David Tepper

Latest On Panthers’ Plans For No. 1 Pick

The Panthers are likely keeping the No. 1 pick and they’re likely using that selection on a signal-caller. Beyond that, their plan is up in the air. Naturally, the organization is doing their due diligence on the draft’s top quarterback prospects.

The organization had dinner with Alabama QB Bryce Young earlier this week, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter). Kentucky QB Will Levis also dined with a Panthers contingent that included owners David and Nicole Tepper, general manager Scott Fitterer, head coach Frank Reich, assistant GM Dan Morgan, VP Samir Suleiman, and coaches Jim Caldwell, Thomas Brown, and Josh McCown, per Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (on Twitter). And, unsurprisingly, the Panthers will use one of their 30 prospect visits on Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter.

According to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, several team executives believe Tepper is leaning towards Young. However, if the decision was up to several coaches, Stroud would likely be the pick at No. 1. While the front office will surely factor in all of these opinions before the draft, they’ll also be leaning on Caldwell, the team’s new senior assistant. A source said the former coach and QB guru has “a huge voice in this process” and “might have even more say than the head coach.” Ultimately, one rival official believes the decision will ultimately be made by Tepper.

“The owner is going to win that one if he falls in love with one of these kids,” the source told La Canfora. “He’s seen enough misevaluations of the position already.”

After the Panthers sacrificed a pair of firsts, a pair of seconds, and wideout D.J. Moore for the first-overall pick, some pundits have wondered if Carolina could look to flip the pick again. “No one is buying” that the Panthers would consider trading the pick, according to La Canfora, with the reporter citing Tepper’s desire “to get to this point.” Indeed, Fitterer confirmed to Joseph Person of The Athletic that the organization hasn’t received any calls about the top selection (Twitter link).

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Lombardi, Bucs

Drawing a few negative headlines during his five-year run as Panthers owner, David Tepper has seen his team continue a years-long search for a quality quarterback. Carolina will be at it again this offseason. Although Tepper’s multi-offseason push for Deshaun Watson stalled near the end zone, the Panthers came close to acquiring Matthew Stafford in 2021. After negotiations with Lions GM Brad Holmes, team brass left the Senior Bowl convinced it would land the longtime Detroit QB. The Rams subsequently swooped in, and Joe Person of The Athletic notes Tepper mandated his staff slow down on Stafford due to wanting more information on his injury history (subscription required).

At that point, Stafford had only missed games in one of the previous 10 seasons. Though, the rocket-armed QB had played through a host of injuries during his 12-year Lions run. This delay, however, helped allow the Rams time to formulate a trade package that ended up sending the talented QB to Los Angeles and Jared Goff to Detroit. This could have been a moot point, with Stafford indicating he did not want to play for the Panthers, but Carolina did offer its first-round pick (No. 8 overall) and more for a passer without a no-trade clause. The Panthers sent three picks for Sam Darnold soon after. Darnold is a few weeks from free agency.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Frank Reich has praised Tepper for his willingness to spend for assistant coach talent. This included what looks to have become a defensive coordinator bidding war. Shortly after the Broncos let Ejiro Evero out of his contract, the hot HC candidate drew interest from the Panthers and Vikings. Carolina outbid Minnesota to land the defensive coordinator, Person adds. The Panthers have also added ex-HCs Jim Caldwell and Dom Capers, along with Josh McCown, to Reich’s staff.
  • Broncos ownership could also outmuscle teams for assistants. It is not known what kind of interest Joe Lombardi drew, but the new Denver assistant also drew interest from the Saints, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com tweets. The two-year Chargers OC spent 12 years under Payton in New Orleans. The Saints are keeping Broncos OC candidate Ronald Curry on staff as QBs coach, but they were unable to lure Lombardi back to town. Lombardi is set for a coordinator-type role in Denver.
  • The Buccaneers will fill their quarterbacks coach post by promoting former NFL passer Thad Lewis, in news reported by Seahawks QB Geno Smith (Twitter link). Lewis and Smith played against each other as Miami high schoolers and have remained close; the free agent-to-be clarified (via Twitter) this was the reason — not a sudden interest in joining the Bucs — for his excitement. The Bucs employed Lewis as their assistant wide receivers coach over the past two years, with the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud adding Bruce Arians had visions of Lewis as a future offensive coordinator (Twitter link). Smith and the Seahawks have begun negotiations.
  • Tampa Bay hired Dave Canales as OC, from Seattle’s staff, to help fix its league-worst rushing attack. Leonard Fournette did not make the same impact he had in 2021. While the Bucs signed Fournette to a three-year, $21MM deal in March 2022, the running back has changed agents (Twitter link). The seventh-year running back is now with GSE Worldwide.
  • North Carolina’s tight ends coach, John Lilly will be making an NFL move in the same state. The Panthers will keep Lilly in North Carolina, bringing him in to coach their tight ends, Person tweets. Lilly, who worked on the 2019 Browns’ staff, overlapped at Georgia with new Panthers OC Thomas Brown in 2015. He has 30-plus years’ experience at the college and pro levels.
  • Former Colts staffer Brian Decker will follow Frank Reich to Carolina. The Panthers announced Decker is now the team’s vice president of development, a role Darin Gantt of Panthers.com notes will involve evaluating and developing players and coaches. A 22-year military veteran, Decker joined the Colts in 2017 and was in on the interviews that produced Reich’s hire.

