David Tepper

Panthers HC, GM Wanted Baker Mayfield At Team’s Minicamp

The Browns and Panthers engaged in trade talks for Baker Mayfield for nearly three months, and although the expected result finally emerged this week, Matt Rhule and Carolina GM Scott Fitterer wanted it to happen sooner.

Prior to Mayfield accepting a $3.5MM pay cut, with the possibility of recouping that money through incentives, the Panthers wanted the fifth-year quarterback to reduce his fully guaranteed salary by $7MM, Joe Person and Zac Jackson of The Athletic report (subscription required). Although this component of the trade caused a delay, both Rhule and Fitterer wanted this trade to be completed before the Panthers reported for minicamp.

Mayfield arriving ahead of Carolina’s minicamp would have given him more time to begin learning new OC Ben McAdoo‘s playbook, and the four-year Browns starter being at Panther minicamp obviously would have begun his competition with Sam Darnold earlier. Panthers owner David Tepper, however, was determined not to overpay for a “depressed asset,” with Person and Jackson adding the fifth-year Panthers owner being “dug in” led to Mayfield remaining with the Browns during minicamp time.

Mayfield recently expressed frustration the Browns did not trade him ahead of minicamp, but it is now known he was aware of the situation involving the Panthers when making those comments. The Browns are covering $10.5MM of his salary; the former Heisman winner is on the Panthers’ payroll at $4.86MM. While it should be expected Mayfield prevails in his upcoming competition with Darnold, the latter has a several-month head start in McAdoo’s offense — including on-field work at OTAs and minicamp. Mayfield has shown far more than Darnold on the field, and while that might win out, the timing of this trade did not do the newcomer any favors.

Carolina’s hopes at a $7MM pay cut became a non-starter for Mayfield, but Person and Jackson note the quarterback’s agent and Panthers VP of football administration Samir Suleiman worked out the $3.5MM incentive package. That made the 27-year-old passer more amenable to reducing the fully guaranteed $18.9MM salary.

The Browns initially sought a Day 2 pick for Mayfield — an asking price similar to the 49ers’ early Jimmy Garoppolo goal — and did hold talks with other teams about the quarterback, but the Panthers were the only serious suitor. The Colts, whom Mayfield eyed after the Browns entered the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, quickly landed Matt Ryan. The Seahawks did not make a “real trade inquiry,” per The Athletic.

Latest On Panthers’ Quarterback Plan

How the Panthers proceed at No. 6 overall will be one of this draft’s pivot points. Should the draft not produce a top-five quarterback pick or a trade-up into the top five for one, the Panthers will face a major decision. Two days ahead of the draft, different paths for this franchise continue to be mentioned.

Some teams are convinced Carolina will pass on adding a quarterback at 6, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. The Panthers going with one of the higher-acclaimed tackles or pass rushers would add up, value-wise, though the team’s biggest need would obviously remain. Carolina’s lack of second- or third-round picks would point the team to a mid- or post-draft trade for a veteran QB.

Surely aiming to increase the value of the No. 6 slot, GM Scott Fitterer said “a handful” of teams have shown interest in trading up. While Fitterer added that there are “a couple” of QBs he would be comfortable drafting at 6, via ESPN.com’s David Newton (on Twitter), the Panthers moving down would not surprise. Fitterer comes from Seattle, where trade-downs have been a staple, and adding a Day 2 pick or multiple Day 2 choices would help Carolina.

Indeed, the Panthers continue to be mentioned as a trade-down candidate, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). It might depend on which tackle the left tackle-needy Panthers like best. That player being gone at 6 could induce the team to move back. Another team eyeing a quarterback, potentially wanting to move in front of the Falcons (No. 8), would be another scenario that induces a Panthers move down the board.

Of course, Matt Rhule will enter the season on the hot seat. And a quarterback who once committed to his Temple team, Kenny Pickett, is now being connected to David Tepper as well. The Panthers owner “loves” the Pitt prospect, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who mocks Pickett to Carolina at 6. Coming out of the Senior Bowl, the Panthers were connected to Pickett. The former Steelers minority owner, Tepper remains a Pitt booster, per JLC. The franchise that made a big offer for Matthew Stafford and chased Deshaun Watson for over a year decides deciding it cannot wait any longer to make a big splash at the position is not difficult to foresee.

