P.J. Walker

Panthers’ Plans At Quarterback

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.

NFL Reserve/Futures Contracts: 1/10/22

A bunch of teams had their seasons come to an end yesterday, and these front offices are now starting to prepare for the offseason. Today, a number of players were inked to reserve/futures contracts, which allows organizations to retain (mostly) young, practice squad players throughout the offseason. We’ve compiled today’s reserve/futures contracts below:

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Seattle Seahawks

Washington Football Team

Panthers Sign QB P.J. Walker To One-Year Deal

While much remains to be seen regarding Carolina’s future at the quarterback position, the team took care of a small piece of business on Monday. Joe Person of The Athletic reports (via Twitter) that the Panthers are bringing back P.J. Walker on a one-year deal.

The 26-year old was set to be an exclusive-rights free agent this offseason, but the move means he will stick around in Charlotte and be in contention to be the team’s backup signal caller. Walker made five appearances in 2021, including one start in Week 10 against the Cardinals. He put up 167 passing yards and an interception in the 34-10 win. For his career, the former undrafted free agent has a 55.7% completion percentage, 730 passing yards and two touchdowns go along with eight interceptions.

As for the Panthers’ other quarterbacks from this season, Cam Newton still wants to play in the NFL, according to Pro Football Talk’s Michael Smith. The pending free agent will look for the right fit, but expressed a willingness to sign on as a backup if a starting spot doesn’t become available. Meanwhile, Sam Darnold is still under contract for the 2022 season with a guaranteed salary of just over $18.5MM. His erratic play throughout his first season in Carolina leaves many feeling the Panthers will be active in the quarterback market this offseason, though.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/4/22-1/5/22

Here are Tuesday and Wednesday’s activations from and placements on the reserve/COVID-19 lists:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: TE Jared Cook, LB Damon Lloyd (remains on IR)

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Panthers Starting Darnold In Week 17

In one of the more intriguing depth chart decisions this late in the season, head coach of the Panthers Matt Rhule has announced that Sam Darnold will start under center for the team’s Week 17 matchup in New Orleans. The intrigue comes from a few places, namely a possible quarterback controversy and the handling of Darnold’s health.

It’s been hard to get a read on what Rhule’s thoughts are on their quarterback room. Longtime Panther Cam Newton was signed to help fill in when Darnold fractured his scapula in a loss to the Patriots and was placed on IR. Newton started 5 of the next 6 games, losing all of his starts and being benched twice for P.J. Walker. Before Newton’s most recent start, Darnold was activated off of IR. Despite Darnold’s activation, Rhule stuck with Newton to start against the Buccaneers. It didn’t take long for Newton to be benched a third time, this time for the newly healthy Darnold. Whether it was skill or health that had Darnold coming off the bench instead of starting is unclear, but 19 minutes into the game, Rhule clearly thought Darnold gave them the best chance at winning.

It certainly wouldn’t be unreasonable for Rhule to be cautious and let Darnold take the rest of the season to heal. After all, last week’s loss to Tampa Bay eliminated the Panthers from playoff contention. To take Darnold immediately from IR and throw him into the line of fire seems like a bit of an unnecessary risk.

Rhule was quoted saying, “Sam has been working hard to get back…We’re going to give him this opportunity to show what he can do.” The stance conveyed in this quote seems to show that Darnold’s grasp on the starting quarterback job in Carolina is tenuous at best. It sounds as if Rhule is giving the former first round pick one more chance over the next two games to convince him that quarterback shouldn’t be a priority for the Panthers this offseason. Road matchups against the Saints and Buccaneers won’t make this an easy task for Darnold.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 12/29/21

Several key players returned to practice Wednesday. Here are the latest COVID-19 updates from around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Activated from practice squad/COVID-19 list: WR Rico Bussey

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

NFC South Notes: AB, Bridgewater, Saints

Antonio Brown being accused of vandalizing a security camera has placed the Buccaneers in a bit of hot water, but Bruce Arians confirmed the team knew about this alleged incident before signing him. The second-year Bucs HC reiterated during an interview with NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (audio link) that Brown not being a model citizen will result in his release. “He’s been a model citizen,” Arians said Thursday, via Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. “I think we’re beating a dead horse right now, so there’s been enough statements about it.” Arians said in March that Brown would not be a fit with the Bucs, but Tom Brady pushed for the team to make the move. Through two games with the Bucs, AB has 10 catches for 100 yards.

