Could the Carolina Panthers be in the market for a Quarterback?

Sam Darnold #14 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Sam Darnold #14 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

With the 2021 NFL Trade Deadline less than 72 hours away, will the Carolina Panthers make a move at quarterback?

Well, if the last four weeks (all losses) are any indication, the Carolina Panthers probably should. After opening the season 3-0, the Carolina Panthers have dropped four games in a row, most recently falling to the the now 2-5 New York Giants. The incumbent, Sam Darnold, was benched during the second half in New York, as the Panthers managed just three points in Week 7. And with growing speculation as to whether Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will be dealt at the deadline, should the Carolina Panthers make a move at quarterback? Is Watson a realistic option? Is it too soon to give up on the Sam Darnold experiment?

The short answer to the Watson inquiry is “probably not”.

Watson’s well documented off-field issues certainly present a challenge to acquire him. Not to mention the steep compensation that will undoubtedly be needed in order to acquire the embattled, albeit talented signal-caller. With so much still unknown about Watson’s future, as well a Watson’s no-trade clause, an in-season trade to Carolina seems untenable.

As for Sam Darnold, the month of October has not been kind to him nor the Carolina Panthers. Darnold has thrown at least one interception in his last four contests, for a total of seven over that span. To date, he’s thrown more INTs (eight) than touchdowns (seven) on the season and has a total of 10 turnovers on the year.

It was supposed to be different this year.

A young, talented Carolina Panthers team, respected offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and the confidence the Panthers organization showed in Darnold by trading for him and exercising his fifth-year option were supposed to be the panacea to all of his struggles. This season would be nothing like Darnold’s performances as a member of the New York Jets, free of Adam Gase’s ineptitude. However, much to the chagrin of the Panthers’ fan base, Darnold has not held up his end of the bargain thus far.

To suggest that Darnold is the only member of the Carolina Panthers culpable in their four game slide would be unfair. Darnold’s supporting cast hasn’t lived up to their billing in recent weeks. Obviously, not having running back Christian McCaffrey in the lineup makes sustaining and finishing drives more challenging. Furthermore, Darnold’s perimeter weapons have struggled recently with a rash of concentration drops. Still, Darnold’s inconsistent mechancis (footwork) and questionable decision-making continue to plague him. In fact, I’m of the opinion that Sam Darnold has failed to address his aforementioned struggles since his redshirt sophomore season at USC.

A perpetual tease, Sam Darnold seemingly has a handful of plays on a weekly basis that are really encouraging. He will at times flash the arm talent and playmaking ability that garnered him the distinction of the third overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, only to follow-up a series of “wow” plays with a string of deflating, “head-scratching” throws/decisions. Perhaps what’s most frustrating regarding the Carolina Panthers quarterback situation is that they appear to be a quarterback away from sustainable success. The concerted effort to address the defense, several talented weapons on offense and a willingness to acquire veteran talent (I.e. Stephon Gilmore) in-season, suggests that the Carolina Panthers organization expects to win now. But alas.

What lies ahead for the Carolina Panthers?

Some may argue that it’s too soon to give up on Sam Darnold. Just 24-years-old, and only eight weeks into a 17-game season. As I mentioned before, there are some mitigating circumstances that have exacerbated his challenges. However, I frankly have never been a fan. After a scintillating freshman campaign at Southern Cal, I did not like what I saw on film during his encore performance and what amounted to his final collegiate season. Ball security issues, sloppy mechanics and sketchy decision-making have accompanied him to the NFL and continue to beset him.

The Carolina Panthers should be in the market for a quarterback. Unfortunately, I don’t think they can, nor should make a move until the offseason, whether it be replacing Darnold with a veteran-signal caller with the last name Rodgers or Watson, or drafting a rookie quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft (Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell). Short of a deep playoff run in which Sam Darnold realizes the potential many others see in him, the Carolina Panthers, at minimum should make Darnold earn the starting gig beyond 2021.