With offseason workouts yet to begin, the NFL Draft still a month away, and with free agency slumping into the dumpster-diving stage, it's time to fill the relatively dead air of one of the craziest offseasons in Carolina Panthers history.
Back in February, Deadspin compiled the Big Book of Black Quarterbacks, an attempt to chart every single African-American signal caller in the history of the league. Included in that list was, of course, Cam Newton, the Panthers' current QB and the face of the franchise. And while this has been a bizarre and painful offseason, with Carolina fans justifiably wondering if Newton will spend the 2014 season chucking overthrows at a double-covered Tiquan Underwood while he attempts to avoid tripping on the crumpled bodies of Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, the team can take solace in knowing that it has a quarterback. And as Buffalo General Manager Buddy Nix once said, "if you get one, everything's easy."
But things were not always so bright under center in the Carolinas. Many of us remember those times.
I'm a sucker for retrospectives, so why not look back at every quarterback that has ever played for the Carolina Panthers and, on top of it, rank them?
The Rules of the Road
But before we get to the rankings, here are the qualifiers. First, in order to appear in the rankings, the player has to have actually been roster-designated as a quarterback -- so wide receivers or running backs throwing on gimmick plays do not count. And yes, before you notice, this means that the immortal Armanti Edwards does not appear on the list. Second, the quarterback must have been a Panther in at least one of two ways: (1) he must have either thrown at least one regular season pass for Carolina, or (2) he must have been drafted by the team (so you won't be seeing Hunter Cantwell's name either). The logic behind this is that it's just too difficult to track every undrafted free agent quarterback signing who was on the roster for two days, and while I might have the time to write an uncompensated ranking of Carolina Panthers quarterbacks, I don't have that kind of time, people! Also, since I'm trying to rank these players based on their values given, or damages dealt, to the franchise, a free agent signee who never played in a game isn't making much of an impact either way: he costs neither wins nor a draft pick.
And third: these rankings are based generally on the players' performance in Carolina and how that performance matched general expectations. Again, I'm only ranking the quarterbacks based on their performance with the Panthers, not what they might have accomplished with another team (you hear that, Kerry Collins?). My own biased whims obviously factor in, and overall legacy is crucially important (seriously, are you hearing me, Kerry Collins?). And if you don't agree with these rankings, just remember: they are dangerously unscientific so it doesn't matter.
Seventh Tier: The Truly Atrocious
While all of these guys were short-timers, they managed to sear themselves into our collective consciousness because, well, they were terrible.
24. Stefan LeFors (2005-06; no career passes)
Not who you were expecting as the worst quarterback in team history, huh? Well, let me make the argument. The slightly undersized LeFors was a star at Louisville under quarterback guru and motorcycling enthusiast Bobby Petrino, and was drafted in the fourth round of the infamously awful 2005 NFL Draft (seriously, look at that first round -- LOOK AT IT! -- and just try to avoid having your head explode like a Nazi opening the Ark of the Covenant). And while the 2005 draft was lousy for almost everybody, it was especially brutal for the Panthers after the first round. In round two, GM Marty Hurney took another Cardinal, running back Eric Shelton, who left behind an impressive legacy of 23 yards career rushing, an appearance on the WE network's "My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding," and a reputation as a teammate that everyone hated. LeFors was drafted to back up Jake Delhomme, then firmly entrenched as the team's quarterback, but this task proved too overwhelming. LeFors was unable to unseat Chris Weinke as the primary backup after a horrible preseason and never threw a pass in a real game despite spending two years on the roster. After being released, LeFors scheduled tryouts with a handful of teams, including the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders, but was unable to snag a contract. That's preposterously awful for a fourth round pick. Other players available when LeFors was selected included Trent Cole, Kerry Rhodes, Darren Sproles, Chris Canty, and two quarterbacks who became Pro Bowlers: Matt Cassel and our own Derek Anderson. LeFors ended up in the Canadian Football League and is now a high school coach.
