Sam Darnold

Panthers Starting Darnold In Week 17

In one of the more intriguing depth chart decisions this late in the season, head coach of the Panthers Matt Rhule has announced that Sam Darnold will start under center for the team’s Week 17 matchup in New Orleans. The intrigue comes from a few places, namely a possible quarterback controversy and the handling of Darnold’s health.

It’s been hard to get a read on what Rhule’s thoughts are on their quarterback room. Longtime Panther Cam Newton was signed to help fill in when Darnold fractured his scapula in a loss to the Patriots and was placed on IR. Newton started 5 of the next 6 games, losing all of his starts and being benched twice for P.J. Walker. Before Newton’s most recent start, Darnold was activated off of IR. Despite Darnold’s activation, Rhule stuck with Newton to start against the Buccaneers. It didn’t take long for Newton to be benched a third time, this time for the newly healthy Darnold. Whether it was skill or health that had Darnold coming off the bench instead of starting is unclear, but 19 minutes into the game, Rhule clearly thought Darnold gave them the best chance at winning.

It certainly wouldn’t be unreasonable for Rhule to be cautious and let Darnold take the rest of the season to heal. After all, last week’s loss to Tampa Bay eliminated the Panthers from playoff contention. To take Darnold immediately from IR and throw him into the line of fire seems like a bit of an unnecessary risk.

Rhule was quoted saying, “Sam has been working hard to get back…We’re going to give him this opportunity to show what he can do.” The stance conveyed in this quote seems to show that Darnold’s grasp on the starting quarterback job in Carolina is tenuous at best. It sounds as if Rhule is giving the former first round pick one more chance over the next two games to convince him that quarterback shouldn’t be a priority for the Panthers this offseason. Road matchups against the Saints and Buccaneers won’t make this an easy task for Darnold.

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/25-12/26/21

Here are the NFL moves from Christmas and today:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

New England Patriots

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Rhule, Saints

Le’Veon Bell joined the Buccaneers earlier this week. They are his fifth team and fourth in the past 14 months. Following the Ravens’ decision to waive him earlier this season, the 29-year-old running back considered retirement, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com notes. While Bell has not been much of a factor since his final Steelers season, in 2017, he had not been an in-season free agent for a lengthy stretch until this year. The Ravens cut Bell on Nov. 16. The Bucs, who are in need at running back after Leonard Fournette‘s IR placement, may well give him an opportunity on third downs and as a change-of-pace option behind Ronald Jones. Bell also expressed regret for how public his Steelers franchise tag dispute became in 2018, though the former All-Pro said he does not regret skipping that season. While that move ended up benefiting Bell financially, via the lucrative guarantee he received from the Jets in 2019, his career has never recovered from that decision.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Although the Panthers have drifted out of contention and have gone 10-20 under Matt Rhule, the drumbeat of the ex-college HC staying on for a third season continues. Despite Carolina’s 4-10 record, Rhule is still expected to receive a third season, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). David Tepper, naturally, is unhappy about being 0-for-4 in winning seasons as owner; this will put more heat on Rhule if/once he comes back in 2022. Rhule returning gibes with what we’ve heard out of Charlotte in recent weeks. Rhule received a monster contract in 2020 — seven years, $62MM — but has not delivered just yet, largely due to decisions at quarterback. The Panthers have bounced from Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to P.J. Walker and back to Newton over the past year and change. Rhule said this week Darnold will return to action and play some against the Bucs.
  • Sean Payton returned to Saints headquarters Friday, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com tweets. Payton contracted the coronavirus for a second time and missed New Orleans’ shutout win in Tampa. He will be back for a coaching assignment that will involve game-planning for rookie Ian Book’s first regular-season snaps. Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian are on the Saints’ COVID-19 list.
  • Hill’s second Saints extension will pay between $40MM and $95MM, depending on his role. Hill’s 2022 salary ($10.1MM) is fully guaranteed, with his 2023 base ($9.9MM) becoming guaranteed in March 2022, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. However, the other components of this contract are more complex. Hill’s 2023-25 salaries can increase by $12MM per year if he throws at least 224 regular-season passes the previous year. That prospect will hinge on how the Saints proceed at quarterback in 2022, when Jameis Winston is a free agent. There are also $18MM in incentives included, Florio adds, with many of those escalators tied to passing statistics. Essentially, this is a two-year, $20MM deal with significant upside for Hill, who will be 32 by Week 1 of next season.
  • The Bucs‘ Week 15 injury avalanche will indeed cost them Mike Evans for at least one game. The Pro Bowl wideout did not practice this week and will miss the Bucs-Panthers matchup Sunday. Evans suffered a hamstring injury against the Saints. The Bucs will also be without Fournette and Lavonte David, whom they placed on IR Thursday, due to injuries suffered last week. Chris Godwin is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Panthers Designate Sam Darnold For Return

The Panthers have designated quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver III for return from the injured reserve list, per a club announcement. Both players will be allowed to practice starting today, enabling them to return at any point within the next 21 days. 

