After losing out on the Deshaun Watson-sweepstakes, the Panthers have maintained that they still intend to add another quarterback to the roster, according to Nick Shook of NFL.com. In a press conference covered by Shook and Joseph Person of The Athletic, general manager Scott Fitterer laid out the team’s plans moving forward.
Answering the obvious question, quarterbacks Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker are still under contract and will be afforded every opportunity to earn the starting job moving forward. The issue there lies in the fact that they’ve already been given such an opportunity and the question of future quarterback is still being asked as a result. Fitterer did inform reporters that head coach Matt Rhule had talked with a free agent signing from last year, Cam Newton. On the matter, Fitterer said, “The thing with Cam, it’s gotta be a fit for us and it’s gotta be a fit for him, just as well. He’s looking for a certain opportunity. The door’s still open for us.”
The free agent quarterback market really cleared out after Watson’s trade to Cleveland. There are still some NFL-experienced options in the trade market, though. As of now, Fitterer asserts that they haven’t heard from San Francisco or Cleveland about Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield. Since phones tend to have the ability to both send AND receive calls, it stands to reason that the Panthers not reaching out to initiate conversations over the available quarterbacks is a reflection of their level of interest. Still, Fitterer claims that they are open to receiving calls from the 49ers or Browns. They do have the luxury of waiting, possibly even until after the Draft, as there doesn’t seem to be any urgent interest in Garoppolo or Mayfield.
The most likely path, and the one most desired by Fitterer, is through the 2022 NFL Draft. Rhule and Fitterer were in attendance for Kenny Pickett’s pro day workout at Pitt and Malik Willis’ workout at Liberty. Rhule went to Mississippi’s pro day to watch Matt Corral. The only reason they didn’t go the Cincinnati to watch Desmond Ridder is because they already worked extensively with the Bearcat quarterback at the Senior Bowl and Combine. They still sent a scout and two personnel executives, though.
Suffice it to say that the Panthers have made it extremely clear that they are taking a good look at this year’s quarterback class. With the sixth pick in the first round of the Draft, Carolina could very likely take a quarterback and very well may the first team to do so, giving them their pick of the litter.
Fitterer preached a philosophy of building a team around a young quarterback on a reasonably low contract, like the Seahawks did with Russell Wilson during Fitterer’s tenure in Seattle. The only issue with this philosophy is that Rhule’s seat is getting hotter with each loss. He may not feel he has the leash to develop a young quarterback surrounded by veterans. If Rhule feels like he’s in a win-now scenario, he may push for the team to trade for one of the more proven assets like Garoppolo or Mayfield.
The route that ends up getting taken in Carolina will likely say a lot about the alignment of Rhule and Fitterer, who arrived one year after the head coach. If the team makes a move to trade for a league veteran, Fitterer likely wants to give Rhule the tools to keep his job. If the teams sits pat and waits until the Draft to address the position, it could be assumed that Fitterer is willing to let Rhule test his luck in order to build a team around his own philosophy.