23. Randy Fasani (2002; 8.8 QB Rating, 34% complete rate, 171 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs)
The man whose name became somewhat of a punchline with Panthers fans still paying attention to the team in 2002, Fasani was a fifth round pick in 2002 who didn't even enjoy a particularly productive career at Stanford (where he bounced around as a quarterback, tight end, and linebacker). Fasani was the third quarterback behind Rodney Peete and Chris Weinke, and when he did see playing time, he was spectacularly terrible. Fasani saw action in four games during the resurgent 2002 season under John Fox, but the Panthers fans who do remember him will recall Fasani's only career start -- a late October game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In that game, the only video recording of which the Vatican reportedly keeps under lock and key to prevent the release of its evil upon the universe, Fasani managed to throw for 46 yards with three interceptions and become one of the few quarterbacks in NFL history to record a quarterback rating of 0.0. With three other appearances in clean-up duty, Fasani managed to raise his career rating to 8.8. He was released in the offseason and now works as a police officer in California.
On pure numbers and reputation, Fasani might be considered the worst Panthers quarterback ever, but I give him a slight nod over LeFors since nothing in his college performance really suggested that he could be a viable quarterback as a rookie. But don't tell that to Marty Hurney!
22. Tony Pike (2010-11; 60.1 QB Rating, 50% complete rate, 47 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
When the Panthers selected Pike in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft, it seemed like nice value: the team had moved on from Jake Delhomme and was completely starting over at the quarterback position, and Pike -- with a reputation as a reliably accurate passer at Cincinnati -- was an investment. The 6' 6" Pike had great size but mediocre arm strength, and entered the season as the team's third quarterback behind incumbent starter Matt Moore and second-round pick Jimmy Clausen. And oh, what a season it was. 2010 was, without question, the most agonizingly painful in team history. With a lockout looming, the team was shepherded by a lame duck coach who almost openly flaunted his disinterest in developing young players (and took shots at the team's "personnel people" for supplying him with such a flawed roster), and the team's offensive scheme was apparently cribbed from Tecmo Bowl. Moore and Clausen (more on them later) vacillated as the starters all season, and after both were benched in Week 9, Fox looked to Pike. Another player might have seized the opportunity to take over -- a solid performance would have almost certainly earned Pike a starting spot for the next game -- but he floundered, completing a handful of passes for 47 yards. It was the only game Pike would ever play in the NFL, and he was waived with an injury settlement in 2011.
Former Panthers beat writer (and current ProFootballTalk contributor) Darin Gantt stated that Pike always seemed content to just be in the NFL during his stint in the Panthers. My unsourced second-hand story about Pike comes from a friend of mine to was speaking with Steve Smith at a charity event after the 2010 season. When my friend mentioned Tony Pike, Smith responded with "Oh, Pike sucks."
Yes he did, Smitty. Yes he did.
21. Brian St. Pierre (2010; 48.7 QB Rating, 46.4% complete rate, 173 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs)
Another hideous reminder that the Panthers' 2010 season occurred in our reality, St. Pierre was hastily signed by the team in November following an injury to then starter-of-the-week Jimmy Clausen. The former Boston College quarterback had been out of football for months at the time of the signing, and to that point had thrown five career passes in the NFL. But with the 2010 season already a smoldering disaster and John Fox anxious to goad the front office, St. Pierre was named starter less than two weeks after being signed from the scrap heap. He appeared in one game, a loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and was predictably bad. St. Pierre's arm was so sore after his one start that he was unable to play the next week. And that, my friends, was the story of Brian St. Pierre, one of the many reasons that watching the Panthers in 2010 required heavy and sustained drinking.
20. Jeff Lewis (1999-2000; 48.6 QB Rating, 51.4% complete rate, 131 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT)
Lewis remains one of the most notable players for the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, and was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 1996 Draft. As a little-used backup to John Elway, Lewis collected two Super Bowl rings. For reasons that the human mind is still unable to process, the Panthers traded two draft picks to Denver in 1999 for the rights to Lewis, and he played sparingly in seven games over two seasons. Then, in 2001, Lewis would become forever entrenched in Panthers lore -- the wrong kind of lore -- when George Seifert decided to release veteran Steve Beuerlein to make room for Lewis as the new starter. The decision was catastrophic for the careers of several men involved. Lewis struggled under the pressures of replacing the fan favorite Beuerlein and limped through an awful preseason, and Seifert released him to make way for Chris Weinke. The 2001 Panthers experienced one of the worst seasons in team history, and Lewis tried to rebuild his career with the New Orleans Saints. He was out of the league by 2003 and went into coaching, but was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in 2013. He was only 39.
