The Panthers have received substandard quarterback play for several years and still have Sam Darnold‘s fully guaranteed fifth-year option ($18.9MM) on their books going forward. While Carolina will undoubtedly be linked to veteran passers — potentially Deshaun Watson for a second straight offseason — the team may have early interest in Pitt prospect Kenny Pickett. The Panthers are believed to be high on Pickett, per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who notes multiple evaluators do not believe the ACC talent will make it past Carolina’s No. 6 overall pick. Panthers owner David Tepper was previously a minority Steelers owner and, per JLC, is a Pitt booster, connecting some dots here. Tepper was believed to be behind the Panthers’ aggressive Watson interest last year, before the Texans QB’s legal issues surfaced. Based on that and the team’s push for Matthew Stafford last year, it can be assumed the owner will endorse a splashy QB addition. Although this year’s crop of prospects is not viewed especially well, Pickett impressed at the Senior Bowl and would give the Panthers a low-cost starter amid the Darnold deal.
Here is the latest from the NFC South:
- Tristan Wirfs could not finish the Buccaneers‘ wild-card win and missed their divisional-round Rams matchup, halting a quality run of durability to start his career. Tampa Bay’s All-Pro right tackle is moving toward taking care of his recent ankle issue. Wirfs plans to undergo surgery, per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe (subscription required). Although Bruce Arians said a non-surgical option exists (via Buccaneers.com’s Scott Smith), the standout blocker suffered a rather severe ankle injury. The former first-round pick tore two ligaments, one ripping off the bone completely, Howe adds. Wirfs said he will undoubtedly be ready for training camp.
- The Bucs have not made a roster move regarding Tom Brady yet, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes, despite the all-time great announcing his retirement last week. The team has $32MM in dead money associated with its two-year quarterback. A post-June 1 placement on the reserve-retired list would defray $24MM of that total to 2023. The Saints and Panthers did this with Drew Brees and Luke Kuechly, respectively, over the past two offseasons. The Bucs doing this would also mean they would retain Brady’s rights for 2022, entitling them to compensation if the ageless passer decides he wants to play again but for another team. Should the Bucs release Brady after June 1, he would be free to sign with any team.
- Falcons director of pro personnel Steve Sabo is leaving the team. Sabo spent the past 12 years with the Falcons, working in various roles. Previous GM Thomas Dimitroff hired Sabo, but he stayed on in Terry Fontenot‘s first year. Sabo previously served as the Falcons’ college scouting director.
- The Panthers made a change in their front office recently as well. They are promoting cap guru Samir Suleiman to a newly created position of VP of football administration, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Suleiman previously worked as Carolina’s salary cap manager.