Scott Fitterer

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Saints, Matthews

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer provided rare transparency about his team’s first-round decision ahead of last year’s draft, indicating the team was likely down to quarterback or left tackle at No. 6 overall. The pick became Ikem Ekwonu, and the non-Kenny Pickett QB contingent tumbled into the third round. Carolina scooped up one of those arms, Matt Corral, but he missed the season due to injury. With Sam Darnold ticketed for free agency, the Panthers face another offseason of QB questions.

Both Fitterer and assistant GM Dan Morgan spent much of the fall scouting the top four quarterbacks in the 2023 class in person, according Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). Some of these passers will be gone by the time the Panthers pick at No. 9. Mel Kiper Jr.’s first 2023 mock draft has Carolina, however, taking the fourth quarterback in this year’s class — Florida’s Anthony Richardson — in Round 1. The scouting missions to see Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Will Levis and the team’s long-running need at the position will connect it to a potential trade-up maneuver. The Bears, who traded up for Justin Fields after the Panthers passed on Stroud’s Ohio State predecessor two years ago, are open for business at No. 1. It remains to be seen which non-QB-needy teams from Nos. 2-8 will join them.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • The Saints are retaining offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael for what will be his 14th season in the role, but Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com notes they moved on from their second-longest-tenured offensive staffer. The Saints parted ways with Dan Roushar after 10 seasons. Roushar, 62, had held a number of key roles on New Orleans’ staff since 2013 — offensive line coach and running backs coach among them — but was working as the team’s run-game coordinator and tight ends coach over the past two seasons. The Saints ranked 18th and 19th on the ground, respectively, over the past two years. A former college OC, Roushar has only coached for the Saints at the NFL level.
  • As more details surface on Michael Thomasrecent restructure, the likelier it appears the Saints will release him. The former All-Pro’s reworked deal includes a $31MM roster bonus due on Day 3 of the 2023 league year, and Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football adds Thomas would collect a whopping $30MM if he is active for four games next season (Twitter link). So, if Thomas is on the Saints’ roster absent another restructure, he would collect a cool $61MM. That reality seems … unlikely to commence. If Thomas is designated as a post-June 1 cut, the Saints would only be tagged with $11MM-plus in dead money this year.
  • In more Saints restructure news, the team pushed back the void-year vesting dates for David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport. Both D-linemen’s contracts are now set to void March 14, as opposed to February 17, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. That gives the team more time to negotiate extensions with each free agent-to-be, and GM Mickey Loomis said recently (via Underhill) the team is interested in re-signing both. Due to restructuring Davenport’s fifth-year option, the Saints would be tagged with $7.6MM in dead money absent an extension before March 14 — the final day of the 2022 league year. A $10.2MM bill would come if Onyemata is not extended by that date.
  • The Falcons created $4.2MM in 2023 cap space by doing another Jake Matthews restructure. The team accelerated $7MM of the left tackle’s 2023 roster bonus onto its 2022 payroll, Yates tweets. After eating considerable dead money over the past two years — much of it from the Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Deion Jones trades — the Falcons are set to hold the second-most cap space in the NFL — more than $56MM.

Panthers To Interview Steve Wilks For HC Job, Not Planning Expansive Search

Although David Tepper spoke with Jim Harbaugh about the Panthers’ HC position, the team’s first formal interview should not surprise. Interim coach Steve Wilks will interview for the full-time job Tuesday, according to The Athletic’s Joe Person (subscription required).

Wilks went 6-6 as Carolina’s interim leader, doing so despite continuous quarterback injuries and taking over a team that had traded Christian McCaffrey. But no interim coach has risen to full-time status with his team since the Jaguars took the interim label off Doug Marrone in 2017.

This year’s Panthers hiring process is not expected to be expansive. GM Scott Fitterer said Monday this year’s list of candidates “will not be a large group.” Teams often want to meet with a high number of candidates from different sides of the ball or, in Carolina’s most recent case, from the college ranks. A limited search seemingly bodes well for Wilks, but the Panthers came away with Matt Rhule after a thin batch of interviews. Tepper’s seven-year, $62MM Rhule deal proved a major misfire for the Panthers, who almost certainly will focus on the pro ranks this time around.

Fitterer will be part of the search committee, but so will Tepper’s wife, Nicole, David Newton of ESPN.com tweets. A longtime Seahawks exec, Fitterer moved through a wide-ranging GM search to land the Carolina gig in 2021. Not part of the Rhule search, Fitterer will be a central figure in Carolina’s latest pursuit. But Tepper, who has made some headlines since buying the Panthers in 2018, will likely lead the way.