Pickett, who could slide down draft boards if Carolina does not take him, would be a bold selection given the widespread skepticism attached to this QB class. The Panthers did visit with Pickett, Malik Willis and four other QB prospects earlier this month. But they would seemingly be better prepared to win in 2022 with Baker Mayfield, who could well be available (for less draft capital) after the draft. Jimmy Garoppolo would loom as an instant-starter option, should his shoulder rehab go well, after the draft as well. The veteran path will be one of the factors the Panthers must consider when they make their first-round selection.

Saints, Vikings Join List Of Deshaun Watson Suitors; Latest On QB’s Market

Deshaun Watson being cleared of criminal charges Friday will not prevent an NFL suspension, and the Texans quarterback still must navigate the 22 civil cases that emerged from allegations of sexual assault and/or sexual misconduct. But several teams are interested in the Pro Bowl passer, pointing toward a big trade haul for Houston.

In addition to the Panthers, Seahawks, Buccaneers and Browns, the Saints and Vikings have emerged as Watson suitors, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com reports. They join a suddenly robust market, one that does not include the Dolphins, who moved on despite being runaway favorites for Watson last year. The Texans have sought a trade package fronted by three first-rounders. With Friday’s lack of a grand jury indictment a “game-changer” in this pursuit, per Wilson, Houston might land its desired haul or something close to it.

The Browns are “incredibly interested,” Wilson notes, adding that up to 10 teams are monitoring the embattled QB. The Saints paid close attention to Friday’s developments, NFL.com’s Jane Slater tweets, though they have a tricky cap situation. New Orleans has reached out to Houston, however. The Vikings are in on Watson “for the right price,” Wilson adds. Watson was said to be interested in Minnesota and Tampa Bay as destinations last month.

Minnesota has a rather expensive quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who is tied to a fully guaranteed $35MM base salary. Cousins would obviously need to be moved in a Watson-to-Minnesota scenario, and that may mean the Vikings eating some of his contract. That could be tricky, given Watson’s $39MM-per-year deal. Watson is also due a $35MM base salary in 2022. Sitting $15MM-plus over the cap, the Vikings are actually in slightly worse shape than the long-cap-strapped Saints ($6MM over) as of Saturday afternoon.

Still in on Watson, after emerging as a suitor in early 2021, the Panthers are preparing an aggressive offer. David Tepper hired an investigator to look into Watson’s legal matters, Wilson notes, adding that the Texans still want draft assets in addition to the three first-rounders and at least one player for their quarterback. Jameis Winston extension talks have been on the Saints’ radar, and that would better fit New Orleans’ cap situation. But the team has never been shy about executing winter cap gymnastics. Watson would be a considerable upgrade on Winston for the Saints, whose passing game took a major hit after Drew Brees‘ retirement.

This market’s new additions notwithstanding, the Panthers and Seahawks are still viewed as the likely favorites, Wilson tweets. Seattle has a quarterback need for the first time in 10 years and now has three first-round picks over the next two drafts, including this year’s No. 9 overall choice. The Seahawks’ Watson interest surfaced not long after Tuesday’s Russell Wilson trade.

The Eagles are no longer believed to be a key player here. Watson has not shown interest in Philadelphia as a destination, with Wilson adding he has never waived his no-trade clause for the Eagles. The Steelers and Giants also remain pointed in other directions, but many offers could still come the Texans’ way in the coming days.

