P.J. Walker

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.

Panthers Name Baker Mayfield Week 11 Starter

The quarterback position has been the source of plenty of uncertainty this season for the Panthers, especially in recent weeks. Another injury is forcing a change under center as the team prepares for Week 11.

Interim head coach Steve Wilks announced on Monday that P.J. Walker suffered a high ankle sprain during Carolina’s Thursday night win over the Falcons. As a result, he will be unavailable for the team’s game against the Ravens, and Baker Mayfield will once again take on the starter’s role. Sam Darnold will serve as the backup.

Walker became the Panthers’ starter in Week 6 after Mayfield suffered his own ankle sprain. The former XFLer continued in that role even after Mayfield was healthy enough to return, though the latter replaced him in the second half of their blowout loss to the Bengals two weeks ago.

Mayfield’s performance in that game, along with the IR activation of Darnold, gave the Panthers their top two signal-callers from the offseason available to start last week. Instead, Wilks went back to Walker for the primetime rematch against Atlanta. He will likely be sidelined for multiple weeks as a result of the injury, but Wilks indicated that an IR stint is not currently being considered (Twitter link via team reporter Darin Grant).

Mayfield, who won out a training camp competition with Darnold after his long-expected arrival in Carolina, has plenty of experience against Baltimore. The former No. 1 pick spent four years with the Browns, during which time he met the Ravens on eight occasions. His level of play with Carolina before the injury was a key factor in the team’s offensive woes, and the firing of Matt Rhule.

That will lead to increased scrutiny for him as he begins his second stint as Carolina’s starter. Mayfield, like Darnold, is set to hit free agency this offseason, so improved play in the second half of the campaign from one (or both) of them could go a long way in determining their financial futures.

Panthers To Start QB P.J. Walker In Week 10

Despite the pair of recent factors suggesting a change could be made, the Panthers will return to the status quo at quarterback this week. Interim head coach Steve Wilks has tapped P.J. Walker as the team’s starting QB for Thursday’s game against the Falcons (Twitter link via Tom Pelissero of NFL Network).

Walker was benched at halftime yesterday after Carolina trailed the Bengals 35-0. Baker Mayfield replaced him, marking his first game action since suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 5. Mayfield’s level of play (a marked improvement on Walker’s 0.0 passer rating), not to mention his status as the team’s starter heading into the campaign, could have led to him resuming the No. 1 role.

Instead, Wilks confirmed that Mayfield will once again serve as the backup, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. That decision was made in part due to the short week, Wilks added, and it will leave the team with the same starter from their previous meeting with Atlanta.

That contest, which happened just two weeks ago, saw Walker score what could have been the game-winning touchdown on a last-minute, 62-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore. A missed extra point (and subsequently, missed field goal in overtime) led to the Falcons ultimately winning the game 37-34. Walker’s performance did enough to have him quickly confirmed as the Week 9 starter, despite the fact that Mayfield had recovered and was able to dress.

Earlier today, the Panthers activated their other veteran signal-caller. Days before Sam Darnold‘s three-week window to be activated from IR expired, Carolina brought him back after he dealt with his own ankle sprain. His addition could have left Walker on the outside of a number crunch, but Wilks indicated that nothing has been decided yet with respect to the team parting ways with any of its three passers.

Attention will turn back towards Walker this week, with the team hoping he can rebound from yesterday’s performance. The 2-7 Panthers will have multiple options moving forward if they wish to make a change, though.

Baker Mayfield Replaces P.J Walker As Panthers QB

At halftime of today’s game against the Bengals, the Panthers’ offense had struggled to historic proportions, and it resulted in a quarterback change. Baker Mayfield replaced P.J. Walker for the second half of Carolina’s 42-21 loss.

Carolina faced their largest halftime deficit in team history (35-0) after Walker’s performance through the first two quarters. The former XFLer posted just nine passing yards and a pair of interceptions before being benched. As a whole, the team’s offense managed just 19 yards of offense, setting the stage for the switch.

