday, Field Yates of ESPN.com notes (via Twitter) the Panthers also submitted a claim. The Panthers have D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall signed to long-term deals but recently changed up their receiver situation by trading Robbie Anderson. Houston now has Rodgers, a 2021 third-round pick whom the Packers cut this week, signed through 2024.
  • Injury problems have hindered the Broncos throughout the season, and their receiver situation — one already affected by Tim Patrick‘s training camp ACL tear — took another hit last week when KJ Hamler went down in practice. Hamler’s hamstring injury sidelined him for Denver’s Week 10 game, and Nathaniel Hackett said (via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, on Twitter) the third-year wideout is expected to miss “a few” more weeks due to the injury. A former second-round pick, Hamler is coming off a season marred by an ACL tear and a hip injury. The young deep threat drew interest at the trade deadline, but the Broncos opted to stand pat at receiver. Hamler has just seven catches for 165 yards this season.
  • Conversely, Jerry Jeudy is believed to have avoided a major setback. Jeudy suffered an ankle injury early in the Broncos’ Week 10 loss to the Titans; he was carted off the field. But the Broncos believe the former first-round pick dodged a bullet, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, who notes Jeudy could return this week. Jeudy, who also left a Week 2 game due to an ankle injury before returning in Week 3, has 30 receptions for 449 yards this season.

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 11/15/22

Today’s practice squad transactions:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

  • Signed: DB Devon Key

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

  • Released: WR Kevin Kassis

Tennessee Titans