The Panthers are expected to interview former Colts and Lions HC Jim Caldwell and fellow ex-Indy HC Frank Reich, but the Harbaugh-Panthers connection does not look to be particularly strong. Tepper said Wilks would be considered to stay on if he did an “incredible job.” Wilks won more games than Rhule did in either of his two full seasons and showed considerable improvement compared to his 3-13 Cardinals season in 2018, but the Buccaneers’ Week 17 demolition of the Panthers’ secondary — Wilks’ specialty — undoubtedly hurt the popular interim’s chances.

Carolina has been linked to wanting an offense-oriented coach as well. That has certainly been a popular approach from teams over the past several years, and the Panthers have never hired an offense-geared HC — at least, not one with notable experience in the pros. The Panthers must interview two external minority candidates, in accordance with the Rooney Rule, as well.

Panthers Notes: NFLPA Grievance, Horn, Fitterer

Field conditions have been a talking point for many teams around the league this year, including the Panthers. The latest issue arising from the turf at Bank of America Stadium has resulted in action being taken by the player’s association.

The NFLPA is filing a grievance against the NFL and the Panthers for the state of the field during Carolina’s Christmas Eve game against the Lions, as detailed by ESPN’s David Newton. That contest – which had the coldest temperature for a start time in franchise history – began with the field in a poor, hard condition for the first half of the game in particular.

The union wanted to have the start of the game delayed due to the conditions, according to Newton’s colleague Adam Schefter, though a league official said they did not raise the issue prior to kickoff. By halftime, the field was in a better condition, but Lions quarterback Jared Goff described the field as “below NFL-standard” after the game was over. Veteran Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson has been one of many Carolina players to voice concerns over the team’s artificial turf, which was installed in 2021.

Here are some other notes out of Charlotte:

  • Cornerback Jaycee Horn was thought to be done for the season in the wake of his wrist injury suffered in Week 16. He quickly underwent surgery, though, opening the door to a late-season return. Joe Person of The Athletic tweets that the 2021 first-rounder could be able to suit up for Carolina’s regular season finale against the Saints – something which would be a welcomed sight given the Panthers’ struggles in the secondary during their loss to the Buccaneers yesterday. On the other hand, that result knocked the Panthers out of postseason contention, so the team should have little incentive to rush him back into action.
  • The firing of head coach Matt Rhule led many to believe that further organizational changes could be coming, but owner David Tepper quickly voiced his support of GM Scott Fitterer. The latter has been in place for less than two full seasons, as the team’s recent rebuilding efforts have not panned out. Fitterer began distancing himself from Rhule in 2021, per Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, the season in which the former Baylor HC’s seat began to become increasingly hot. Stability with the team’s next head coach – either interim bench boss Steve Wilks or an outside hire – would likely help Fitterer’s job stability for the intermediate future.
  • Wilks continued his reshaping of the team’s coaching staff to close out the season last month, adding Ian Scott as a defensive line coach (Twitter link via Newton). The 41-year-old spent six years in the NFL as a player, including a brief spell with the Panthers in 2008. He began his college coaching career at Florida, later working with d-linemen at UCF and Central Michigan. This post will be his first at the pro level.

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 GM: Would Need ‘Astronomical’ Return To Trade Certain Players

Although the Panthers have stopped short of full fire-sale mode, the trade of Christian McCaffrey does send off signals big names can be obtained. But Scott Fitterer attempted to cool off any rumors of that sort in the wake of the All-Pro running back’s departure.

McCaffrey drew interest and fetched a four-pick trade package — far shy of the Cowboys’ franchise-changing Herschel Walker haul but more than the Colts collected for Marshall Faulk — but Panthers that play higher-value positions have steadily generated interest since Matt Rhule‘s firing. Fitterer stopped short of taking those players off the market but indicated they probably cannot be had.

There’s players on this team that I really don’t want to trade, I know this organization does not want to trade,” Fitterer said Friday. “It would have to take something astronomical. But I think moving forward, we like where we’re at. We like our young players.”

It is fairly safe to assume D.J. Moore and Brian Burns qualify for the “astronomical” classifier. The Panthers view Moore as a foundational piece, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Burns could be in play, but Albert Breer of SI.com tweets it would take something like two first-round picks to pull off such a deal.

