3. Winner: The Carolina Panthers
Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make. The Carolina Panthers entered the offseason desperate to change the fortunes of their franchise.
Of all the teams out there, they appeared to be the most willing to part with significant resources to acquire a new starting quarterback. The Panthers were willing to exhaust all of their options, and they did.
Carolina showed interest in Matthew Stafford but wasn’t able to close the deal. There’s no telling how involved the Panthers were in acquiring Carson Wentz or even Russell Wilson, but it’s reasonable to assume that Carolina did their due diligence on both.
Especially concerning Wilson, considering that newly-minted Panthers’ general manager Scott Fitterer just arrived from the Seattle Seahawks. The worst kept secret is that Carolina was hot and heavy in pursuit of Deshaun Watson.
The teams’ ownership gave the Panthers brass the full go-ahead and a stamp of approval to pull out all the stops to acquire Watson, even if it meant trading high-end draft capital and some of the Panthers best players in Christian McCaffrey and Brian Burns.
Once the Watson possibility was shut down for the time being due to the staggering amount of legal issues surrounding the superstar quarterback, Carolina was forced to turn their attention to the draft at quarterback.
But selecting at No. 8 in the first round left the Panthers stuck in no-mans land. To secure a top-flight quarterback, Carolina needed to mortgage the same draft capital that they were willing to give up for Watson in a trade up the draft board.
The San Francisco 49ers got on the phone with the Miami Dolphins and beat the Panthers to the punch moving up to three by trading away two future first-round picks and a third-rounder that they received when the Jets hired Robert Saleh.
With Jacksonville firmly locked into the No. 1 spot and the Niners at No. 3, the only recourse for Carolina if they desired one of the draft’s highly touted quarterbacks was to see if the Jets would make a move with them at No. 2.
What appears obvious to everyone now is that Douglas and the Jets were set on picking a quarterback at two. Despite all the ties that the Jets’ new coaches have to the 49ers, New York never entertained dealing away their pick to San Francisco.
It’s quite clear why now.
The Panthers were not going to be able to make the aggressive play to draft a quarterback. And they didn’t like their options at eight or a move-up scenario for picks four through seven.
So at the end of the day, while it may appear that the Panthers trading for Darnold was their last resort. Ultimately, it may end up being their best solution to their quarterback issue.
The Panthers decided to bet on Darnold by picking up his fifth-year guaranteed $18 million option for 2022. But even still, the commitment itself doesn’t preclude Carolina from entertaining the quarterback position again next offseason, should Sam Darnold falter.
Carolina could be back in the QB market again in next year’s draft or could very well be back in the Wilson/Watson sweepstakes again with a strengthened roster.
If the Panthers’ gamble on Darnold pays off in 2021, then Carolina will have guessed correctly and set themselves up nicely for the future.
The risk is minimal and worth the reward, and Carolina didn’t have to mortgage their entire future to achieve it.
Next: 4. Loser: The Jets and their fanbase