The NFL was not made aware of this incident before the Bucs signed Brown, who was not charged due to the homeowners association not pressing charges. The league, per Laine, is now looking into the matter, which could be determined as a violation of Brown’s probation. Although the NFL handed Brown an eight-game suspension, the league could move to levy another ban depending on the outcome of Britney Taylor’s civil suit. Taylor’s three-page affidavit alleges Brown raped her. The controversial wideout is again part of a multifront NFL investigation.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Teddy Bridgewater is now expected to join Christian McCaffrey in not suiting up for the Panthers‘ Week 11 game. Carolina’s QB1 has practiced on a limited basis this week, with Matt Rhule labeling him “extremely limited,” and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets the team is expected to require one of its backup passers to start against the Lions. Bridgewater suffered an MCL injury in the fourth quarter of the Panthers’ loss to the Buccaneers. XFL 2.0 standout P.J. Walker has replaced Bridgewater twice this season, but both he and 2019 third-round pick Will Grier have worked as the Panthers’ game-day backup. They have split reps in practice this week, and Rhule — via ESPN.com’s David Newton — declined to say who would start if Bridgewater cannot go.
  • If the 2021 salary cap comes in at that $175MM floor, the Saints are projected to be a whopping $95MM over that salary ceiling. While the Mickey Loomis-led operation annually finds a way to navigate cap issues, this would be new territory. This situation has flummoxed several execs around the league, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who adds the current NFL management council cap figure being used for projections ($198MM) is much higher than where the actual number is expected to land. Multiple GMs expect the cap to come in around $175MM, which would mark by far the biggest reduction in the cap’s 28-year history and create tremendous issues for the Saints and a few other teams.
  • Drew Brees is expected to be out at least two games, though the future Hall of Fame quarterback has sought additional opinions this week. He is believed to have cracked at least five ribs.

NFC South Notes: Hill, Brate, Walker

The Saints expect Taysom Hill to take over for Drew Brees when Brees calls it a career, and to that end, they placed a first-round RFA tender on the BYU product earlier this month. Teddy Bridgewater had served as the backup to Brees over the past couple of seasons while Hill’s role as a gadget player grew, but head coach Sean Payton confirmed that Hill will be the QB2 in 2020. “He’s earned that opportunity,” Payton said (Twitter link via Jeff Duncan of The Athletic).

However, the team still expects to use Hill as a rusher and receiver next season, so Payton said New Orleans will add another QB that will be active on game days (Twitter link via Duncan). The Saints are expected to explore a long-term contract for Hill in the near future.

Now for more from the NFC South:

  • Cameron Brate‘s recent restructure with the Buccaneers is better classified as a pay cut. Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Brate accepted a decrease in his 2020 salary from $6MM to $4.25MM (Twitter link). The move will keep Brate, a quality red zone target, in the fold for Tom Brady while buying the team a little more cap space.
  • Several days ago, the Panthers beat out several clubs for the services of XFL signal-caller P.J. Walker. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle says Walker’s pact with Carolina is a two-year deal worth $1.565MM, a pretty nice haul for an XFLer who has yet to crack an active roster in the NFL (Twitter link).
  • CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson‘s new one-year deal with the Falcons includes a base salary of $1.05MM and a singing bonus of $137.5K, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com tweets.

Panthers, QB P.J. Walker Agree To Deal

After an abbreviated run in the XFL, P.J. Walker drew interest from several NFL teams. But he will reunite with his former coach.

Walker will sign with the Panthers, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. The recent Houston Roughnecks standout played for Matt Rhule at Temple. This will mark another NFL opportunity for the former UDFA quarterback, who will receive a $150K signing bonus, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

Monday marks the first day NFL teams can sign XFL players. While it is unclear how many will have markets, Walker did well for himself in the rebooted league. He generated interest from the Broncos, Cardinals and Seahawks and will have a chance to become the Panthers’ backup quarterback behind Teddy Bridgewater. Though, this crowds the Panthers’ quarterback group.

Walker, 25, guided the Roughnecks to a 5-0 start. He threw 15 touchdown passes and four interceptions, completing 66% of his passes. The XFL ended its season early because of the COVID-19 pandemic and freed up its players to sign NFL deals. Previously, XFLers could not sign until after the league’s season ended.

Walker was Temple’s starter for four seasons, from 2013-16. Rhule was the Owls’ coach throughout that span. Despite Walker being unable to catch on with an NFL team’s active roster previously, his history with Rhule points to a good shot at sticking around in the league this time. The Panthers, however, still have primary 2019 starter Kyle Allen under contract. They also used a third-round pick on Will Grier last year. The team recently extended Allen and has Grier signed through 2022. Rhule not drafting Grier, however, could play into the team’s plans.

While he was on track to be the XFL’s second MVP, Walker has enjoyed NFL opportunities previously. He bounced on and off the Colts’ practice squad in 2018-19. The Colts cut Walker from their P-squad in September of last year. No other team signed him, but he remade himself into an intriguing commodity during XFL 2.0’s shortened season.

Seahawks, Cardinals, Broncos Interested In XFL QB P.J. Walker

The second incarnation of the XFL didn’t make it a full season due to COVID-19, but before that things had been going surprisingly well. Things were much smoother than in the ill-fated AAF, and some players are already starting to reap the benefits.

The Seahawks, Cardinals, and Broncos have all reached out to the Houston Roughnecks to express interest in their quarterback P.J. Walker, a source told Mark Berman of FOX 26 (Twitter link). XFL players are allowed to sign with the NFL starting Monday morning, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com tweets, and it sounds like Walker could get scooped up pretty quickly.

The Temple product signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and spent most the next three years on their practice squad. Walker became one of the first stars of Vince McMahon’s upstart league, as he led the Roughnecks to a perfect 5-0 start before the rest of the season was cancelled.

In those five games Walker had 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns, leading the league in both categories. Now we see why Indianapolis kept bringing him back each offseason. All three of the interested teams won’t be looking at Walker as anything more than a backup, but he could make for a good reserve option as all three have similarly athletic and mobile starters.