Scott Fitterer

Panthers HC Frank Reich, GM Scott Fitterer On Hot Seat

Last year, the Panthers fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start. Interim HC Steve Wilks then led the team to a 6-6 finish that left it still in the NFC South race until Week 17. Despite many of the same cornerstone players in place, Carolina’s 2023 edition has the NFL’s worst record.

Trading up significant assets to secure Bryce Young at No. 1 overall, the Panthers were never viewed as a team that would truly contend this season. But their disappointing first half has many around the league wondering if David Tepper will bail on the power structure he signed off on in January. One member of Carolina’s power duo may be on a hotter seat than the other, but both Frank Reich and GM Scott Fitterer do not appear certain to retain their jobs beyond this season.

Many around the NFL are eyeing this situation, with the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora noting there is a strong sense Reich will become a one-and-done. Even within the Panthers’ building, La Canfora adds the belief is jobs are on the line going into the season’s second half. This would be a stunning flip-flop from ownership — especially after Rhule went from receiving a seven-year contract to being canned after Week 5 of his third season — but Tepper has not exactly gained a reputation for stability during his early years running the NFC South team. Indeed, Tepper’s reputation is driving the speculation Reich will be canned after just one season, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline adds.

Tepper is believed to be irked by Young’s performance thus far, an NFL personnel exec informed La Canfora while adding the sixth-year owner drove the bus for the Alabama prospect. When the Panthers obtained the No. 1 overall pick, rumors of Reich preferring C.J. Stroud surfaced. Those steadily faded, as Young won the organization over despite his slight frame. The Panthers have seen Stroud hit the ground running with the Texans, and despite Carolina’s only win coming over Houston, the team has taken significant steps back compared to how it finished in 2022.

Among qualified passers, Young ranks only ahead of Ryan Tannehill in QBR this season. The former Heisman winner sits last in yards per attempt — at just 5.4 — and has thrown eight touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. Young’s struggles should probably have been expected, given Carolina’s skill-position deficiencies. The team gave Miles Sanders the top RB contract in free agency; Chuba Hubbard has since leapfrogged the ex-Eagle for the starting role. Adam Thielen has gone from Vikings cap casualty to the Panthers’ No. 1 target, in his age-33 season. Thielen has been productive in Carolina; no one else in this skill group has. Neither DJ Chark nor Hayden Hurst — the latter receiving the top tight end deal this offseason — has topped 230 receiving yards this year.

After pointing to Thomas Brown being in consideration to call plays this offseason, Reich handed the duties off during the team’s bye week. Three games in, Reich took back the reins from the young OC. The Panthers did not top 15 points in a game during Brown’s short run calling the shots, and while the veteran HC said this about-face is not indicative of Brown’s long-term future, the quick change was certainly notable.

Reich beat out Wilks for the Panthers’ top job, with Tepper preferring an offense-oriented HC. The five-year Colts leader is the Panthers’ first offense-geared sideline boss. Well respected, Reich being fired from two HC jobs in two years would undoubtedly drop him back to the coordinator tier moving forward. Reich, 61, did pull back the curtain a bit on Tepper’s style earlier this season by pointing to the owner being heavily involved in football operations via the two’s weekly meetings. After the experience Reich had with Jim Irsay in Indianapolis, this is familiar territory.

But Reich may also not be the likeliest Panthers power broker to go. Fitterer should not be expected to weather this storm, according to Pauline. Fitterer arrived in 2021 to work with Rhule, following a successful tenure as a Seahawks exec, and was left in power ahead of the 2022 trade deadline. The veteran staffer pulled the trigger on a Christian McCaffrey trade, giving the Panthers four draft choices, but did not accept a Rams offer of two first-rounders for Brian Burns. The young defensive end was not believed to have drawn similar interest at this year’s deadline, which came after the Panthers could not extend him this offseason. A franchise tag is now expected for Burns, but it is far from certain Tepper will have Fitterer making that call.

Some members of the Panthers’ organization do not believe this is a well-assembled roster, and the team’s 1-8 record supports that. Despite being in a seller’s position, the Panthers pursued wide receivers — months after trading longtime No. 1 target D.J. Moore — at the deadline. Fitterer, who took a backseat to Rhule, has final say over Carolina’s 53-man roster. The Panthers lost to a Bears team missing Justin Fields; Carolina being in position to potentially hand over the 2024 No. 1 pick to Chicago would present difficult optics for Fitterer, who received a vote of confidence from Tepper after the Rhule firing.