Darnold has been out with a shoulder injury since Week 10. Specifically, a partially fractured right scapula. While this was a new injury, Darnold is no stranger to the trainer’s table. The 2018 first-rounder has now missed at least three games in each of his first four seasons.

The ex-Jet was soaring early on this year, but that didn’t last long. Darnold was leading the league in interceptions before his injury. Now, thanks to missed time, his INT tally (11) has been leapfrogged by several QBs with No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence leading the way (14 INTs).

So far, Darnold has a 4-5 record across nine starts. Since then, they’ve used P.J. Walker and old pal Cam Newton under center. That worked out nicely in Week 10 as they upset the Cardinals, but they’ve dropped three straight ever since.

The Panthers traded second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for Darnold and picked up his fully guaranteed 2022 option, which is worth upwards than $18MM. Still, they’re expected to go QB shopping in the offseason.

Per league rules, Darnold and Oliver will be eligible to play this Sunday against the Bills.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Buccaneers, Darnold, Cowboys

Imagine a loaded Buccaneers offense with…Jonathan Taylor at running back. It could have been a possibility, as the Buccaneers had their eye on the Wisconsin product during the 2020 draft, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Bucs were armed with the No. 14 heading into that draft, and Taylor was on the “short list” of players the organization was considering with that selection. The team ended up with their preferred prospect, offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, and they traded up to No. 13 to make sure they got the lineman. However, if Wirfs was off the board at that point in the draft, then Tampa Bay likely would have pivoted to Taylor, who didn’t hear his name come off the board until midway through the second round.

“I loved him,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said recently (via Schefter). “He could do it all, and it was just a matter of time — playing behind that offensive line — that he was going to be the force that he is.”

Taylor has obviously had a standout season with the Colts, leading the league with 1,348 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns (naturally, he’s also leading the NFL with 1,684 yards from scrimmage and 18 total scores). Of course, things have worked out fine for the Buccaneers. Wirfs has started all 28 of his career games, while the duo of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones were more than capable during Tampa Bay’s 2020 Super Bowl run.

Some more notes out of the NFC…

  • Sam Darnold seems to be out of the picture in Carolina, but the Panthers still owe the quarterback $18.8MM in guaranteed money in 2022. The team already paid Denver $7MM to inherit Teddy Bridgewater, leaving the organization with $17MM in dead cap. As a result, Joseph Person of The Athletic believes Darnold will stick around as a high-priced backup vs. being involved in a salary dump. Person specifically cites a 2017 trade where the Texans attached a second-round pick to Brock Osweiler to dump his salary on Cleveland; league sources tell the reporter that “an Osweiler-type trade involving Darnold is unlikely.”
  • Cowboys senior defensive assistant George Edwards is a candidate for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Duke University, reports NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). Edwards was a four-year player for Duke, and he served as an assistant on the Duke staff way back in 1996. He’s had a long coaching career since that time, including a recent six-year stint as the Vikings defensive coordinator. Edwards has been a senior defensive assistant with the Cowboys since 2020. Duke parted ways with David Cutcliffe last month.
  • Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com recently tweeted the 10 highest salary cap hits for 2022, and the top three spots all belong to the NFC. Falcons QB Matt Ryan and his $48.7MM cap hit leads the way, following by Packers QB Aaron Rodgers at $46.1MM and Vikings QB Kirk Cousins at $45MM. Other NFC players on the list include Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (sixth, $37MM), Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (ninth, $34.5MM), and Lions QB Jared Goff (10th, $31.2MM).

Panthers Open To Re-Signing Cam Newton For 2022; Sam Darnold Done For Season?

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Wednesday that quarterback Sam Darnold, who is dealing with a fracture of the scapula on his right shoulder, will miss at least four to six weeks. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Carolina is confident that Darnold will actually miss the rest of the season, which is what prompted the club to reunite with Cam Newton earlier this week.

As soon as the Panthers knew that Darnold would likely be sidelined for the remainder of the 2021 campaign, they reviewed their in-house and outside options and determined that Newton was the best choice. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, Rhule then called Newton to determine the former MVP’s interest in rejoining his old team, and Newton was very excited about the prospect.