This year further educated the football-following public on wide receiver availability. Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown and Marquise Brown went for packages headlined by first-round picks. Given the buzz attached to Moore since Rhule’s firing, the Panthers likely would hold out for a compensation haul featuring a first-rounder and then some. Moore, 25, has back-to-back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons on his resume, reaching this benchmark consistently despite Carolina’s quarterback inconsistency. The Panthers gave him a three-year, $61.9MM extension in March.

Burns’ profile (one Pro Bowl) would not put him in the club of recent non-quarterbacks who commanded two first-round picks. Khalil Mack, Jalen Ramsey and Jamal Adams each had an All-Pro notch on their respective belts when they were traded for two first-rounders. Laremy Tunsil was moved without this accolade, however. Still, it is difficult to see a team betting that much on Burns at this point. He has not hit double-digit sacks in a season yet. The Panthers have been ready to re-up Burns for a bit now, though the team held off on doing an extension this year. Burns, 24, can drive up his extension price by continuing on his current pace.

Drafted during Rhule’s run, Derrick Brown is believed to be included in Carolina’s no-trade class. Shaq Thompson, the team’s longest-tenured player, is not. It will be interesting to see, especially now that McCaffrey is gone, if Thompson is moved before the Nov. 1 deadline. Players like cornerback Donte Jackson and offensive lineman Cameron Erving could be candidates as well, Joe Person of The Athletic offers (subscription required). Jeremy Chinn and Jaycee Horn can also be included among the core players Carolina does not want to trade, Person adds.

More players being sent away would naturally increase the chances the Panthers score a top-five draft choice. Carolina has not held such draft real estate since 2011, when it chose Cam Newton first overall. Hired during Rhule’s second offseason, Fitterer expects to be around when the team finds Rhule’s successor, Cameron Wolfe of NFL.com tweets. David Tepper endorsed Fitterer this week and said he wants more balance regarding HC-GM decision-making, after Rhule held roster control during his tenure. Though, it probably cannot be considered a lock the second-year GM is back. Tepper fired GM Marty Hurney months after greenlighting a Rhule-Hurney arranged partnership. But Fitterer is running the show regarding Panthers trades. The longtime Seahawks exec has doubled the Panthers’ 2023 draft arsenal over the first four rounds, running it to six via the McCaffrey swap.

Panthers Owner Backs GM Scott Fitterer

Given the changes which were made on the Panthers’ sidelines yesterday, owner David Tepper was unsurprisingly asked about the job status of the team’s general manager. Given his remarks, front office changes will not be forthcoming. 

Scott [Fitterer] is our GM,” Tepper said during the post-Matt Rhule firing press conference. “There’s no thought of mind right now. Right now, my focus is [on Steve] Wilks and how he can have success in his new role.”

Fitterer, 48, spent the bulk of his front office career in Seattle. Beginning there in 2001, he worked his way up to the role of VP of football operations by 2020. That landed him on the GM radar, and resulted in him being hired in 2021 to lead the Panthers’ front office.

That move, of course, came only one year after Rhule was hired to begin the team’s rebuild. His history at Temple and Baylor led to plenty of optimism that a turnaround would be possible, but his stay in Charlotte lasted less than three years. That stretch saw a number of moves made to find stability at the quarterback position, including trading for Baker Mayfield this offseason. That investment has not yielded anywhere near the desired results so far, and contributed to Rhule’s dismissal.

With the team sitting at 1-4 and lacking in draft capital, speculation abounds regarding the Panthers’ willingness to part ways with some of their valued assets. While it remains to be seen if Fitterer will execute any notable trades ahead of the deadline, Tepper noted that he will seek “better balance” between Fitterer and the team’s next permanent head coach with respect to roster decisions – in contrast to the substantial power Rhule was given through his seven-year, $62MM contract.

On the point of head coaches, Tepper also echoed reports from yesterday that Wilks will have the opportunity to earn the full-time role. The one-time Cardinals HC lacks the experience many believe the Panthers will seek in their search for Rhule’s replacement, but things could change between now and the offseason.

“Ultimately, he’s in a position to be in consideration for that position,” Tepper said of Wilks. “I had a talk with Steve. No promises were made, but obviously, if he does an incredible job, he’d have to be in consideration for that.”