Tepper firing Reich after one season would not make this a particularly attractive job, though the owner’s past authorizing big contracts for HCs and paying top dollar for assistants will help. This will be a situation to monitor during the season’s second half.

Panthers Pursued WRs Davante Adams And Tee Higgins, DE Montez Sweat At Deadline

Despite a win-loss record that placed them squarely in the “sellers” category, we heard in the run-up to last month’s trade deadline that the Panthers were operating as both buyers and sellers. We also heard that Carolina was especially interested in acquiring a top-flight wide receiver, and to that end, David Newton of reports that the team pursued both the Raiders’ Davante Adams and the Bengals’ Tee Higgins, though neither club was willing to make a deal. Newton adds that GM Scott Fitterer also tried to acquire DE Montez Sweat, whom the Commanders ultimately traded to the Bears.

The early struggles of rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, have created plenty of concern among the Panthers’ fanbase, especially since No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud is playing at a high level for the Texans and since Carolina paid such a premium for the privilege to climb up the draft board to select Young. However, Newton writes that head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer still believe their plan to trade high-end draft capital — including their 2024 first-round pick — and top receiver D.J. Moore was a sound one that will pay dividends in the future. Likewise, Dianna Russini of The Athletic (subscription required) says that the organization is still unified in the belief that Young is the long-term answer at quarterback.

In order to get the most out of Young, the Panthers understand that they need to give him more playmakers, which is why they pursued Adams and Higgins (they were not alone in that regard, as the Jets made a play for both receivers as well). Adams’ career accomplishments, which include six Pro Bowl nods and three First Team All-Pro selections, dwarf those of Higgins, who has not yet made a Pro Bowl. Nonetheless, Higgins is six years younger than Adams, is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and clearly has WR1 upside.

While Adams is under club control through 2026, Higgins is due to be a free agent at season’s end. If they had acquired the Clemson product, the Panthers would have needed to sign him to an extension or put the franchise tag on him, so his contract situation would have been a priority agenda item alongside a new deal (or franchise tag) for edge rusher Brian Burns. According to Newton, Carolina retained Burns through a second consecutive deadline in which he generated plenty of trade interest because the team views him and Young as foundational pieces of a future contender. Though the Panthers are presently without a 2024 first-rounder, they do have $42MM in projected cap space next season along with six other draft picks, and the plan is to turn those assets into talent to complement Burns and Young.

The latest reporting on the matter suggests that Burns and the Panthers are not actively engaged in contract talks, and Newton confirms prior reports that the two sides were far apart when negotiations stopped in December. If player and team cannot come to terms, Burns will be hit with the franchise tag, according to Newton.

If Fitterer were successful in his pursuit of Sweat, he certainly would have had a dynamic pair of pass rushers to headline his defense. However, Sweat was also in a contract year at the time of his trade and signed a lucrative extension shortly after arriving in Chicago, so the Panthers would have needed to authorize a similar contract for Sweat or quickly close the gap with Burns in order to assure themselves of the chance to retain both players.

As it stands, Fitterer & Co. will be able to focus most of their early offseason efforts on Burns’ new deal — if Fitterer is still around, that is. Per Russini, there are some members of the organization that believe the roster has not been assembled correctly, and owner David Tepper is frustrated by a Reich-orchestrated offense that league sources have described as “boring,” “predictable,” and “lifeless.” Reich, of course, was hired by Fitterer, and Russini says the “message in the building” is that ownership needs to see offensive improvement in the second half of the season.

If that does not happen, then Russini expects changes to be made. It is unclear if that simply means a shake-up to Reich’s offensive staff, or if Reich himself could be in jeopardy. It is fair to wonder whether Fitterer might also be on the hot seat, though ownership apparently is satisfied with how the defense and special teams units are performing.

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured GMs

The latest NFL general manager hiring cycle only produced two changes, but each took over for an executive who appeared in good standing at this point last year.

Steve Keim had held his Cardinals GM post since January 2013, and the Cardinals gave both he and Kliff Kingsbury extensions — deals that ran through 2027 — in March of last year. Arizona has since rebooted, moving on from both Keim and Kingsbury. Keim took a leave of absence late last season, and the Cardinals replaced him with ex-Titans exec Monti Ossenfort.