19. Brett Basanez (2006-08; 30.9 QB Rating, 54.5% complete rate, 56 yards, 5.1 ypa, 0 TDs, 1 INT)
Basanez rewrote the record books as quarterback at Northwestern University, and came four rushing yards short of becoming the only player in NCAA history to compile 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 yards on the ground. Basanez went undrafted, however, and the Panthers signed him as a free agent following the 2006 draft. Basanez was often injured in Carolina and never made much of a push to be a regular contributor. He appeared in one game and played forgettably. Intrigued by his potential, the Panthers offered Basanez a contract following the 2008 season, but Basanez chose to return to Chicago and join the Bears. He lasted two unproductive seasons in Chicago before being released.
Sixth Tier: The Forgettables
This group is comprised of guys that even some committed Panthers fans probably can't remember, and if they do, I'm not sure they want to. In the words of Seymour Skinner, now we're into the dregs.
18. Jerry Colquitt (1995; no career passes)
A member of Carolina's inaugural draft class in 1995, Colquitt was drafted in the sixth round out of the University of Tennessee and was expected to compete to back up top pick Kerry Collins. It was a surprising pick since Colquitt was still recovering from a major knee injury he suffered in college and had a total of five touchdown passes to his name. Colquitt didn't make the roster and was unable to catch on in the NFL, later making an unsuccessful try at NFL Europe. Want to know who was drafted five spots after Colquitt? Terrell Davis. Okay, you didn't really want to know, did you?
17. Steve Bono (1999; 39.6 QB Rating, 0% complete rate, 0 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
The Panthers became Bono's seventh NFL team when he signed on to back up Steve Beuerlein in 1999 after he struggled to unseat Tony Banks as quarterback of the St. Louis Rams the season prior. Bono put together a weird career: a late round pick out of UCLA, Bono was drafted by the Vikings but eventually found himself as the third string quarterback in San Francisco behind Joe Montana and Steve Young. In 1991, Bono went 5-1 as a starter for San Francisco after both top QBs were injured, and he eventually followed Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs. As the Chiefs' starter in 1995, he won a division title and was selected to the Pro Bowl. As a Panther, Bono was on the downslope of his career and only made one pass attempt. Anytime a sixth-round pick can put together a 14-year career in the NFL it's unfair to call them a bad player, and Bono certainly wasn't a bad player. But his career with the Panthers was a footnote, and that's why he's here.
16. Josh McCown (2008-09; 39.6 QB Rating, 16.7% complete rate, 2 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
Hey, remember how Josh McCown played for the Panthers? Weird, right? McCown has assembled a baffling career, with a few promising seasons with the Arizona Cardinals giving way to several years of wandering the NFL as a backup. McCown bounced around with the Lions and Raiders before signing with the Miami Dolphins for the 2008 season, where he entered the preseason as Miami's starting quarterback. However, the Dolphins' signing of Chad Pennington made McCown expendable, and he was traded to the Panthers for a seventh-round draft pick following an injury to Matt Moore. McCown essentially did nothing in Charlotte, appearing in mop-up roles in two games and completing one pass for two yards. After his year with the Panthers, McCown departed the NFL for the Hartford Colonials before floating back into the league and winding up with the Chicago Bears, where he experienced a starting career resurgence. This offseason, he signed a $10 million deal to reunite with Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, and is expected to start.
I personally know two Bears fans who own McCown jerseys, and who were genuinely hurt when he was not resigned by Chicago. If that seems sad, keep in mind: an argument honestly exists that Josh McCown is one of the greatest quarterbacks in Chicago Bears history. Yep.
15. Dameyune Craig (1998-2001; 61.5 QB Rating, 50% complete rate, 34 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
Craig appeared in six games with no starts for the Panthers, and his numbers are completely forgettable: 34 yards career passing, with no touchdowns or interceptions. However, the former Auburn University product does have one pretty notable accomplishment: he holds the record for the most passing yards ever recorded in a professional football game. As the quarterback of NFL Europe's Scottish Claymores in 1999, Craig threw for 611 yards and six touchdowns, earning his Claymores jersey a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Craig also recorded stints in the Arena League and Canadian Football League, and he now coaches wide receivers back at Auburn.