Panthers’ HC Hire Comes With Some Potential Controversy

Carolina broke the seal on head coaching hires this offseason when it announced the decision to hire former Colts head coach Frank Reich today to officially replace Matt Rhule, spurning interim head coach Steve Wilks in the process. A closer look at the Panthers’ recent hires, though, may bring us back to an issue the NFL has been struggling to fight in recent years, and may lead Carolina into pending litigation against the NFL and multiple other teams, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports.

On January 8, nearly three weeks ago and a mere two hours after the Panthers’ regular season had come to a close, Reich’s daughter, Hannah Reich Fairman, announced that she had officially accepted a job with Carolina on Twitter. On its face, there’s nothing wrong with Fairman’s hiring. Even in a league rife with nepotism, the personnel addition couldn’t even be considered as such as Reich didn’t yet work for the Panthers.

Wilks already has a storied role in the league’s history of racial discrimination. Wilks is involved in the pending Brian Flores racial discrimination case against the league and several teams, having sued the Cardinals. After the announcement that Wilks was being passed over for Reich, Wilks’ lawyer in the suit, Doug Wigdor, implied that Carolina would soon find itself added to the lawsuit as a defendant, as reported by Florio. The argument on Wilks’ behalf is that racial bias affected his chances to remain the head coach in Carolina on an official basis and that his existing involvement in the pending lawsuit against the NFL led the Panthers to consider him in a lesser capacity.

“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by (Panthers owner) David Tepper,” Wigdor averred in his statement. “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”

Whether or not Fairman’s hiring holds any wrongdoing, it immediately becomes a point of interest in the eventual litigation. The theory would be that the Panthers knew that Reich would eventually become their head coach when they hired Fairman and strung any other candidates along for a sham coaching search that made a mockery of the NFL’s diversity hiring rules and efforts. Efforts like the Rooney Rule have been minimized into red tape that has NFL franchises perfunctorily going through mandatory motions with zero intention.

If Reich’s appointment was a done deal at the time of Fairman’s hiring, it becomes a key example of the league’s issues with racial discrimination, and Wilks case gains much more evidential validity. In order to prove that theory, an investigation will have to be undertaken to review all communications and question those involved in the hiring process.

Broncos, Texans Remain In Play For Sean Payton; Panthers Preparing Big Offer?

Sean Payton has gone through with two of his scheduled interviews, meeting with the Texans on Monday and the Broncos on Tuesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, both teams remain in play for the costly coaching candidate.

The Broncos may still be in the lead, though Payton has not committed to returning to coaching this year. Denver remains in “very strong position” to be able to lure Payton away from his FOX sabbatical, Mark Maske of the Washington Post tweets. We heard previously Payton was willing to work with Russell Wilson, the QB’s shockingly mediocre season aside, and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com notes the money the Broncos will be willing to pay will be a factor in these sweepstakes.