[RELATED: The NFL’s Longest-Tenured Head Coaches]

As the Cardinals poached one of the Titans’ top front office lieutenants, Tennessee went with an NFC West staffer to replace Jon Robinson. The move to add 49ers FO bastion Ran Carthon also came less than a year after the Titans reached extension agreements with both Robinson and HC Mike Vrabel. But controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk canned Robinson — in place as GM since January 2016 — before last season ended. Adams Strunk cited player unavailability and roster quality among the reasons she chose to move on despite having extended Robinson through the 2027 draft months earlier. The Titans are now pairing Vrabel and Carthon.

The Bills reached an extension agreement with GM Brandon Beane two weeks ago. Hired shortly after the team gave Sean McDermott the HC keys, Beane has helped the Bills to five playoff berths in six seasons. Beane’s deal keeps him signed through 2027. Chargers GM Tom Telesco has hit the 10-year mark leading that front office, while this year also marks the 10th offseason of Buccaneers honcho Jason Licht‘s tenure running the NFC South team. Although Jim Irsay fired Frank Reich and later admitted he reluctantly extended his former HC in 2021, the increasingly active Colts owner has expressed confidence in Chris Ballard.

Here is how the NFL’s GM landscape looks going into the 2023 season:

  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 2022
  8. Tom Telesco (Los Angeles Chargers): January 9, 2013; signed extension in 2018
  9. Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 21, 2014; signed extension in 2021
  10. Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins): January 4, 2016[4]
  11. John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers): January 29, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  12. Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts): January 30, 2017; signed extension in 2021
  13. Brandon Beane (Buffalo Bills): May 9, 2017; signed extension in 2023
  14. Brett Veach (Kansas City Chiefs): July 11, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  15. Brian Gutekunst (Green Bay Packers): January 7, 2018; agreed to extension in 2022
  16. Eric DeCosta (Baltimore Ravens): January 7, 2019
  17. Joe Douglas (New York Jets): June 7, 2019
  18. Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns): January 27, 2020
  19. Nick Caserio (Houston Texans): January 5, 2021
  20. George Paton (Denver Broncos): January 13, 2021
  21. Scott Fitterer (Carolina Panthers): January 14, 2021
  22. Brad Holmes (Detroit Lions): January 14, 2021
  23. Terry Fontenot (Atlanta Falcons): January 19, 2021
  24. Trent Baalke (Jacksonville Jaguars): January 21, 2021
  25. Martin Mayhew (Washington Commanders): January 22, 2021
  26. Joe Schoen (New York Giants): January 21, 2022
  27. Ryan Poles (Chicago Bears): January 25, 2022
  28. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (Minnesota Vikings): January 26, 2022
  29. Dave Ziegler (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  30. Omar Khan (Pittsburgh Steelers): May 24, 2022
  31. Monti Ossenfort (Arizona Cardinals): January 16, 2023
  32. Ran Carthon (Tennessee Titans): January 17, 2023


  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

Panthers’ Brian Burns Undergoes Ankle Surgery

With minicamps set to start around the league, many teams will have a large contingent of veterans available to take part in workouts and practices. That will not be the case for Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns, however.

Burns recently underwent surgery on his right ankle, per a team announcement. The 25-year-old was sidelined for Carolina’s regular season finale, and offseason tests revealed a small fracture. The procedure is not expected to keep him away from training camp this summer, though, which should allow him to put together another productive campaign in 2023.

The Florida State product recorded a career-high 12.5 sacks last season, adding 17 tackles for loss and 22 QB hits. Those totals earned him a second consecutive Pro Bowl nod, and further cemented his status as one of the Panthers’ most important players in the short- and long-term future. The center of trade talks after the firing of Matt Rhule, Burns can be expected to remain in Charlotte for many years to come.

When asked about Burns’ situation with respect to a new contract, general manager Scott Fitterer said, “Brian Burns is going to be here. We will work through [an extension] with his agent” (Twitter link via Steve Reed of the Associated Press). That falls in line with Fitterer’s previous remarks on the subject, and with the draft now finished, a deal for Burns (who is set to play on the fifth-year option in 2023) represents one of the team’s top priorities.