Panthers HC, GM Wanted Baker Mayfield At Team’s Minicamp

The Browns and Panthers engaged in trade talks for Baker Mayfield for nearly three months, and although the expected result finally emerged this week, Matt Rhule and Carolina GM Scott Fitterer wanted it to happen sooner.

Prior to Mayfield accepting a $3.5MM pay cut, with the possibility of recouping that money through incentives, the Panthers wanted the fifth-year quarterback to reduce his fully guaranteed salary by $7MM, Joe Person and Zac Jackson of The Athletic report (subscription required). Although this component of the trade caused a delay, both Rhule and Fitterer wanted this trade to be completed before the Panthers reported for minicamp.

Mayfield arriving ahead of Carolina’s minicamp would have given him more time to begin learning new OC Ben McAdoo‘s playbook, and the four-year Browns starter being at Panther minicamp obviously would have begun his competition with Sam Darnold earlier. Panthers owner David Tepper, however, was determined not to overpay for a “depressed asset,” with Person and Jackson adding the fifth-year Panthers owner being “dug in” led to Mayfield remaining with the Browns during minicamp time.

Mayfield recently expressed frustration the Browns did not trade him ahead of minicamp, but it is now known he was aware of the situation involving the Panthers when making those comments. The Browns are covering $10.5MM of his salary; the former Heisman winner is on the Panthers’ payroll at $4.86MM. While it should be expected Mayfield prevails in his upcoming competition with Darnold, the latter has a several-month head start in McAdoo’s offense — including on-field work at OTAs and minicamp. Mayfield has shown far more than Darnold on the field, and while that might win out, the timing of this trade did not do the newcomer any favors.

Carolina’s hopes at a $7MM pay cut became a non-starter for Mayfield, but Person and Jackson note the quarterback’s agent and Panthers VP of football administration Samir Suleiman worked out the $3.5MM incentive package. That made the 27-year-old passer more amenable to reducing the fully guaranteed $18.9MM salary.

The Browns initially sought a Day 2 pick for Mayfield — an asking price similar to the 49ers’ early Jimmy Garoppolo goal — and did hold talks with other teams about the quarterback, but the Panthers were the only serious suitor. The Colts, whom Mayfield eyed after the Browns entered the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, quickly landed Matt Ryan. The Seahawks did not make a “real trade inquiry,” per The Athletic.

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured GMs

Wednesday, we took a look at how the 2022 offseason changed the HC landscape. While 10 new sideline leaders are in place for 2022, not quite as much turnover transpired on the general manager front. Five new decision-makers, however, have moved to the top of teams’ front office hierarchies over the past six months.

The Bears, Giants, Raiders and Vikings rebooted their entire operations, hiring new HC-GM combos. The Minnesota move bumped out one of the previous top-10 longest-tenured GMs, with 16-year Vikings exec Rick Spielman no longer in power in the Twin Cities. The Steelers’ shakeup took the NFL’s longest-tenured pure GM out of the mix. Kevin Colbert was with the Steelers since 2000, and although he is still expected to remain with the team in a reduced capacity, the 22-year decision-maker stepped down shortly after Ben Roethlisberger wrapped his career.

Twelve teams have now hired a new GM in the past two offseasons, though a bit more staying power exists here compared to the HC ranks. Two GMs (the Cardinals’ Steve Keim and Chargers’ Tom Telesco) have begun their 10th years at the helms of their respective front offices. They have hired three HCs apiece. The Buccaneers’ Jason Licht is closing in on a decade in power in Tampa Bay; Licht will now work with his fourth HC in Todd Bowles. Beyond that, a bit of a gap exists. But a handful of other executives have been in power for at least five seasons.

Here is how long every GM or de facto GM has been in place with his respective franchise:

