Finding a backup quarterback has become an unexpected need for the Carolina Panthers this off-season. Over the last two years Derek Anderson has been great for the organization, and Cam Newton -- however, it appears he's pining for a reunion with Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, where based on reports there's a chance he could fight for a starting job with Browns' leadership unimpressed with Brandon Weeden. This leaves the Panthers in a spot -- they need a backup quarterback, and don't have a lot of money to spend on one. Looking at the free agent class there are a few veterans who fit the bill.
Despite a terrible rookie season, third-string Jimmy Clausen could get a chance to compete for the job. While Clausen doesn't have the arm strength to run the Air Coryell, or the athleticism for the read option, he does have the benefit of spending two years in the system as a quarterback learning the offense. Cam Newton spoke about how much Clausen helped his development, and given his cut and cap figure are almost equal, it's likely he'll be retained.
Having Cam Newton, Jimmy Clausen, and nothing else is a terrible plan. There's no replacing Newton, that's a given. If he misses significant time then this team is dead in the water, much like any organization with a true franchise QB. However, there are two free agent quarterbacks who offer at least one element of Newton's game -- Jason Campbell and Tavaris Jackson, both of whom are unrestricted free agents.
It's hard to find a quarterback who has had a more maligned career than Jason Campbell. Arriving in a Washington Redskins' dumpster fire, he has become the target for fan ire in each of his stops. Campbell was blamed for the Redskins's losses when he was in Washington, the same again in Oakland. Signing as a backup in Chicago in 2012, he stood behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, and performed decently when asked to fill in. A statuesque pocket passer, Campbell wouldn't offer the Panthers anything in their read option packages, however he has a good arm, and the ability to drive the ball downfield. In Carolina's deep ball offense he would be able to thrive, and in the event something happened to Newton, he could at least manage the offense.
Once believed to be a possible starting quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson has shown that he isn't cut out for the job. A career rating of 77.2 isn't bad, but an almost equal touchdown-interception ratio shows that he's not someone a team can rely on long term. Jackson doesn't have a great arm, but he's mobile, unlike Campbell. He wouldn't be able to run the deep ball Coryell, but could be leaned on to scramble, find receivers on short routes, and run a smattering of read option plays in the playbook. A journeyman, Jackson has had more opportunities to win jobs than Campbell, and will likely be cheaper -- something that could appeal to Carolina.
There are other potential backup quarterbacks available, including Matt Moore, and Seneca Wallace - but ultimately the two guys who best emulate at least a small part of what Cam Newton can do are also available. Either Jason Campbell or Tarvaris Jackson would be okay options, at least until the organization invest a late-round pick to learn the NFL and sit behind Newton.