While the latter will no doubt be counted on to anchor Carolina’s pass rush, more moves could be coming to provide a boost in that department. ESPN’s David Newton notes that “there’s a good chance” the Panthers will add a veteran edge rusher in the post-draft wave of free agency. A number of experienced options are still on the market, including Leonard FloydFrank ClarkYannick Ngakoue and Robert Quinn. Carolina currently sits second in the league in terms of cap space, so they could afford a short-term move with any of those names as a compliment to Burns, whose financial future could become clearer soon.

Texans Nearly Completed Trade For No. 1 Pick; Team Looking To Move Up From No. 12

As yet another indicator of the Texans’ Bryce Young interest, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reports the trade talks between they and the Bears nearly produced a deal in March (Twitter link). Chicago’s previously reported two-trade effort falling through led to Carolina having Young access at No. 1.

Ryan Poles has discussed the Bears’ plan to trade with the Texans and then swap with the Panthers, moving from No. 1 to No. 2 to No. 9. The Texans backed out at the final stage, and Glazer’s report indicates the team was near the goal line on this trade. As it stands, Houston will go into tonight’s first round holding their No. 2 pick. The Texans had held the top slot for weeks, but a Davis Mills-led game-winning drive in Week 18 — one that included a fourth-and-20 Mills-to-Jordan Akins touchdown connection — gave the Bears the pick.

To move from No. 2 to No. 1, Houston was set to send Chicago a trade package that included at least one starting offensive player, Darin Gantt of adds. The Panthers were simultaneously negotiating with the Cardinals for the No. 3 pick, with Gantt adding the team’s proposal for 3 was similar to its offer for 2. It is worth wondering if the offensive player in Houston’s was Brandin Cooks, whom the team traded to Dallas last month.

Wednesday afternoon, we were there,” Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said regarding a trade from No. 9 to No. 2 with the Bears. “That evening, we kept waiting for, basically for Houston to make a decision. [Owner David Tepper] is calling me because we’re waiting for that to happen. And all day Thursday, nothing. And Thursday night, I call Ryan. He’s like pacing at his house. He goes, ‘I can’t sleep. Now I’m sick to my stomach,’ because ultimately, he’s going to really rack up picks and stuff.

And then Friday comes, nothing in the morning. I talk to him at noon. He’s frustrated. Talk to him again about 2:30 p.m. He’s frustrated. And it’s kind of like, OK, what’s it take then? Take 2 out. What if we just want to come to 1?

The Raiders and Colts also discussed the pick with the Bears, but the Panthers including D.J. Moore represented a turning point. As the Panthers shifted their focus from moving to No. 1, Poles prioritized the veteran wideout. The Panthers gave up Moore, a 2024 first-rounder and two seconds to move up eight spots. The other teams involved led the Panthers to include Moore, per Gantt. The Bears also inquired on Brian Burns and Derrick Brown. While the Panthers had previously turned down a first-rounder for Moore, they included him in their revised offer. The team has since signed Adam Thielen and DJ Chark.

We’re trying to protect ourselves by talking about 3, and it was a pretty good deal to go to Arizona, but then there’s two quarterbacks in between that are possibly going right?” Fitterer said. “And that’s why we said, let’s just go get the 1. Yeah. And let’s control this. … But then the other team comes in, and they’re offering what is actually more than we gave up, pick-wise. So that’s where the D.J. factor came in. That’s what put us over the top. We didn’t have to do as much pick-wise because we knew D.J.’s worth more than a 1.”

Houston’s hesitancy about the trade creates intrigue regarding its plans for tonight. The Texans now appear set to pick an edge rusher — either Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, who look to be part of a floor-vs.-ceiling debate — over a quarterback. That said, owner Cal McNair is more involved with this year’s first-round pick compared to 2022. As recently as this week,’s Albert Breer notes the organization was “pretty torn” on going quarterback or edge rusher at No. 2. While the latter route may have prevailed, the Texans will still need to find a path to landing a bona fide starter option.

On that front, Caserio has explored moving up from No. 12 overall as a way to land a passer, Breer notes. The team has looked into trading back into the top 10 for a QB,’s Tony Pauline adds. The Texans have a second-round pick and two thirds in this year’s draft; they have two firsts in 2024.