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Rhule, Saints

Le’Veon Bell joined the Buccaneers earlier this week. They are his fifth team and fourth in the past 14 months. Following the Ravens’ decision to waive him earlier this season, the 29-year-old running back considered retirement, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com notes. While Bell has not been much of a factor since his final Steelers season, in 2017, he had not been an in-season free agent for a lengthy stretch until this year. The Ravens cut Bell on Nov. 16. The Bucs, who are in need at running back after Leonard Fournette‘s IR placement, may well give him an opportunity on third downs and as a change-of-pace option behind Ronald Jones. Bell also expressed regret for how public his Steelers franchise tag dispute became in 2018, though the former All-Pro said he does not regret skipping that season. While that move ended up benefiting Bell financially, via the lucrative guarantee he received from the Jets in 2019, his career has never recovered from that decision.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Although the Panthers have drifted out of contention and have gone 10-20 under Matt Rhule, the drumbeat of the ex-college HC staying on for a third season continues. Despite Carolina’s 4-10 record, Rhule is still expected to receive a third season, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). David Tepper, naturally, is unhappy about being 0-for-4 in winning seasons as owner; this will put more heat on Rhule if/once he comes back in 2022. Rhule returning gibes with what we’ve heard out of Charlotte in recent weeks. Rhule received a monster contract in 2020 — seven years, $62MM — but has not delivered just yet, largely due to decisions at quarterback. The Panthers have bounced from Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to P.J. Walker and back to Newton over the past year and change. Rhule said this week Darnold will return to action and play some against the Bucs.
  • Sean Payton returned to Saints headquarters Friday, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com tweets. Payton contracted the coronavirus for a second time and missed New Orleans’ shutout win in Tampa. He will be back for a coaching assignment that will involve game-planning for rookie Ian Book’s first regular-season snaps. Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian are on the Saints’ COVID-19 list.
  • Hill’s second Saints extension will pay between $40MM and $95MM, depending on his role. Hill’s 2022 salary ($10.1MM) is fully guaranteed, with his 2023 base ($9.9MM) becoming guaranteed in March 2022, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. However, the other components of this contract are more complex. Hill’s 2023-25 salaries can increase by $12MM per year if he throws at least 224 regular-season passes the previous year. That prospect will hinge on how the Saints proceed at quarterback in 2022, when Jameis Winston is a free agent. There are also $18MM in incentives included, Florio adds, with many of those escalators tied to passing statistics. Essentially, this is a two-year, $20MM deal with significant upside for Hill, who will be 32 by Week 1 of next season.
  • The Bucs‘ Week 15 injury avalanche will indeed cost them Mike Evans for at least one game. The Pro Bowl wideout did not practice this week and will miss the Bucs-Panthers matchup Sunday. Evans suffered a hamstring injury against the Saints. The Bucs will also be without Fournette and Lavonte David, whom they placed on IR Thursday, due to injuries suffered last week. Chris Godwin is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Panthers Plan To Give HC Matt Rhule Another Year

Despite the Panthers’ underwhelming record in one-plus season under Matt Rhule, it sounds like the head coach will get another year to figure it all out. Per ESPN’s Dan Graziano, Panthers owner David Tepper intends to keep Rhule around for a third season. Of course, the writer cautions that plenty could change over the next five weeks.

The Panthers are 5-7 on the year, giving Rhule a combined record of 10-18 across the last two seasons. Things haven’t gone according to plan for Rhule, but it sounds like the organization will give him some additional time to figure it out. The Panthers have dealt with inconsistent QB play over the past two years, and the team was hit hard by injuries in 2021 (including an injury to their best player, Christian McCaffrey). NFL teams took notice of Baylor’s quick turnaround from the Art Briles era when Rhule was at the helm, and it sounds like the Panthers are still hoping their HC can guide a similar revival in Carolina.

While Rhule will likely get a commitment for the 2022 season, don’t be surprised if he’s given an extremely short leash. Graziano believes the HC will be one of the major names on the “hot seat” heading into the 2022 campaign.

Meanwhile, Graziano writes that the recent dismissal of offensive coordinator Joe Brady wasn’t all that surprising. The two coaches “didn’t have the best relationship,” and if you add in Carolina’s sputtering offense, the writing was clearly on the wall.

Panthers Planning Big Deshaun Watson Push

Previously linked to a Deshaun Watson pursuit, the Panthers appear prepared to pry the superstar passer from the Texans. If the Texans make Watson available, Panthers owner David Tepper is “fixed on” the prospect of landing him in a trade, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes.

After seeing the Panthers limited at quarterback during his short tenure in power, the Carolina owner wants to see the franchise acquire a game-changing talent at this position. The Panthers are “beyond smitten” with Watson, with Tepper prepared to do what it takes to land the four-year Houston starter, La Canfora adds.

The Panthers do not have the extra 2021 first-round pick that would help them in such a deal, putting them at a disadvantage compared to the Dolphins and Jets, but JLC indicates the Tepper-run franchise would be prepared to offer its next three first-rounders and possibly young players if that is what it required to acquire Watson. If nothing else, the Panthers appear prepared to make other Watson suitors bid highly to land him.