Mayfield had returned to health last week, after suffering a high ankle sprain. His absence was limited to just two games – a shorter recovery time than expected – but interim head coach Steve Wilks made it clear that Walker would remain the starter for the time being. Especially given Mayfield’s struggles during his five-game stretch as the No. 1, that led to serious doubt that he would see the field again as a Panther.

Amidst the uncertainty, however, the pending free agent revealed earlier this week that he is open to the possibility of re-signing in Carolina. In his return to a starting role this afternoon, Mayfield completed 14 of 20 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns and a QBR of 126. While the circumstances related to the score certainly affected that statline, it will lead to further questions at the position moving forward.

Sam Darnold has yet to suit up this season, as he recovers from his own high ankle sprain. The team has until Wednesday of this week to activate him from IR, something Wilks has not entirely confirmed will take place. Doing so would leave the team with three quarterbacks as they try to evaluate their immediate pecking order and potential replacements in the offseason.

When speaking after the game, Wilks declined to name a starter for Carolina’s next game (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic). That contest will come on Thursday against the Falcons, so a decision on Darnold will have been made before it happens. The Panthers’ QB plans will be interesting to watch throughout the week.

Sam Darnold’s Timeline Unclear; Baker Mayfield Open To Re-Signing With Panthers

The Panthers are sticking with P.J. Walker this week against the Bengals; Baker Mayfield will be Carolina’s backup for the second straight week since returning from a high ankle sprain. A backup option in 2020 and 2021, Walker is the fifth player to be the Panthers’ preferred starting quarterback since Cam Newton‘s first tenure wrapped in 2020, joining Teddy Bridgewater, Darnold, Newton (stint No. 2) and Mayfield.

Steve Wilks has made cryptic comments about Sam Darnold‘s status. The Panthers must activate Darnold by Nov. 9. Otherwise, the former No. 3 overall pick will go from 2021 Week 1 starter to a player that misses a full season due to a high ankle sprain.

I think Sam has been doing well in practice — in the things that he has progressed with, as far as really throwing the football,” Wilks said, via the Charlotte Observer’s Mike Kaye. “He hasn’t really taken any live action since last year. Preseason was sparingly there, so it’s still a process. I can’t really say.”

It would be surprising if the Panthers do not use one of their injury activations on Darnold. They have all eight of their activations remaining, and talk of Darnold being given another shot at the starting gig emerged as Mayfield struggled. Darnold ran into this ankle trouble in late August and was given a four- to six-week return timetable. We are well past that point, but the former Jets starter did return to practice at the end of that initial window.

The Panthers traded three draft choices — including a 2022 second-rounder — for the former No. 3 overall pick and picked up his fifth-year option shortly after doing so. Darnold is making more than Mayfield this year, but the Panthers — after not seeing much from the USC product last season — have not gotten anything from that $18.9MM salary. Carolina has three arms who could conceivably start down the stretch; all are on track for free agency in March.

Working with the Panthers’ scout team this week, Mayfield said he would be interested in returning. Considering Matt Rhule is gone and Mayfield has been benched, it would surprise if the former No. 1 overall pick was a Panther in 2023. But the past two seasons have torpedoed the ex-playoff starter’s value. If/once Darnold is activated, the prospect of Mayfield going from clear starter — after winning a training camp competition — to a gameday inactive would be in play. Mayfield said, via ESPN.com’s David Newton, he has not spoken with Wilks or GM Scott Fitterer about his Carolina future.

I care about winning right now; we’ll see what happens, Mayfield said. “This is a great place. I would love to be here, but a lot of that stuff is out of my control. So I handle what I can, control what I can and just stay in the moment.”

Next year’s free agent QB class suddenly looks a bit deeper, given the improved play of Daniel Jones and resurgence of Geno Smith. This would stand to impact Darnold and Mayfield. Both the Giants and Seahawks, however, will be obvious threats to retain their incumbent starters. If that happens, Mayfield and Darnold would join the likes of Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton and Gardner Minshew on the 2023 market. Tom Brady is also playing on an expiring deal, but it is highly uncertain the 45-year-old passer will attempt to play beyond this season. Lamar Jackson‘s contract is also up after 2022, but the Ravens quarterback will not reach free agency.

