David Tepper

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.

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Saints, Brate

Even after the Panthers traded Robbie Anderson, they are still being linked to moving key pieces. The team still wants to keep its defensive core together, according to Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson (on Twitter). That said, Robinson adds that while the Panthers are not going to conduct a fire sale, they will likely aim to unload more players viewed as “Matt Rhule guys.”

This is interesting considering the two players who have been most closely linked to trades — Christian McCaffrey and Shaq Thompson — were brought in before Rhule arrived. Rhule did greenlight McCaffrey’s extension; Thompson’s deal came under Marty Hurney‘s leadership. Carolina’s Temple contingent remains strong, even post-Anderson. Matthew Ioannidis, Cory Littleton and P.J. Walker remain in key roles, though Rhule-backed players cannot only be limited to the ones he coached in college. Littleton and Ioannidis are on one-year deals, making them interesting trade candidates.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • David Tepper bought the Panthers in 2018. The two football-related storylines most closely associated with the owner are Rhule’s seven-year, $62MM contract and the team’s Deshaun Watson pursuit. With the Panthers not having a winning season during Tepper’s time, is safe to say the owner’s stock has dipped. In the wake of Rhule’s firing, multiple NFL personnel men did not speak highly of Tepper, whom they classify as emotional and “difficult” to work for, per CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones. Descriptions like these, along with Carolina’s quarterback situation, stand to make it harder for Tepper to hire his next coach. Then again, he could simply throw out another monster contract. Rhule was believed to prefer the Giants to the Panthers in 2020, but money certainly talked.
  • Although the Panthers designated Sam Darnold for return from IR, Steve Wilks said Walker will be his starter in Week 7. Jacob Eason will back up the former XFLer. Walker started in Week 6 and struggled, but the Panthers’ top three options (Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Matt Corral) are injured. Mayfield did return to practice Thursday, suggesting a possible Week 8 return is in play. But Mayfield and Darnold are set to wage another competition — several weeks after Mayfield prevailed in the training camp battle — following the former’s woeful start. The Panthers have three weeks to activate Darnold from IR.
  • The Saints will go with Andy Dalton again tonight. The 12th-year vet will make his fourth start this season, while Ed Werder of ESPN.com notes (via Twitter) Jameis Winston will be the emergency No. 3 QB. Dalton supplanting Winston as the Saints’ full-time starter entered the equation recently, though Dennis Allen said Winston is not yet fully healthy. Winston, whom Dalton initially replaced due to spine fractures, re-signed on a two-year, $28MM deal this offseason. The Saints guaranteed Winston $15.2MM; Dalton is making $3MM this year.
  • Cameron Brate left the Buccaneers‘ Week 6 game on a stretcher, but Todd Bowles provided relatively good news on the veteran tight end. Brate sustained a sprained neck and did not suffer any loss of feeling or nerve damage. It is not clear when the ninth-year Buccaneer will be able to play again. The Bucs drafted two tight ends — Cade Otton and Ko Kieft — this year before signing Kyle Rudolph. Otton, a fourth-round pick out of Washington, worked as Brate’s primary replacement against the Steelers.

Matt Rhule Latest: QBs, Giants, Brady

Despite authorizing a seven-year contract to lure Matt Rhule from Baylor, Panthers owner David Tepper cut the cord this week. Tepper did so less than three years after he outmuscled the Giants for Rhule, who was believed to have preferred the Giants job to the one he ended up taking. After the Giants sent a private plane for Rhule’s January 2020 interview, Tepper upped his offer from six years to seven, according to Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). The seven-year, $62MM contract ensured Rhule never boarded that plane.

Although Rhule reached out to the Giants to see if they would match, John Mara viewed such a contract as exorbitant for a coach without much NFL experience. Still, the Giants preferred Rhule to Joe Judge that year. The Panthers, who paid Baylor a $6MM buyout fee in 2020, will not be forced to pay out Rhule’s guaranteed $40MM-plus remaining. Carolina is on the hook for Rhule’s 2022 salary, but the remaining cash will be offset by the coach’s next college gig — whenever that comes to pass. Here is the latest from the Rhule dismissal:

  • The Panthers made a quarterback splash in 2020, giving Teddy Bridgewater a three-year deal worth $63MM. Then-OC Joe Brady lobbied for Bridgewater, whom the young coach worked with during his time with the Saints, Person adds. Bridgewater was by far the best QB option during the Rhule period, with the Sam Darnold, Cam Newton 2.0 and Baker Mayfield (so far) stays producing bottom-end work.
  • Another option for Carolina would have been Justin Herbert, but Person notes the team did not want to give up the draft capital necessary to trade up for the Oregon prospect. The Panthers held the No. 7 overall pick in 2020; Herbert went sixth to the Chargers. Carolina, however, may have needed to trade up to No. 3 (Detroit) to secure Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa real estate. The Dolphins and Bolts likely were not open to moving down, and at that point, Dave Gettleman had never traded down during his time as the Giants or Panthers’ GM. The Panthers liked Herbert as a prospect, but they ended up taking Derrick Brown at 7. That certainly qualifies as a notable “what if?” for the organization.
  • After the Panthers passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in 2021, they were linked to ex-Rhule Temple recruit Kenny Pickett at No. 6 this year. But Carolina did not view Pickett as worthy of such a high pick, Person adds. GM Scott Fitterer openly said before the draft the team would have the tackle prospects rated above all the QB talents in this year’s draft. Other teams tended to agree, with the Steelers nabbing Pickett at No. 20 — without trading up — and no other QBs coming off the board until Round 3.
  • Rhule’s decision to fire Brady after going on vacation during Carolina’s 2021 bye week did not sit well with some players, per Person. Rhule encouraged players to get away that week and kept his travel plans, but Brady and QBs coach Sean Ryan stayed in town to work with the recently re-signed Newton as he learned the Panthers’ new offense. Brady’s firing leaked on the Sunday during Carolina’s bye week, when Rhule returned to Charlotte. Brady is now the Bills’ quarterbacks coach.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo said the Panthers were one of the teams that showed interest in trading for him. “Things were advancing with a couple different teams,” Garoppolo said, via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “They were at the top of the list, I would say. One of the top couple, but I’m glad the way things worked out and I’m here.” The Panthers were among the teams skittish about Garoppolo’s salary, leading to his 49ers restructure, and his injury history was an issue with some Carolina staffers. Carolina acquired Mayfield in early July, but, adding to this franchise’s recent quarterback complications, Tepper’s desire to not overpay led to a delay that went against Rhule and Fitterer’s wishes.

Panthers Owner Backs GM Scott Fitterer

Given the changes which were made on the Panthers’ sidelines yesterday, owner David Tepper was unsurprisingly asked about the job status of the team’s general manager. Given his remarks, front office changes will not be forthcoming. 

Scott [Fitterer] is our GM,” Tepper said during the post-Matt Rhule firing press conference. “There’s no thought of mind right now. Right now, my focus is [on Steve] Wilks and how he can have success in his new role.”

Fitterer, 48, spent the bulk of his front office career in Seattle. Beginning there in 2001, he worked his way up to the role of VP of football operations by 2020. That landed him on the GM radar, and resulted in him being hired in 2021 to lead the Panthers’ front office.

That move, of course, came only one year after Rhule was hired to begin the team’s rebuild. His history at Temple and Baylor led to plenty of optimism that a turnaround would be possible, but his stay in Charlotte lasted less than three years. That stretch saw a number of moves made to find stability at the quarterback position, including trading for Baker Mayfield this offseason. That investment has not yielded anywhere near the desired results so far, and contributed to Rhule’s dismissal.

With the team sitting at 1-4 and lacking in draft capital, speculation abounds regarding the Panthers’ willingness to part ways with some of their valued assets. While it remains to be seen if Fitterer will execute any notable trades ahead of the deadline, Tepper noted that he will seek “better balance” between Fitterer and the team’s next permanent head coach with respect to roster decisions – in contrast to the substantial power Rhule was given through his seven-year, $62MM contract.

On the point of head coaches, Tepper also echoed reports from yesterday that Wilks will have the opportunity to earn the full-time role. The one-time Cardinals HC lacks the experience many believe the Panthers will seek in their search for Rhule’s replacement, but things could change between now and the offseason.

“Ultimately, he’s in a position to be in consideration for that position,” Tepper said of Wilks. “I had a talk with Steve. No promises were made, but obviously, if he does an incredible job, he’d have to be in consideration for that.”

Panthers’ Post-Rhule Fallout: Termination, Replacement, Trades

The NFL news circuit was set ablaze today when news broke of the firings of Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The termination of Rhule was not necessarily a surprise, as he’s been firmly on the hot seat all year and the possibility of firing Rhule had been discussed “well before” today, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, but it did create a newsworthy fallout of information that is of interest to those who follow the sport.

Many have talked about the contract implications of Rhule’s termination, alluding to the millions of dollars still remaining on his contract. While it’s completely applicable to Rhule’s situation, it doesn’t sound like it is a concern to Carolina. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out that “Carolina is on the hook for this season, but the salaries for the ensuing seasons are offset by what his future college job pays him.” Essentially, Rhule will absolutely get his guaranteed money, but the onus won’t be on Carolina to pay it. Whenever Rhule, who is presumed to be a top college coaching candidate for next year, gets another job, his salary from the new school will offset the amount the Panthers owe him.