While the Texans have yet to make Watson available, the quarterback is dug in on his stance to leave Houston. The Panthers join the Broncos and 49ers as teams preparing for a Watson run, but thus far, Carolina’s reported level of interest surpasses that of Denver or San Francisco. The Jets and Dolphins have also been linked to Watson, who has Miami and San Francisco atop his destination list. It is unclear how the 25-year-old QB feels about Carolina, but he is not expected to be veto-happy with his no-trade clause and did have a rather notable college career in the region. The Panthers are also set to move their practice facility to South Carolina, the state in which Watson won a national championship while at Clemson.

The Panthers offered Teddy Bridgewater and their No. 8 overall pick in a deal for Matthew Stafford, giving more credence to the idea Tepper is seeking an immediate upgrade at quarterback. But Watson is “far and away” the player the owner covets, according to La Canfora. The Texans, should they grant their passer’s trade request, would certainly prefer to ship him to the NFC. But it is unclear at this point what the Jets and/or Dolphins would offer. It sounds like those teams will have to surrender plenty to outbid the Panthers.

Panthers Owner David Tepper On Offseason, GM Search

After firing Marty Hurney on Monday morning, Panthers owner David Tepper is turning his attention to the search for the team’s next GM. In a chat with Darin Gantt of the team website, Tepper indicated that his new-look front office will blend new-school analytics with old-school scouting. He also suggested that Matt Rhule will be a part of the search, since he wants his head coach and GM to be on the same page. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

[RELATED: Panthers Fire Marty Hurney]

On the process of the decision:

“It’s been an evolving decision. Basically, it wasn’t just me on a whim…Basically, with discussions, it seemed like Marty and I had a little bit of difference in philosophy. He leaned toward more traditional techniques versus a more data-driven, analytical process, but I think some marrying of that would be more in line.”

On the front office’s structure, moving forward:

“[The previous structure] was very siloed. Things were kept separate all over this organization and I don’t like that…I like one organization, one goal moving together from football, so the business side and the football is all moving together.

On who will have final say over the Panthers’ first-round pick:

“I think it should be the GM with a lot of talk with the head coach and some, potentially, input from me. Sometimes I may just have to be a tiebreaker. But I think it should be collaborative.”

On Rhule:

“Matt, as advertised, is a very good developer of talent. You’re starting to see it here, and we get to this point in the season in how the defense has developed. There’s been progress. It was a really interesting game, interesting in how coaches do things with process. The Packers had a great first half, but they didn’t do too much in the second half. We had four or five sacks and look at who got those sacks. There’s first-year players, and [Brian] Burns was in there. It was all young guys. We have all young guys, and we’re developing these guys and making progress.

“You can see that every day in some parts of this football team. When you talk about Matt and what happens here, this team, while we would’ve like to have seen better results this season, at the end of the day, this team doesn’t give up. And, while it’s maybe disappointing that in a lot of these situations where we had a chance to win and we haven’t, well, we have been in position to win. So hopefully, we’ll turn the corner on those things.”

Latest On Texans’, Panthers’ GM Search

We heard several weeks ago from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com that the Texans, who tried but failed to hire Patriots exec Nick Caserio as their GM this spring, were planning to operate without a GM in 2020. But Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears differently.

La Canfora says the Texans remain interested in Caserio, who is still a desirable GM candidate. Indeed, La Canfora reported back in October that Houston was expected to hire Caserio in 2020, after his contract with New England is up, which is one of the reasons why Rapoport’s report from earlier this month was a bit of a surprise.

But if the Texans do hope to hire Caserio this offseason, they could face some competition from multiple clubs, including the Panthers. Per La Canfora, Panthers owner David Tepper wants to speak with several coaches and executives with ties to New England, and he was among those who reached out to former Patriots executive Jack Easterby last year.

Coincidentally, Easterby ultimately became Houston’s executive vice president of team development, but La Canfora says Tepper could pursue him and/or Caserio in 2020. Of course, the Panthers currently employ Marty Hurney as GM, and Hurney is a part of the team’s head coach search following Ron Rivera‘s recent firing. But Tepper wants to add multiple people to his front office, and Hurney’s role could change as a result.