The Panthers could circle back to one of their current arms as a 2023 bridge option, but the team that has accumulated six additional draft picks — in the Robbie Anderson and Christian McCaffrey trades — will undoubtedly be linked to next year’s quarterback prospects in the coming weeks and months.

Panthers QB Baker Mayfield Likely To Return In Week 8; P.J. Walker To Start

The quarterback who began the season as the Panthers’ top option appears set to return tomorrow, but not in his previous role. Baker Mayfield worked with Carolina’s scout team during the week in practice, and interim head coach Steve Wilks said he should be available for tomorrow’s game against the Falcons (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic).

The former Browns starter suffered a high ankle sprain during what was ultimately Matt Rhule‘s final game as head coach. Two weeks was initially considered to be the short end of his recovery timeframe, before further testing revealed a torn ligament. That was expected to delay Mayfield’s return, but he has recovered quickly to the point where he can dress as a backup.

As Wilks suggested on Sunday, however, health would not guarantee Mayfield – or, for that matter, Sam Darnold, who has yet to suit up in 2022 – a first-team spot. The play of fourth-stringer P.J. Walker in the team’s win over the Buccaneers gave him the inside track to start against Atlanta. Wilks said earlier this week, via ESPN’s David Newton, that he “[saw] no reason not to” with respect to keeping Walker in place as the No. 1.

The former XFLer has already matched his career total in starts over the past two weeks from his previous seasons in Carolina. Walker threw for just 60 yards in the Panthers’ loss to the Rams, but had a far more effective and productive game (177 yards, two touchdowns) leading the team to their upset win over Tampa Bay. The decision to trade away receiver Robbie Anderson and running back Christian McCaffrey has left the Panthers’ offense without two notable skill position players, but Walker’s potential upside relative to Mayfield and Darnold make him a logical starting choice in at least the near-term future.

“He understands exactly where we’re going this week and knows his role,” Wilks said of Mayfield (Twitter link via Person). “And he was fine with it.”  How much of an opportunity the latter has to retake the No. 1 role after tomorrow will be worth watching as Carolina looks for its second straight victory of the Wilks era.

Latest On Panthers’ QB Situation

The Panthers secured their first win of the Steve Wilks era today, doing so despite their unenviable injury situation at quarterback. That could change as early as next week.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold have a chance to return to game action next week. Their respective situations in practice will of course be worth watching in the coming days, but that development would give the Panthers options under center.

Mayfield went down with a high ankle sprain in Week 5, the final game before Matt Rhule was dismissed as head coach. It was confirmed shortly thereafter that surgery would not be needed, and it came as no surprise that the team decided against placing him on IR. A initial timetable of two to six weeks was presented for his recovery.

Last week, however, it was revealed that Mayfield suffered a torn ligament in his ankle. That was expected to delay his return, but today’s update means it could still come on the near side of his timeframe. The trade acquisition had struggled mightily prior to the team’s necessary pivot switch. He was on the field for practice in the build-up to today’s upset win over the Buccaneers.

Darnold, meanwhile, has been out since suffering an ankle sprain of his own during the preseason. The team’s 2021 starter was designated to return from IR last week, opening his three-week window to be activated. Taking the field next week would thus represent a logical timeframe for the Panthers’ other 2018 top-3 QB. Performance, rather than injuries, however, will also complicate the team’s decision regarding a starter.

P.J. Walker served as the top option during last week’s loss to the Rams, and did so again today. After he led the team to a 21-3 win over Tampa Bay (throwing for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the process), Wilks said it would be “hard” to remove the 27-year-old from first-team duties even if Mayfield and Darnold are healthy (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic).

Now sitting a 2-5 and in the midst of a selling-off of key players ahead of the trade deadline (yet, on the other hand, just one game out of the NFC South lead), the Panthers will visit the Falcons in Week 8. Which passers will be available at the time – and the team’s pecking order at the position – will be worth monitoring.

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.

Baker Mayfield Suffers High Ankle Sprain

OCTOBER 16: Mayfield is inactive for today’s game, as expected. That will leave Walker and Jacob Eason available to the Panthers under center today against Los Angeles. The Rams, meanwhile, will also be shorthanded at the position, as backup John Wolford is out with a neck injury. He will be replaced by Bryce Perkins.