  1. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys): April 18, 1989[1]
  2. Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals): August 5, 1991[2]
  3. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000[3]
  4. Mickey Loomis (New Orleans Saints): May 14, 2002
  5. John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks): January 19, 2010; signed extension in 2021
  6. Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles): January 29, 2010; signed extension in 2022
  7. Les Snead (Los Angeles Rams): February 10, 2012; signed extension in 2019
  8. Steve Keim (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2013; signed extension in 2022
  9. Tom Telesco (Los Angeles Chargers): January 9, 2013; signed extension in 2018
  10. Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 21, 2014; signed extension in 2021
  11. Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins): January 4, 2016[4]
  12. Jon Robinson (Tennessee Titans): January 14, 2016; signed extension in 2022
  13. John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers): January 29, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  14. Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts): January 30, 2017; signed extension in 2021
  15. Brandon Beane (Buffalo Bills): May 9, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  16. Brett Veach (Kansas City Chiefs): July 11, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  17. Brian Gutekunst (Green Bay Packers): January 7, 2018
  18. Eric DeCosta (Baltimore Ravens): January 7, 2019
  19. Joe Douglas (New York Jets): June 7, 2019
  20. Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns): January 27, 2020
  21. Nick Caserio (Houston Texans): January 5, 2021
  22. George Paton (Denver Broncos): January 13, 2021
  23. Scott Fitterer (Carolina Panthers): January 14, 2021
  24. Brad Holmes (Detroit Lions): January 14, 2021
  25. Terry Fontenot (Atlanta Falcons): January 19, 2021
  26. Trent Baalke (Jacksonville Jaguars): January 21, 2021
  27. Martin Mayhew (Washington Commanders): January 22, 2021
  28. Joe Schoen (New York Giants): January 21, 2022
  29. Ryan Poles (Chicago Bears): January 25, 2022
  30. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (Minnesota Vikings): January 26, 2022
  31. Dave Ziegler (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  32. Omar Khan (Pittsburgh Steelers): May 24, 2022

Footnotes:

  1. Jones has been the Cowboys’ de facto general manager since former GM Tex Schramm resigned in April 1989.
  2. Brown has been the Bengals’ de facto GM since taking over as the team’s owner in August 1991.
  3. Belichick has been the Patriots’ de facto GM since shortly after being hired as the team’s head coach in January 2000.
  4. Although Grier was hired in 2016, he became the Dolphins’ top football exec on Dec. 31, 2018

Latest On Sam Darnold

With the Panthers waiting until the Day 2 of the draft to add a signal-caller, Sam Darnold remains at the top of the team’s quarterback depth chart. His status as the No. 1 at the position may be temporary, general manager Scott Fitterer detailed recently. 

“Sam is the number one guy right now” he said, via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk“He has every opportunity to take it and run with it. We hope he does well. We’ve seen improvement already under [offensive coordinator] Ben McAdoo.” 

McAdoo publicly anointed Darnold the starter in the build-up to the draft, though he was quick to walk back his remarks in light of the team’s probability of selecting from this year’s underwhelming QB class. At the time, the Panthers only had Darnold and P.J. Walker under contract; that, and the desire to find a long-term franchise pivot led Carolina to trade into the third round and select Ole Miss alum Matt Corral.

Corral was part of the QB group which – aside from Kenny Pickett – fell considerably in the draft. Concerns related to his ankle injury and interview process turned some teams away from the former Rebel, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Carolina thinks highly enough of him, however, that Fitterer left open the possibility of him playing at some point in 2022.

Another factor in this situation is, of course, the possibility of a reunion with Cam Newton. The former MVP would provide a much more experienced option compared to the rest of the depth chart, though his arrival midway through the 2021 campaign didn’t help ease the team’s struggles. Overall, Fitterer emphasized that the top spot is far from an assurance at this point.

“We’ll see how it goes. [Darnold is] in the lead right now, but until someone really owns that position… it will always be up for grabs.”

Panthers Eyeing Extension With Brian Burns

One of the teams with a key decision to make with respect to fifth-year options was the Panthers. Not surprisingly, they officially picked up the option on edge rusher Brian Burns yesterday, but the team is hoping to have him under contract for much more than the next two seasons. 

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said during yesterday’s announcement “we have hopes of extending him beyond [2023]” (Twitter link via Joe Person of the Athletic). It had long been known, of course, that Carolina would exercise the option on Burns; likewise, it comes as little surprise that they would want to get a long-term deal done with the 24-year-old.

The 16th overall pick in 2019, Burns had an immediate impact during his rookie season. Despite playing less than half of the team’s defensive snaps, he registered 7.5 sacks. In the two seasons since then, he has taken his production a step further, with back-to-back years at 50+ tackles and nine sacks. He was named to his first career Pro Bowl in 2021.

Between those numbers and his age, getting a second contract done as soon as possible would make plenty of sense. His 2023 salary will be just over $16MM as a result of the option being picked up, which could provide a framework for a longer commitment. Burns will continue next season as an anchor of the team’s pass rush, along with the likes of Yetur Gross-Matos and the recently re-signed Frankie Luvu.