The Titans have been steadily tied to negotiating with the Cardinals, who are weighing offers from multiple teams. With the Colts set to pick at No. 4, it is possible C.J. Stroud and Will Levis — frequently connected to Indianapolis — will be off the board in the first four picks. That would leave the Texans with the options of Anthony Richardson, whom they did not host on a pre-draft visit, and Hendon Hooker. The Texans are believed to be intrigued by the ex-Tennessee Volunteer, but he is coming off an ACL tear and already 25. Hooker climbing into the top 10 would make for quite the pre-draft rise, and it is also possible Houston could nab the rehabbing QB by trading down.

Bears Also Targeted Brian Burns, Derrick Brown; Panthers Discussed Trades With Cardinals, Seahawks

The Rams’ 2016 trade-up for Jared Goff involved only picks being exchanged with the Titans, whereas the Falcons’ 2001 move for Michael Vick featured a player and draft choices going to the Chargers. Standout return man Tim Dwight went to San Diego in that deal. Ryan Poles preferred the latter structure, leading to the pre-free agency swap that featured D.J. Moore and picks going to the Bears.

Chicago’s second-year GM zeroed in on a picks-and-players package when he began dangling the No. 1 overall pick, Joe Person, Adam Jahns and Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic report (subscription required). The Bears had other targets beyond Moore. Unsurprisingly, they were the two other top trade chips that came up at last year’s trade deadline. Chicago also targeted Brian Burns and Derrick Brown.

[RELATED: Panthers Leaning Toward Bryce Young At No. 1?]

Poles sought advice from Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson, per The Athletic, citing the NHL as relevant reference material regarding trades involving picks and players. The Bears first heard from the Panthers on a trade, after Carolina — even though team brass met with Derek Carr at the Combine — determined a rookie passer would be the plan after three seasons of veteran retreads post-Cam Newton. Chicago also discussed the pick with Houston and Las Vegas, but Poles’ relationship with Carolina GM Scott Fitterer helped move the intra-NFC trade past the goal line.

The Panthers’ first offer included only picks, per The Athletic, but Poles informed Fitterer picks alone would not be enough to allow the Panthers to move from No. 9 to No. 1. Carolina pulled that proposal, and Burns, Brown and Moore came up. All three players emerged as targets at last year’s deadline — none more so than Burns, who drew a two-first-rounder offer from the Rams. The picks included in that proposal were in 2024 and 2025, however, leading the Panthers to pass.

There were certain players that we never really wanted to trade,” Fitterer said, via The Athletic. “It’s so hard to replace a Derrick Brown or Brian Burns, a pass rusher [and] an interior, dominant young player on a [first] contract. D.J., we didn’t want to move either. But it’s a little bit easier to replace a receiver than it is a pass rusher or a three-tech.”

Burns is entering his fifth-year option season, while Brown is going into Year 4. Both players arrived before Fitterer did, but the team has long planned to hammer out an extension with Burns. Fitterer’s comments on Burns’ value stand to strengthen the defensive end’s negotiating position. The Panthers are aiming to do a Burns extension after the draft. They will likely target receivers in the draft, though signings of Adam Thielen and DJ Chark lessen that need a bit.

Prior to pulling off the trade with the Bears, the Panthers discussed prospective deals with the Cardinals for the No. 3 pick and the Seahawks for the fifth choice. Neither negotiation gained much steam, per Person, even given Fitterer’s lengthy past in Seattle. The Colts also checked in with the Bears, according to Jahns and Fishbain. That certainly adds up, given Indianapolis’ post-Andrew Luck history and both Poles and Colts GM Chris Ballard having worked together in Kansas City.

The second-round picks exchanged here provided another interesting component in this seminal swap. The Bears wanted the Panthers’ No. 39 overall pick, according to The Athletic. Reluctant to part with it due to the gap that would exist between Carolina’s Nos. 1 and 61 overall picks, Fitterer counteroffered the 61st selection (obtained in the Christian McCaffrey trade) and a 2025 second. Instead of collecting one second-round pick, the Bears ended up with two in this trade — one that also will send Carolina’s 2024 first to Chicago. After David Tepper pushed for Deshaun Watson in 2021 and ’22, the Panthers determined this was the time to strike.

I think when you’re at No. 9 — hopefully we’re not at No. 9 moving forward — this was an opportunity that we felt like, ‘Hey, this is the highest, hopefully, that we’re going to be in the future, so let’s take advantage of this, let’s be aggressive,” Panthers assistant GM Dan Morgan said, via the Charlotte Observer’s Mike Kaye. “Let’s trade up and let’s try to go get our quarterback.”