OCTOBER 11: The second opinion the Panthers quarterback received confirmed surgery will not be necessary, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Mayfield is not expected to be placed on IR, opening the door to a return within the next four games. This season has gone about as badly as possible for the former No. 1 overall pick, but his avoiding a serious injury is obviously a plus. Walker will be expected to start the first game of Steve Wilks‘ Panthers HC tenure, with Pelissero adding Mayfield should be shelved for two to six weeks (Twitter link).

OCTOBER 10: After he exited yesterday’s game early, and donned a walking boot following the contest, it was expected that Baker Mayfield would miss at least some time. Today, it was confirmed that the Panthers quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL Network). 

[RELATED: Panthers Fire HC Matt Rhule]

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that Mayfield is expected to miss multiple weeks at a minimum as a result of the injury. He is in the process of gathering further information to determine his next steps, but being available for Week 6 may not be out of the question yet. The Athletic’s Joe Person reports that Mayfield “hopes” to play on Sunday against the Rams, something which is a “longshot” at this point (Twitter link).

Playing through pain would be nothing new for the former No. 1 pick, of course. Dealing with a serious shoulder injury (among other things), Mayfield suited up for 14 contests in 2021, the first season in which he missed any games in his career. His performance was clearly affected by his health status, and he put up career-lows statistically and was ultimately dealt to Carolina.

That led to optimism for his ability to resurrect his career and provide the Panthers with some much-needed stability at the position. However, he contributed greatly to the team’s offensive struggles, completing less than 55% of his passes and amassing a career-low QBR of 71.9. For that reason, Rapoport adds, fellow 2018 draftee Sam Darnold may well have already taken over the No. 1 role had he been available (video link).

Instead, Darnold, who lost out in the training camp competition to Mayfield for the starting job, has yet to play this season. He suffered a high ankle sprain of his own, which has landed him on IR. The recovery timeline of four to six weeks should have him seeing the field soon, but he has yet to be designated for return. That, coupled with the season-ending injury suffered by rookie Matt Corral this preseason, threatens to leave the team very shorthanded against the defending champions.

The only healthy QB the Panthers have on the active roster is P.J. WalkerA depth option with the team since 2020, the 27-year-old has won each of his two career starts. He will, in all likelihood, be seeking a third victory on Sunday as Carolina begins the post-Rhule era.

Panthers To Place Sam Darnold On IR

Not long after losing a quarterback competition to Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold suffered a high ankle sprain. He is expected to be out up to six weeks. He will be off the Panthers’ active roster for much of that stretch.

Carolina is placing Darnold on IR, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. Darnold will be sidelined for the team’s first four games. Following that, he is expected to re-emerge as Mayfield’s primary backup. This move opens up a roster spot for kicker Eddy Pineiro, who agreed to terms with the Panthers on Wednesday.

For now, P.J. Walker will play that role. The Panthers are not planning to pursue an upgrade on their backup of the past two seasons, according to Person (subscription required). While Walker was staring at the prospect of being cut earlier in camp, when the Panthers had Darnold and Matt Corral healthy, injuries have worked in the former XFL 2.0 standout’s favor. Corral underwent surgery to repair his Lisfranc injury this week, per GM Scott Fitterer. The rookie third-rounder is on season-ending IR.

This represents another bad break for Darnold, who suffered a significant shoulder injury last season. That malady prompted the Panthers to reunite with Cam Newton. This year, the team traded a conditional fifth-round pick for Mayfield, who had beaten out Darnold before his latest injury. Darnold, however, remains attached to a higher salary than Carolina’s new starter, who took a pay cut off his fifth-year option salary to facilitate a trade from Cleveland.

Darnold, 25, will go through a fifth straight season missing at least three games. He will be down at least four this year — in terms of suiting up; he may not participate in other games — but the ex-Jets starter also battled shoulder trouble in 2020, contracted mononucleosis in 2019 and suffered a foot sprain as a rookie. The former USC star entered this season having missed 10 career games.