Rob Walton‘s ownership group will be able to comfortably out-offer other teams, should the Broncos view Payton as a bank-breaking HC candidate. The team did just see its 1-B candidate, Jim Harbaugh, decide to stay at Michigan. That could increase a Broncos offer. However, the Panthers look to be willing to pay up in terms of money and power. David Tepper is prepared to give Payton “just about anything he wants,” Maske adds (on Twitter). The prospect of Payton wanting to join the Panthers, who would need to give the Saints valuable draft compensation for his rights, remains uncertain.

Payton is expected to meet with Tepper and Co. this week, he said during an interview with Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd (video link). That meeting is expected to take place in New York. Tepper chasing a prime commodity is not exactly new. He shelled out a seven-year contract for Matt Rhule in 2020 — a deal the Panthers were able to escape after three years, thanks to Rhule’s Nebraska accord — and pursued Deshaun Watson for two years. Thus far, however, the NFL’s second-wealthiest owner has struck out. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers’ NFC South proximity affects a deal, should Payton be interested. Intra-divisional coach trades — both involving the Patriots and Jets — occurred in 1996 and 2000, deals that sent Bill Parcells‘ rights to the Jets and Bill Belichick‘s to the Pats.

In terms of trade compensation, Payton expects the Saints to ask for a mid- to late-first-round pick and reminded Cowherd the Broncos do, in fact, hold a first-round pick (the 49ers’ choice via the Bradley Chubb trade) despite sending their own to the Seahawks for Wilson. Payton and Saints GM Mickey Loomis have discussed the situation, per NOLA.com’s Jeff Duncan, who expects a 2023 first-rounder or a future first to anchor this trade package. Payton adds a future No. 1 choice could potentially complete a deal.

Payton said recently ownership and the front office are the most important factors here, and the 16-year New Orleans HC is believed to be intrigued by Denver’s new owners. As far as how personnel power would go with Payton and George Paton, it would be difficult to envision the Broncos’ current GM — who was hired before this ownership group arrived — fielding final-say power over a coach with Payton’s pedigree. Payton, who did confirm teams’ quarterback situations will factor into his decision, has also been rumored to want to bring personnel staffers with him to his next coaching destination.

While the Texans are well behind the Broncos in terms of achievements and have not won more than four games in a season since 2019, they do again have — thanks to the Watson trade — four picks in the first two rounds. This includes the No. 2 overall selection this year. Payton confirmed the Texans are in the running, citing some familiarity with the Cal McNair-fronted ownership group — through years of Saints joint practices with the Texans — along with the team’s draft capital and potentially favorable division. As far as the Cardinals go, Duncan would be “stunned” if Payton became their next head coach (Twitter link). The Saints have granted permission for the Cards to interview Payton, though no confirmed meeting time has surfaced.

Panthers To Interview Steve Wilks For HC Job, Not Planning Expansive Search

Although David Tepper spoke with Jim Harbaugh about the Panthers’ HC position, the team’s first formal interview should not surprise. Interim coach Steve Wilks will interview for the full-time job Tuesday, according to The Athletic’s Joe Person (subscription required).

Wilks went 6-6 as Carolina’s interim leader, doing so despite continuous quarterback injuries and taking over a team that had traded Christian McCaffrey. But no interim coach has risen to full-time status with his team since the Jaguars took the interim label off Doug Marrone in 2017.

This year’s Panthers hiring process is not expected to be expansive. GM Scott Fitterer said Monday this year’s list of candidates “will not be a large group.” Teams often want to meet with a high number of candidates from different sides of the ball or, in Carolina’s most recent case, from the college ranks. A limited search seemingly bodes well for Wilks, but the Panthers came away with Matt Rhule after a thin batch of interviews. Tepper’s seven-year, $62MM Rhule deal proved a major misfire for the Panthers, who almost certainly will focus on the pro ranks this time around.

Fitterer will be part of the search committee, but so will Tepper’s wife, Nicole, David Newton of ESPN.com tweets. A longtime Seahawks exec, Fitterer moved through a wide-ranging GM search to land the Carolina gig in 2021. Not part of the Rhule search, Fitterer will be a central figure in Carolina’s latest pursuit. But Tepper, who has made some headlines since buying the Panthers in 2018, will likely lead the way.