Considering the Panthers have held top-10 picks from 2020-22, it is not as though holding the No. 9 choice was rare draft real estate for the struggling team. Matt Rhule led the charge for the Panthers to stay at No. 7 and pass on a QB in 2020, rather than leapfrog both the Dolphins and Chargers for Justin Herbert, and the Panthers — after a failed Matthew Stafford pursuit — traded for Sam Darnold in 2021. The 2022 draft featured a poorly regarded QB crop, leading to Carolina taking Ikem Ekwonu at No. 6.

As the Panthers determined they wanted a first-round QB, the Bears viewed this year’s crop as impressive but not to the point it would bail on Justin Fields and make him their avenue toward stockpiling future picks. Instead, the Bears will be targeting non-quarterback options at 9. Pass rusher will be a consideration.

Play the percentage game, it’s probably a chance one [quarterback] slides in, but … there’s different tiers in the first round,” Poles said (via Jahns and Fishbain) of the prospect of more QBs going from Nos. 2-8 will help keep high-end position players on the board at 9. “There’s always that cut-off of ‘elite’ and then it’s ‘very good starters.’ I know we’ll be in range for the players that are going to be in that first round that kind of hit that value bucket and for our team are going to make us better.”

Latest On Panthers’ QB Draft Plans

When the Panthers sent a haul over to Chicago for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2023, many came to the conclusion that Carolina would be taking the obvious route and drafting a quarterback. While Alabama quarterback prospect Bryce Young had been widely considered the favorite to be the first quarterback off the board for some time, the Panthers’ move almost immediately had eyes turned towards Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. So, which rookie will end up rocking the Panther blue and silver behind center next year?

Many view the Panthers’ actions as a dedicated attempt at a smokescreen. While the organization has dedicated significant resources into the research of all the draft’s top quarterback prospects, many are still very much convinced that Stroud is the pick, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN. Head coach Frank Reich and company, though, have been adamant that they are considering each of the draft’s top four prospects equally. Reich claims to have learned his lessons from his time in Philadelphia, when the Eagles selected Carson Wentz second overall. He preaches patience, stressing that the organization has time. He doesn’t want the team to fall in love too fast and abandon the process.

This has led to a cross-country business trip for many of the Panthers’ decision makers. According to Joseph Person of The Athletic, Carolina staffers embarked on a Week of Quarterbacks attended by Reich, general manager Scott Fitterer, assistant general manager Dan Morgan, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, senior assistant Jim Caldwell, and vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman. The first two visits, in Columbus and Tuscaloosa, even included owners Dave Tepper and Nicole Tepper. The group started at Ohio State with Stroud, went to Alabama for Young, traveled to Kentucky for Will Levis, and took a short break at the owners’ meetings before heading down to Gainesville for Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. Each visit entailed a steak dinner with the prospect, a meeting with the quarterbacks’ head coaches, and a workout at their respective pro days.

Although the evaluation appears to be a group project of sorts, Fitterer asserts that each staffer is holding their cards close to the vest. He wants each of them to come to their own conclusions with no biases and, a week or so before the fateful date later this month, they will get together to conclude the process of making a decision.

While the general perception of their draft board hasn’t really changed, Fitterer provided some analyses of the first three quarterbacks they saw. He claimed Levis “had the strongest arm of the group.” He praised Stroud’s fluidity and was pleasantly surprised by Young, saying that the diminutive passer “had a little bit better arm than (they) thought,” in terms of both strength and accuracy. He praised Young’s ability to adapt to his size, asserting that a lifetime of football at that size has contributed to an effective accommodation and compensation.

Despite all the evaluations and field trips, when Person put together a seven-round mock draft for the team yesterday, Stroud remained the pick. Person was seemingly tempted to rock the boat and make the swap for Young, amid buzz he had heard at the owners’ meetings, but regardless, Stroud appears to remain the guy. Not only does his accuracy rival that of Young’s, but Stroud has a more ideal frame than Young, which seems to be attractive to the organization. Stroud’s size contributes to his strength and durability but doesn’t hinder his fluidity or athleticism out of the pocket.

The Panthers are trying to convince the world that they haven’t already made up their minds, and they’re spending a lot of money to do it. Overall, the consensus hasn’t changed. Most in league circles continue to believe that Stroud’s name will be the first one called on April 27.