One way or another, Caserio will almost certainly not return to New England, and he could have a number of options available to him. Indeed, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network says that the team’s extension talks with Caserio have gone nowhere, and the Patriots are bracing for a number of defections from their front office (video link).

In related news, Tepper has officially sold his minority interest in the Steelers, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Panthers Notes: Newton, HC Candidates, Bradberry

Panthers QB Cam Newton will undergo foot surgery, and as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, Newton is expected to be fully ready and able by March. Rapoport says Carolina has not ruled out retaining Newton — not that the team would publicly say anything different — but the expectation remains that the Panthers will look to trade the former No. 1 overall pick,

The QB market may be unusually robust in 2020, and Newton may be the most desirable piece. The Panthers will not give Newton away, but if they “get a large deal to make it worth their while,” they will pull the trigger.

Now for more out of Charlotte:

  • Of course, what the Panthers do with Newton may depend on who they hire as their permanent head coach. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reiterates his view that the Panthers will seek an offensive-minded or QB-driven coach, and what that person thinks of Newton, Kyle Allen, and Will Grier could impact the club’s offseason plans in a big way.
  • In the same piece linked above, Rapoport suggests that owner David Tepper will of course be on the lookout for a top-flight coordinator and someone who is unafraid to embrace analytics, but he suggests that Tepper’s top priority will be a strong manager of people. RapSheet names ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy, 49ers DC Robert Saleh, and Ravens OC Greg Roman as just a few of the possibilities.
  • Even if the Panthers retain GM Marty Hurney — which is not a guarantee — Adam Schefter of ESPN.com says Tepper, the former minority owner of the Steelers, could look to bring familiar faces from Pittsburgh to Carolina. Tepper plans to name an assistant general manager to focus on pro personnel evaluation and a vice president of football operations, and sources say he could be eyeing Steelers GM Kevin Colbert — whose contract is up at the end of the season — and/or vice president of football and business administration Omar Khan.
  • The Panthers have 28 players eligible for free agency this offseason, and Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic examines the decisions that the team will have to make with respect to a few of those players. The club just signed LB Shaq Thompson to a four-year extension, and Rodrigue’s source says the Panthers have made CB James Bradberry their next top priority.

Latest On Panthers’ Plans, Ron Rivera

Some personnel executives around the league and on the NFL periphery believed David Tepper would make changes after last season, and Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson notes GM candidates were viewing the Panthers as a job that would be open earlier this year. Tepper opted against firing Ron Rivera and second-stint GM Marty Hurney after last season but was discussing over the summer plans to revamp the organization, beefing up its analytics commitment, Robinson adds. Tepper confirmed Tuesday he plans to hire an assistant GM, and Robinson adds the second-year owner is expected to bring in multiple high-ranking execs to contribute to the operation. In the wake of Rivera’s ouster, Hurney’s future with the team is obviously uncertain. New scouts are expected to be brought aboard soon as well, though Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes no scouts or execs were fired along with Rivera on Tuesday.

Here is the latest out of Carolina, coming off the firing of a two-time coach of the year.

  • Having been run by defensive coaches throughout their 25-year history — from Dom Capers to George Seifert to John Fox to Rivera — the Panthers are expected to pursue an offensive-minded leader, David Newton of ESPN.com writes. Tepper may not be leaning toward hiring a college coach. Although he’s not dead-set against it, Newton adds the tougher transition for those coaches points to Tepper leaning in another direction. The Panthers are expected to pursue a younger coach who will support analytics more than Rivera did, per Newton. That’s certainly not dissimilar to how most of the HC-needy teams proceeded during this year’s hiring period.
  • Rivera broke the news to the coaching staff he had been fired, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Although Tepper praised Norv Turner and his son Scott, it’s certainly possible the organization moves on from the father-son tandem after their two-year run in Charlotte. Norv Turner will move from Carolina’s offensive coordinator to special assistant to the head coach, with Scott set for a four-game run as the team’s OC.
  • The most famous player Rivera coached expressed his support for the only NFL HC he’s known (Twitter link). Cam Newton, who will undergo surgery to repair his foot injury, is not certain to be back with the Panthers in 2020. One year remains on his contract.
  • Rivera revealed he wants to stay in coaching. The former Bears linebacker has been on an NFL sideline in each season since 1997.