Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold To Remain Panthers’ Starter In Week 14

Sam Darnold made his season debut during yesterday’s win over the Broncos, serving as the third different option under center for the Panthers in 2022. His tenure back in the No. 1 role will not be a one-off, however.

Interim head coach Steve Wilks said on Sunday that Darnold will get the nod once again in Week 14 when Carolina plays Seattle following their bye. The announcement comes after Wilks had indicated his intention to have him see game action in 2022, which was confirmed with the Week 12 start. The team’s No. 1 option for most of last season, Darnold was long seen as a replacement candidate this past offseason.

To little surprise, the team brought in Baker Mayfield from the Browns through a trade the team had been eyeing well before it was consummated in July. It was the former No. 1 overall pick who won out Carolina’s training camp competition, but he struggled mightily before going down with a high ankle sprain. With Darnold having suffered the same injury in the preseason and being unavailable, Carolina turned to P.J. Walker as their starter for a stretch.

Mayfield was thrust back into the No. 1 role during Week 11, a 13-3 loss to the Ravens during which he threw a pair of late interceptions. Darnold’s return to health allowed him to guide the team’s offense yesterday, though, and help lead them to a 23-10 win. The USC product competed just 11 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, but generated a passer rating of 103.8 and will have the opportunity to build on that performance this week.

With both Darnold and fellow 2018 draftee Mayfield pending free agents, the closing weeks of the season will be highly important for both of them from a financial perspective. Solid performances from the former could help erase the struggles of the past in Charlotte (and help earn him at least consideration for a deal to compete with injured rookie Matt Corral for a 2023 roster spot), which could also have an effect on the sidelines. With Wilks reportedly making a case to remain the team’s permanent HC, plenty will be at stake as the calendar flips to December despite the Panthers’ 4-8 record.

Panthers To Start Sam Darnold In Week 12

Steve Wilks said last week he wanted Sam Darnold to see some action. While the Carolina interim HC was not yet certain when that would come, clarity emerged Tuesday.

Darnold will start against the Broncos in Week 12. The Panthers are pivoting to their primary 2021 starter, who has missed all of this season due to the high ankle sprain he suffered during training camp. This will be Darnold’s 50th career start.

Despite Baker Mayfield coming over in July, completing a long-rumored trade, Darnold remains the Panthers’ highest-paid quarterback. He is tied to an $18.9MM fifth-year option. The team also paid more to land Darnold than it did to acquire Mayfield, sending the Jets second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for the former No. 3 overall selection. Injuries have marred Darnold’s Carolina run, but Mayfield beat him out for the Panthers’ QB1 gig during training camp.

Darnold, 25, has disappointed as a starter with the Jets and Panthers. Though, the USC product did have Carolina at 3-0 last season. Mayfield has enjoyed a better career than the player chosen two spots after him in 2018, nearly winning Offensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and then leading the Browns to the playoffs two seasons later. But he has been unable to recapture that form since a shoulder injury altered his Cleveland path in September 2021. Mayfield’s 17.8 QBR is well south of every other qualified passer this season.

The Panthers will start three quarterbacks for a second straight season, sending in Darnold after Mayfield and P.J. Walker stints. Carolina will also start a different QB for a third straight game. Although Darnold suffered his high ankle sprain first, his injury might have been the most significant. Initially given a four- to six-week recovery timetable, Darnold did not come off IR until before Week 10. Mayfield returned not long after suffering his high ankle malady; Walker is still recovering from his. While Mayfield reclaimed his QB1 gig against the Ravens, the Panthers scored three points.

In 2021, Darnold finished 29th in QBR — third from the bottom — during a season in which a shoulder injury took him off the field for a stretch. A fractured scapula shut down Darnold in early November of last year. Carolina’s season was already going south by that point, with injuries — most notably to Christian McCaffrey — leading to the team losing four straight after its 3-0 opening. Darnold finished 4-7 as a starter and closed his fourth NFL campaign with a 9-to-13 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio. Because Mayfield has struggled, the Panthers will give their previous QB1 another chance. Murmurs about Darnold eventually reclaiming the gig were emerging by mid-October, when Mayfield suffered his ankle injury.

Darnold, Mayfield and Walker are all set for free agency at season’s end. Matt Rhule drove the trades for both Darnold and Mayfield, and he coached Walker at Temple. It is safe to say the Panthers’ quarterback room will look considerably different next year. For now, Darnold will have a chance to rebound to some degree ahead of what would be his first free agency crack.

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.