Draft Rumors: Commanders, Texans, Bears, Titans, Panthers, Raiders, Falcons

Reported as a team not interested in Lamar Jackson, the Commanders are indeed going in another direction at quarterback. Ron Rivera confirmed Tuesday his team will not pursue the dual-threat superstar and, via the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala, never considered doing so (Twitter link).

It was something we feel didn’t suit what we want to do,” Rivera said. “We know he’s a tremendous player. I just didn’t think that was the direction we wanted to go.

Washington, however, will likely be hosting other quarterbacks during the pre-draft process. The team will not rule out taking a QB in Round 1, Rivera said Tuesday (Twitter link). The Commanders hold the No. 16 overall pick; they will almost definitely need to complete a vault up the draft board to land one of the top four QBs. The Panthers will take a quarterback first overall, while the Texans, Colts, Seahawks, Raiders, Falcons and Titans — each a QB suitor or a team that would make sense as such — sit ahead of them. The Commanders passed on trading up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones two years ago and had Carson Wentz in place in 2022, tabling draft matters at the position.

Here is the latest from the draft circuit:

  • The Texans have already brought in Will Levis and Anthony Richardson for pre-draft visits, Tom Pelissero of tweets. Houston will also host Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud on “30” visits soon. On track to draft a first-round quarterback for the first time since Deshaun Watson in 2017, the Texans should be expected to consider the top four options. Their Week 18 win in Indianapolis, however, allowed the Bears to leapfrog them for the draft’s top slot. The Panthers now hold that pick and will have first dibs on this year’s QB crop.
  • Before making their trade with the Panthers, the Bears discussed trading back with the Texans — as part of a multi-trade effort to accumulate picks — Ryan Poles said recently (via NBC Sports’ Peter King). That scenario would have had the Bears trading from No. 1 to 2 to 9, putting the Texans at first overall and the Panthers at No. 2, but’s Albert Breer notes negotiations with the Texans dragged while Panthers talks accelerated. Poles said his relationship with Panthers GM Scott Fitterer, dating back to duo’s days as scouts, helped the process. Giving Fields a chance to grow with a new regime, the Bears now hold the No. 9 overall pick this year.
  • At least five teams will meet with Richardson before the draft. The Panthers, Colts, Raiders, Falcons and Titans will get together with the Florida-developed passer, Cameron Wolfe of tweets. Each team holds a top-11 pick, and it can be considered a lock reps from each will be on-hand at Richardson’s pro day Thursday in Gainesville.
  • Titans GM Ran Carthon, HC Mike Vrabel and assistant GM Chad Brinker were among the seven Tennessee staffers at Stroud’s pro day last week, The Athletic’s John Rexrode notes (subscription required). The Panthers topped that, sending a whopping 14 staffers to Columbus for Stroud’s throwing event. Stroud met with the Panthers, Raiders, Seahawks and Titans, Breer adds. Carthon and Vrabel, however, were also at Levis’ pro day last week, Breer tweets. Pete Carroll and John Schneider went to Kentucky to represent the Seahawks for that event, too. Carthon also attended Young’s pro day. While the new Tennessee GM gave some support for four-year Titans starter Ryan Tannehill, it was far from a full-fledged endorsement.
  • Josh McDaniels said the Raiders are open to taking a QB at No. 7 overall, despite signing Jimmy Garoppolo, and The Athletic’s Vic Tafur notes he and GM Dave Ziegler observed Stroud and Young’s pro days. In addition to the Raiders meeting with Levis before his pro day, Tafur adds the Kentucky QB will visit Las Vegas soon. McDaniels did not rule out the Raiders adding a veteran backup as well; Jarrett Stidham left for a two-year, $10MM Broncos deal. The team’s presence at pro days also could serve as a way to drive up trade interest in the No. 7 pick.

Latest On Panthers’ Plans For No. 1 Pick

The Panthers are likely keeping the No. 1 pick and they’re likely using that selection on a signal-caller. Beyond that, their plan is up in the air. Naturally, the organization is doing their due diligence on the draft’s top quarterback prospects.

The organization had dinner with Alabama QB Bryce Young earlier this week, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter). Kentucky QB Will Levis also dined with a Panthers contingent that included owners David and Nicole Tepper, general manager Scott Fitterer, head coach Frank Reich, assistant GM Dan Morgan, VP Samir Suleiman, and coaches Jim Caldwell, Thomas Brown, and Josh McCown, per Albert Breer of (on Twitter). And, unsurprisingly, the Panthers will use one of their 30 prospect visits on Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter.