The Panthers are expected to interview former Colts and Lions HC Jim Caldwell and fellow ex-Indy HC Frank Reich, but the Harbaugh-Panthers connection does not look to be particularly strong. Tepper said Wilks would be considered to stay on if he did an “incredible job.” Wilks won more games than Rhule did in either of his two full seasons and showed considerable improvement compared to his 3-13 Cardinals season in 2018, but the Buccaneers’ Week 17 demolition of the Panthers’ secondary — Wilks’ specialty — undoubtedly hurt the popular interim’s chances.

Carolina has been linked to wanting an offense-oriented coach as well. That has certainly been a popular approach from teams over the past several years, and the Panthers have never hired an offense-geared HC — at least, not one with notable experience in the pros. The Panthers must interview two external minority candidates, in accordance with the Rooney Rule, as well.

Panthers, Jim Harbaugh Discuss HC Job

Add a third team to the Jim Harbaugh mix. The Panthers have Harbaugh on their radar and have spoken with the Michigan head coach about their HC position, Will Kunkel of Charlotte Sports Live reports.

The Panthers have not yet interviewed Harbaugh about the job, per ESPN.com’s David Newton (on Twitter), but David Tepper spoke with the former 49ers HC. Harbaugh has also been connected to the Colts and Broncos, with the latter intending to follow through with an interview.

It appears clear Harbaugh, who was on the fringes of NFL coaching searches for years prior to his Vikings interview in 2022, will have a firm seat on this year’s carousel. A report Monday linked Harbaugh to having genuine NFL interest, with a competitive offer likely to lead him out of Ann Arbor.

Steve Wilks‘ status has been a frequent talking point since the Panthers started to fare a bit better post-Matt Rhule, but Carolina blew a 14-point lead against Tampa Bay that led to the Buccaneers sealing the NFC South title. Hired as the Panthers’ secondary coach this year, Wilks saw his position group — one without Jaycee Horn — go through a brutal day against Tampa Bay. Tom Brady scorched the Panthers for 432 passing yards, finding Mike Evans for three deep touchdowns. Considering no interim coach has been promoted to the full-time role since 2017, it is now difficult to see the Panthers going with Wilks.

Carolina may have competition for Harbaugh, with new Broncos owner Rob Walton boasting far deeper pockets than the NFL’s second-wealthiest owner. Tepper, who bought the Panthers in 2018, used his financial resources to give Rhule a seven-year, $62MM deal — one that backfired. Both teams have been loosely linked to Sean Payton, but only a small buyout fee will be required to land Harbaugh. The Saints will require compensation for a Payton poaching. This will be Tepper’s second HC hire. The Panthers must interview two external minority candidates to satisfy the Rooney Rule requirement.

Harbaugh, 59, coached in the NFL for just four seasons — from 2011-14 — but enjoyed tremendous success during that period. His .695 NFL win percentage ranks sixth all time. Harbaugh has established a reputation as a coach capable of orchestrating turnaround efforts. The 49ers went from 6-10 to 13-3 in his first season, and Alex Smith became a viable starter for most of the 2010s after Harbaugh helped provide a springboard. Michigan went 5-7 in 2014; the Wolverines won 10 games the next two seasons and made back-to-back CFP appearances from 2021-22. The Panthers have not made the playoffs since Tepper’s arrival.

Michigan’s loss to TCU — the program’s second straight semifinal defeat — may be catalyzing the latest run of Harbaugh-to-NFL rumors. In December, Harbaugh announced intentions to stay in Ann Arbor for a ninth season. It now appears the fiery coach, who has spoken of unfinished business in the NFL, will explore opportunities for a pro return. It would be interesting to see Tepper go back to the college ranks for a hire, but Harbaugh’s profile differs from Rhule’s due to his San Francisco past.

Panthers Expected To Pursue QB Addition This Offseason

JANUARY 1, 2023: David Newton of ESPN.com hears from multiple executives that Darnold is playing himself into a short-term deal worth between $10MM-$12MM per year. Though Carolina’s difficult salary cap situation will be an obvious factor in its quarterback plans this offseason, Newton expects the club to have interest in a reunion if the price is right. Presumably, that would not preclude using a high draft choice on a collegiate passer.

DECEMBER 25, 2022: The 2022 season has seen plenty of turbulence for the Panthers with a coaching change taking place and the team being wrought with uncertainty at the quarterback position. The encouraging play from the team under interim head coach Steve Wilks is unlikely to change their aggressiveness in finding a long-term signal-caller in the coming offseason, though.