At that point, the discussions hinged on two factors, one of which was money. Newton, who is still getting paid by the Patriots, was not going to settle for the veteran minimum, which is why the two sides ultimately came together on a $6MM pact (although Newton can earn up to $10MM, it will be difficult for him to reach that maximum).

Just as important was Newton’s desire for “direct communication and accountability.” In other words, if the team has an issue with him, he wants to be told about it directly, just as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did with him in New England. Rhule, GM Scott Fitterer, VP of football operations Steven Drummond — whose relationship with Newton helped get the deal done — and owner David Tepper promised him as much.

When initially asked about the possibility of re-signing Newton in 2022, Fitterer was noncommittal, saying, “we’re not there yet” (Twitter link via David Newton of ESPN.com). However, Schefter says that if Newton plays well for the rest of the season, he would immediately become the favorite to serve as the starting QB next year.

Rapoport, meanwhile, notes that while the team is certainly open to another contract for Newton, Carolina has by no means given up on Darnold. After all, Darnold is owed a fully-guaranteed $18.858MM for the 2022 season, and the Panthers liked what they saw from him in the first three weeks of this year. The club thinks that his shoulder ailment contributed to his poor performance over the last few weeks, and it has no intention of trying to cut ties this offseason.

If Newton plays in this afternoon’s contest against the Cardinals, he will only see a limited number of snaps. As we already knew, P.J. Walker will serve as today’s QB1. But assuming all goes well in practice over the coming days, Newton has a good chance to suit up against Washington and old friend Ron Rivera next week.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers To Place Sam Darnold On IR

Sam Darnold‘s promising start in Carolina has morphed into another tough season for the former top-three pick. And Darnold’s season will now involve an IR stint.

The shoulder injury Darnold is battling will sideline him for at least three games. Darnold suffered a partially fractured right scapula, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Although this IR stint only requires a three-game absence, Matt Rhule said Wednesday a four- to six-week hiatus should be expected.

While this injury is new, Darnold missing time is not. The 2018 draftee missed at least three games in his first three seasons. This shoulder setback will extend that streak to four. It comes after a brutal stretch for the ex-Jet, who now has an NFL-high 11 interceptions. The Panthers have lost five of their past six games, with Darnold having been benched in Week 7 and left in Week 8 due to injury. Attempting to play through pain in Week 9, Darnold threw three more INTs in a one-sided loss to the Patriots. While Darnold left the Falcons game due to injury, Rhule said he suffered this shoulder malady in the second quarter against the Pats.

The Panthers have P.J. Walker in place as Darnold’s backup and signed Matt Barkley this week. Walker is in line to start. While Walker excelled in the XFL’s abbreviated 2020 season, he could not stick with an NFL team prior to that XFL showing. He has one NFL start to his credit — a win over the Lions last season. Walker was 3 of 14 after replacing Darnold against the Giants earlier this season.

Carolina traded second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for Darnold and picked up his fully guaranteed 2022 option, which is worth more than $18MM. But the team will likely again shop for a new quarterback next year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Packers, Cook, OBJ

The NFL has finished their investigation into the Packers handling of COVID-19 protocols. The organization has been slapped with a $300K fine “for violations of the NFL and NFL Players Association protocols,” per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky (on Twitter). Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wideout Allen Lazard were also fined $14,650.

Per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter), the two players were fined for attending a maskless Halloween party. The Packers’ organizational fine also stemmed from the party; while the gathering wasn’t organized by the team, the NFL believes the organization should have penalized each player. Otherwise, the NFL determined that the Packers complied to all protocols, with Garafolo noting that there was “no widespread or systemic mask-wearing violations.”

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter), the Packers organization was notified that “future violations could result in escalated discipline,” including the potential loss of draft picks.

The league looked at footage taken at the team’s facility to assure that masks were being worn and protocols were being followed. The NFL also interviewed Packers personnel as part of the process.