It was also announced that Panthers defensive passing game coordinator & secondary coach Steve Wilks will sub in as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The defensive-minded former head coach of the Cardinals has apparently already begun to make the team his own. When Panthers owner David Tepper was asked why Snow was fired, he reportedly pointed the finger at Wilks, telling reporters to direct that question to the interim head coach, according to ESPN’s David Newton.

Here are a few more fallout items from today, starting with some ideas on Rhule’s replacement:

  • The biggest nugget to come out of today concerning Carolina is that, as most NFL executives expected Rhule to lose his job, many in league circles are expecting the Panthers to start dealing veteran assets in an attempt to accrue draft capital that might make the head coaching position more attractive, according to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. The Panthers currently only hold four draft picks for 2023: first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks, supporting the idea that trading away veterans could improve their current situation. Trading away veterans with expensive contracts, such as star running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Robbie Anderson, could prove troublesome, according to La Canfora, so the Panthers are reportedly willing to eat some of those salaries in order to facilitate moving those assets. Early reports claimed that the Bills have reached out about McCaffrey and that they did in the offseason, as well, according to Person, but Tom Pelissero of NFL Network clarified that, while every team will be calling about McCaffrey, the Panthers haven’t engaged in any trade talks yet. In addition to McCaffrey and Anderson, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports expects wide receiver D.J. Moore, defensive end Brian Burns, and defensive tackle Derrick Brown to be on the table.
  • Jeff Howe of The Athletic posed the question today of who might replace Rhule and offered quite a few suggestions. Howe started the list with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who took the Falcons to the Super Bowl as head coach in 2016. Next, he mentioned 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Ryans interviewed for the Vikings’ job this offseason and was expected to interview for the Raiders’, as well. The 38-year-old has rocketed up coaching boards since retiring as a player in 2015. Another name mentioned was Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon who also interviewed for the Vikings last year, in addition to the Texans and Broncos. Howe went into great detail on every candidate, seeming to list anybody who may be up for a head coaching job in the next few seasons. His list included former NFL head coaches including the retired Sean Payton, Steelers senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, as well as the current interim head coach, Wilks. Other serious candidates Howe mentioned were Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The list essentially devolved into an article about anybody who may make the jump to NFL head coach in the next few seasons, pointing out “wait and see” candidates such as Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, and Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
  • One interesting name that came out of today’s rumors was former Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. Joe Person of The Athletic advised that an eye be kept on Kuechly, who remains close with Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, to come back in some capacity. After retiring from a pro scout position last year, Kuechly has been working as an analyst on Panthers radio broadcasts.

Panthers On The Verge Of Firing HC Matt Rhule?

After another loss in a season filled with underwhelming performances, the Panthers sit at 1-4. Questions about head coach Matt Rhule‘s job security will no doubt continue to be asked, though an answer could be coming very soon. 

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk tweets that “it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if'” regarding Rhule being fired. He opines that owner David Tepper will make the move tomorrow (Twitter link). Doing so would come after a 37-15 loss to the 49ers, dropping his overall coaching record to 11-27.

Rhule’s seat was considered one of the hottest heading into the season, and the team’s performance to date has done little to quell talk of his job security. Just two weeks ago, however, it was reported that no coaching change was imminent. Since then, the team has lost two straight, struggling on offense in particular.

That has led to talk of miscommunication between Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The unit sat at the bottom of the league in yardage entering tonight’s contest, one in which they totaled 339 yards. An underwhelming defensive performance contributed to the San Francisco loss, though the Panthers have generally fared better on that side of the ball.

“I hope you guys can understand, I’m here to talk about the game,” Rhule said when speaking to the media. “I’ve always been very forthright with you guys. You know, I have nothing to say about [speculation on his future] now. I’m really just here to talk about the game. I would never want to make this about me.”

The acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfield this offseason was thought to give Rhule the best offense to work with since his 2020 hire. The former No. 1 pick has struggled in his new home, however, and an injury has been added to his 2022 ails. Mayfield exited the game before Carolina’s final possession, and was seen after the contest in a walking boot (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic).

Moving on from Rhule would come as little surprise for many around the football world, including PFR’s readers. It could lead to a veteran replacement either in the short- or long-term, leaving Rhule to potentially return to the college ranks where he made a name for himself. That could have an impact from a financial standpoint, as an NCAA program hiring Rhule could offset some of the cost he is still owed by Carolina from the seven-year, $62MM he is tied to.

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.