Carolina entered this spring with Sam Darnold under contract on his fifth-year option, but they were widely expected to add at the position after the former first-rounder’s underwhelming performance in 2021. That resulted in an active pursuit of Deshaun Watson, though the maligned passer was wary of Matt Rhule‘s uncertain future with the organization. Those concerns proved to be well-placed, as the latter was fired five weeks into the campaign, one which started off in disastrous fashion for the Panthers’ offense in particular.

That brought on criticism for Baker Mayfield, who had been under center for each of those games. Acquired in July from the Browns long after the Panthers’ interest in him became clear, the former No. 1 pick struggled mightily in his first year in Charlotte. That resulted in his being benched for XFL alum P.J. Walker, and – after Darnold’s return from a preseason ankle sprain – dropped to third place on the depth chart.

In a relatively unsurprising move, Mayfield was waived just under three weeks ago, which led to a season-ending starting role for him with the Rams. Darnold, meanwhile, has served as the Panthers’ starter in each of the past four games, a stretch which has included three wins to give the team a chance of winning the NFC South. The potential for a strong finish from the USC alum could lead to a deal keeping him in Carolina, but a new quarterback is still expected to be acquired soon.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano report that owner David Tepper is thought to be eyeing a move which “solve[s] his quarterback room once and for all.” That likely would not entail a long-term extension for Darnold, and 2021 third-rounder Matt Corral has missed his entire rookie campaign due to a Lisfranc injury. The Ole Miss product will therefore be expected to fill in strictly as a backup in 2023, regardless of who emerges as the starter.

With Carolina currently projected to be in a worse cap situation than most in the upcoming offseason, the draft represents the obvious avenue for the team to add a new No. 1 QB. However, Fowler and Graziano’s colleague David Newton notes that Darnold’s play could “open the possibility” the Panthers at least wait until after the first round of April’s draft to select a signal-caller. Carolina’s Day 2 and 3 set of picks was bolstered midseason by the Christian McCaffrey trade, giving them plenty of options with respect to adding at least another developmental passer.

The failed experiment with Mayfield is simply the latest in a long line of moves the Panthers have made in recent years which underline their need for a long-term solution under center. The spring of 2023 will represent another opportunity to solve the issue, with the team’s decision regarding retaining or replacing Wilks likely to have a significant impact on their plans.

Panthers Owner David Tepper Involved In Practice Facility Investigation

The Panthers appeared to be in line for a new practice facility in the near future, but the project which was planned to take place in Rock Hill, South Carolina was abandoned earlier this year. Owner David Tepper and his his real estate company are now the subject of a probe into the matter.

As detailed by Jeffrey Collins of the Associated Press, a criminal investigation has been opened by the York County Sheriff’s Office into Tepper and GT Real Estate regarding the potential misuse of public funds during the short-lived process of attempting to build the facility. In question is the $21MM in sales tax money which the company is accused of using on a “failed vanity project” before they recently declared bankruptcy.

That figure is roughly equivalent to the amount paid out to York County following a settlement reached between the two parties. That process very recently ended a lawsuit filed against Tepper and the Panthers, one which has yet to be formally approved, Collins notes. The organization has suggested the announcement of a criminal probe could be related to the timing of the settlement agreement.

“An investigation is simply an inquiry and should not create any inference that wrongdoing has been committed by any party,” a joint statement issued by Sherriff Kevin Tolson and Solicitor Kevin Brackett reads. Tepper’s company has denied any wrongdoing, and argued that the project collapsed because funding from Rock Hill and other governments was never provided to facilitate its completion.

“This is a straightforward commercial matter that is being fully resolved,”  GT Real Estate said in a statement of its own. “The underlying disputes arise under contracts that were jointly negotiated by the parties and are publicly available. The funds paid by the county were handled consistent with the terms of those contracts.”

Tepper, 65, bought the Panthers in 2018 for a then-record price of $2.2 billion. One of the NFL’s wealthiest owners, his tenure has most notably been marked to date by the failed head coaching hire of Matt Rhule and a years-long inability to acquire a long-term franchise quarterback. This story will remain worth watching in the event criminal action is deemed necessary against him and/or his company.

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.

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.