According to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, several team executives believe Tepper is leaning towards Young. However, if the decision was up to several coaches, Stroud would likely be the pick at No. 1. While the front office will surely factor in all of these opinions before the draft, they’ll also be leaning on Caldwell, the team’s new senior assistant. A source said the former coach and QB guru has “a huge voice in this process” and “might have even more say than the head coach.” Ultimately, one rival official believes the decision will ultimately be made by Tepper.

“The owner is going to win that one if he falls in love with one of these kids,” the source told La Canfora. “He’s seen enough misevaluations of the position already.”

After the Panthers sacrificed a pair of firsts, a pair of seconds, and wideout D.J. Moore for the first-overall pick, some pundits have wondered if Carolina could look to flip the pick again. “No one is buying” that the Panthers would consider trading the pick, according to La Canfora, with the reporter citing Tepper’s desire “to get to this point.” Indeed, Fitterer confirmed to Joseph Person of The Athletic that the organization hasn’t received any calls about the top selection (Twitter link).

Bears-Panthers Trade Fallout: Timeline, QB Plans, Moore

The Bears made history Friday by becoming the first NFL team to trade the No. 1 pick in the draft prior to April – since the draft was moved to April in 1976. Their return from the Panthers – four draft picks spread across three years and receiver D.J. Moore – will go a long way in determining both team’s futures for years to come.

Further details have emerged regarding the blockbuster deal, including the negotiating process which led up to the deal being finalized. Talks started at the Combine, with the Panthers being one of a number of teams reaching out to the Bears, per ESPN’s Courtney Cronin and David Newton. That comes as little surprise, considering how willing Bears GM Ryan Poles was to move down the board, given his and the team’s support of quarterback Justin FieldsThe ESPN duo add that talks intensified over the past few days, and Friday’s negotiations were sufficient to consummate the trade before the start of free agency this coming week.

By moving up to the No. 1 slot, the Panthers now have a free choice of the 2023 class’ top quarterbacks. Newton reports, to no surprise, that QB is indeed the position which Carolina will use their top pick on (Twitter link). That will invite plenty of debate and speculation in the coming weeks, as this year boasts a number of intriguing options, but not necessarily a can’t-miss passer. Newton notes that the Panthers were high on Kentucky’s Will Levis at the end of the 2021 campaign, and the performances of Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud also drew positive reviews from GM Scott Fitterer and Co.

Many have Young, the 2021 Heisman winner, rated as the top signal-caller in the class (which is headlined by the aforementioned three QBs, along with the raw but uber-athletic Anthony Richardson). However, Joe Person of The Athletic reports (subscription required) that Stroud is believed to be in pole position at the moment, one which obviously represents something well short of a final evaluation of any draft prospect on the Panthers’ part. The Buckeyes star put up huge production in his college career, and has long been discussed alongside Young as a blue-chip in the running to become the top passer out of this year’s class.

Interestingly, Newton adds that Carolina could become sufficiently content with more than one QB at the top of the board that they elect to trade down slightly; Person corroborates this (on Twitter). With the Texans (who hold the second overall pick) and Colts (No. 4) each in need of a new signal-caller, moving down any amount would carry a high degree of risk. If the Panthers were assured that at least one of their preferences would be available at their new slot, though, they could use a second trade to recoup some of the capital they spent to acquire the top pick.

Draft maneuvering and the success the Bears have in restocking their roster with the additional picks will be a key determining factor in the legacy of this trade, but the inclusion of Moore has immediate ramifications. Carolina was reluctant at first to include the 25-year-old in the trade package, but Person notes that the Bears viewed him as a “must-have” to finalize the deal (Twitter link). While losing Moore marks a substantial blow to the Panthers’ passing attack, Newton and Person add that his inclusion saved Carolina from having to add another first-round pick to their offer.

The way Carolina approaches their newfound leverage and which passer(s) emerge as their top targets will be an interesting storyline to watch in the coming weeks. The willingness Poles had to move out of the top slot so quickly, meanwhile, will be a key takeaway from the Bears’ perspective as attention will turn to how Chicago uses their added draft capital for the next few years.