More notes from around the NFL:bay

  • A woman filed a lawsuit accusing Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook of assault, battery and false imprisonment, per Schefter. Cook’s attorney said his client was the victim in the incident, adding that the woman also tried to extort millions of dollars from the player. According to the lawsuit, the woman traveled to Minnesota to break up with Cook, and the meeting soon turned violent. Cook is accused of causing a concussion and leaving a scar on the woman’s face. Cook’s side says the woman stole Cook’s garage door opener, broke into the player’s house, and maced him upon entering. Both the Vikings and the NFL acknowledged that they were aware of the lawsuit.
  • New Raiders wideout DeSean Jackson will receive $1MM for the rest of the season, according to Garafolo (via Twitter). If Jackson decides to file for termination pay, he’ll end up earning more than he would have by sticking around Los Angeles. Meanwhile, interim head coach Rich Bisaccia told reporters that he’s excited to see what Jackson can bring to the squad. “I think we all have a lot of respect for his career and what he’s done, and I can remember him coming out,” Bisaccia said (h/t to Myles Simmons of ProFootballTalk.com). “So, we are excited about getting another speed element out there to be a complement to what we are trying to do on offense, certainly with the speed that Zay [Jones] has and what Bryan [Edwards] and Hunter [Renfrow] bring to us. It will be good for us to get another speed element going on offense. We are excited about getting him to practice.”
  • Sam Darnold suffered a fractured scapula, and the Panthers QB will “most likely” miss several weeks, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter). Darnold had one of his worst outings of the season on Sunday against the Patriots, completing only 48 percent of his passes while tossing three interceptions. P.J. Walker will likely get the starting nod with Darnold out of the lineup, although the team did add Matt Barkley earlier today.
  • Odell Beckham Jr. cleared waivers today, and the Browns will only be on the hook for $4.25MM, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. The two sides’ decision to rework the player’s contract ultimately saved the team around $3MM. Meanwhile, Garafolo notes that Beckham is considering both one-year deals and multi-year pacts.

Panthers Activate Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey may be set to return after his latest lengthy absence. The All-Pro back is off the Panthers’ IR list and back on the team’s active roster.

It is not yet certain McCaffrey will be in uniform against the Patriots, with a pregame workout set to determine his status, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. But Carolina activating McCaffrey is obviously a good indicator of his status for Sunday’s game. The Panthers still had more than two weeks to bump CMC back to their active roster, having only designated him to return from IR on Wednesday.

The Panthers’ offense has largely struggled without its top player. After a 3-0 start with McCaffrey in uniform, the Panthers have lost four of their past five games since he went down in Week 3 with a hamstring injury. Carolina enters Week 9 26th in scoring, with Sam Darnold having taken significant steps back after a hot start.

McCaffrey has certainly struggled to stay on the field since signing his $16MM-per-year extension in 2020. A high ankle sprain limited the dual-threat dynamo to three games last season, and this hamstring ailment cost him five thus far this year. When last healthy over a full season, McCaffrey made a push for Chris Johnson‘s scrimmage yards record in 2019. He totaled 2,392 en route to his monster contract. This Panthers iteration stands to receive a major boost once the fifth-year star returns.

Regarding Darnold, the Panthers announced Saturday he cleared concussion protocol. Although that bodes well for his Week 9 status, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets Darnold remains a game-time decision due to the shoulder injury he also suffered against the Falcons. P.J. Walker has replaced Darnold in each of the Panthers’ past two games. The ex-XFL standout would get the call if the Panthers deemed Darnold a no-go.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Eyeing OL Trades

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer has made 13 trades since taking on the role in January (via Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer). If the GM has his way, his 14th trade will address the team’s offensive line issues. Fitterer told reporters that he’s called around about OL trades but hasn’t found a taker, noting that teams aren’t even willing to consider dealing their backups (via The Athletic’s Joe Person on Twitter).

[RELATED: Patriots Trade Stephon Gilmore To Panthers]

“I mean, it’s not like there are offensive linemen available,” the executive said (via Fowler). “I think every team’s in the same situation we are. … There’s just not a lot of offensive linemen on the market right now. No one’s letting them out (the door) — even their backups.”

Quarterback Sam Darnold was hit 11 times and sacked five times during Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. If the Panthers have playoff aspirations, they’ll need to keep their starting QB healthy, and reinforcing the offensive line would certainly help.

As Darin Gantt of the team’s website points out, the Panthers were forced to play a pair of injured OLs (left tackle Cameron Erving (knee) and right guard John Miller (shoulder)) on Sunday. While some acquisitions would certainly help, head coach Matt Rhule seemed to indicate that improved health could solve the offensive line’s issues.

“I think a lot of it comes down to who’s healthy when we get to Wednesday,” Rhule said (via Gantt). “Those guys, while it’s not always perfect, they’re playing hard for us while they’ve been banged up. I appreciate the way they’re playing. We’ll see what we do moving forward this week, see who’s healthy, see who’s available, and take full stock of where we are.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.