Panthers Activate QB Sam Darnold

The Panthers have added another name to the mix regarding their fluid quarterback situation. The team announced on Monday that Sam Darnold has been activated from IR. This will be their second activation of the year.

Carolina had until this Wednesday to make the move. If not, Darnold would have been ineligible to return this season. Interim head coach Steve Wilks‘ comments on the matter left the situation somewhat murky, but it comes as little surprise that Darnold will be available moving forward after his return to practice.

The 25-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason, leading to the expectation of a prolonged absence to begin the campaign. That opened the door to offseason trade acquisition Baker Mayfield having an even firmer grip on the starting QB job in the opening weeks of the season, but he struggled mightily before suffering the same injury himself. P.J. Walker took over the No. 1 role for the next three games.

His level of play left Mayfield on the bench despite retuning to health, until halftime of yesterday’s blowout loss to the Bengals. Walker had guided one of the worst offensive performances through two quarters in franchise history, leading Wilks to replace him with Mayfield for the remainder of the game. That move left the starting spot wide open in advance of Carolina’s upcoming Thursday night game against the Falcons. Darnold – who, like Mayfield, is a pending free agent – will now factor into the team’s plans in the coming days.

In other Panthers news, more changes have been made along the team’s coaching staff. Cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni were fired today, as detailed by ESPN’s David Newton. Cooper had been one of several assistants with ties to Matt Rhule, and his job description included a scouting role. He will be jointly replaced by defensive staffer Bobby Maffei and interim defensive coordinator Al Holcomb. Pasqualoni, 73, has five years of DC experience in the NFL; this was his first season in Carolina. Don Johnson and assistant d-line coach Terrance Knighton will occupy his vacated role.

These moves come less than one month after Rhule and DC Phil Snow were fired, of course, as the turnover in the organization continues. With a new configuration on the sidelines, and, potentially, another new face under center, the 2-7 Panthers will host the Falcons to begin Week 10 as they hope to rebound from yesterday’s loss.

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.

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.

Panthers Designate QB Sam Darnold, DT Bravvion Roy For Return

Sam Darnold will be back on the practice field for the Panthers beginning Wednesday. The team designated the fifth-year quarterback and defensive tackle Bravvion Roy for return.

This will begin Darnold’s 21-day activation ramp-up period. Carolina can activate Darnold at any point over the next three weeks. The team lost its backup quarterback to a high ankle sprain during the preseason, and the 2021 trade acquisition was given a four- to six-week recovery timetable. We have passed the back end of that window, so Darnold’s return to practice will be interesting.

The Panthers still have all eight of their injury activations to use this season. That points to both Darnold and Roy being activated soon. A 2020 sixth-round pick, Roy suffered a knee injury in Week 2.

Much has changed since Darnold last took the field for the Panthers. They have fired Matt Rhule and traded Robbie Anderson. Christian McCaffrey is now a trade candidate. Baker Mayfield also suffered a high ankle sprain, though his recovery timetable is not believed to be as lengthy as Darnold’s was back in August.

Mayfield has shed his walking boot but is not yet ready to practice, David Newton of ESPN.com tweets. An MRI revealed a torn ligament in Mayfield’s ankle, Steve Wilks said. This would stand to lengthen the incumbent starter’s recovery timeline. The former No. 1 overall choice has struggled since being acquired in July. His early-season woes contributed heavily to Rhule’s firing, leading to rumors of Darnold being given another shot. Wilks did not guarantee Mayfield would keep his job upon return, indicating (via The Athletic’s Joe Person, on Twitter) he and Darnold would compete (again). Mayfield won a fairly one-sided QB competition during training camp.

The Panthers gave up far more to acquire Darnold compared to Mayfield, making the former’s 2021 performance quite costly for the team’s Rhule-era aspirations. The former No. 3 overall pick started 11 games last season. After beginning the year 3-0, Darnold lost seven of his final eight outings. A shaky offensive line contributed to Darnold’s issues in Carolina, but the Jets also unloaded him due to underwhelming play. The USC product ranked 29th in QBR during a season in which he threw nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Mayfield, whose Browns career outpaced Darnold’s first four seasons, currently ranks last in QBR.

Carolina used both P.J. Walker and Jacob Eason in Los Angeles last week. Given the way Mayfield has performed, it would certainly not surprise to see Darnold back under center at some point soon. Then again, Darnold has an extensive injury history. He has missed at least three games in each of his five NFL seasons. Both he and Mayfield are set for free agency at season’s end, pointing the Panthers to a full-on quarterback reset.

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.