14. Jack Trudeau (1995; 40.9 QB Rating, 64.7% complete rate, 100 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs)
An unlikely ten-year veteran, Trudeau spent most of his career with the Indianapolis Colts after being drafted in the second round out of Illinois in 1986. He started as a rookie and experienced a career season in 1989, but was shifted into a backup role to make way for living joke Jeff George, who might still be available if you need a quarterback. Carolina selected Trudeau from the New York Jets in the 1995 Expansion Draft for the express purpose of providing a veteran backup behind Kerry Collins. It would be his last season in the NFL.
13. Matt Lytle (2001; 39.3 QB Rating, 56.7% complete rate, 133 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs)
Let's leave the horrors of 2010 aside and jump into something else: the horrors of 2001! Yes, George Siefert's final, awful carnival ride as the Panthers' head coach involved the contributions of Lytle, an undrafted free agent from Pittsburgh who was signed from Seattle's practice squad. Lytle appeared in a handful of games for Carolina and made one start -- a humiliating 48-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams. He never threw another NFL pass, failing to make the Baltimore Ravens roster the following season, and then failing to catch on with the Arena League. But Matt Lytle also won a World Bowl title as a member of the Rhein Fire (and Danny Wuerffel's backup) in 2000, which is something. Do YOU have a World Bowl ring, smart guy?
Fifth Tier: The Ol' Reliables
They came, they played, we didn't hate them.
12. Frank Reich (1995; 58.7 QB Rating, 44% complete rate, 441 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs)
Reich spent the bulk of his career in a pretty plum job: backing up Jim Kelly. A third round pick out of Maryland, Reich played fairly well in spot duty for the Bills, and the Panthers -- as they did with Jack Trudeau -- selected Reich in the 1995 expansion draft to bolster Kerry Collins with a veteran. Reich won the starting job out of camp, and thus became the first starting quarterback in the history of the franchise. In the team's debut against the Atlanta Falcons on September 3, 1995, Reich threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns, but the Panthers fell in overtime. Reich would lose his next two starts before Collins was elevated to starter. Reich scraped together two more years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions before beginning a successful coaching career. He is now the Offensive Coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, serving under former Panthers coach Mike McCoy.
11. Derek Anderson (2011-present; 118.7 QB Rating, 100% complete rate, 58 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
Wow, look at that QB rating! Since being signed by Carolina in 2011, Anderson has been exactly the kind of backup quarterback that teams covet: humble enough to understand that he's simply a backup, smart enough to digest the playbook, genial enough to become a positive locker room presence, and talented enough that the concept of him starting doesn't send fans into conniption fits. It's been a long time since his 2007 Pro Bowl season in Cleveland, but his 2009 press conference meltdown following Monday Night Football is the gift that keeps on giving. Panthers fans can always take heart in knowing that, if anything were to happen to Newton, Anderson is ready -- and he takes this serious. Real serious.
Fourth Tier: The Promising Flameouts
Expectations were high for these guys, but they had different ideas.
10. David Carr (2007; 58.3 QB Rating, 53.7% complete rate, 635 yards, 4.7 ypa, 3 TDs, 6 INTs)
David Carr, the former No. 1 overall pick of the expansion Texans, spent five years in Houston and never came close to being a franchise quarterback. Carr was never outright terrible, but as the years progressed he became increasingly erratic as a passer, and the Texans decided to move in a different direction after acquiring Matt Schaub. And deny it they might, but a whole lot of Panthers fans were excited about the Carr signing. Analysts wondered if any quarterback could be successful playing behind Houston's horrendous offensive line, and Carr became a classic "this guy needs a change of scenery" candidate. To further the excitement, Panthers starter Jake Delhomme had apparently hit his ceiling as a starter, and fans wondered if Carr might be capable of unseating him. It didn't take long for him to get his shot. In the third game of the season, Delhomme suffered a season-ending elbow injury and Carr became the starter.
Any dream of Carr experiencing a renaissance in Carolina was quickly trampled by the images of the be-gloved quarterback hurling ducks at receivers' feet. Carr looked jittery and imprecise, and after leading the team to a 1-3 record, he injured his back after a Will Smith sack and played sparingly for the rest of the year. Questions arose as to whether Carr was all that interested in winning the starting job in the first place, and whether he was happy simply collecting a check as a backup. Carr was released after one season with the team.
9. Jimmy Clausen (2010; 58.4 QB Rating, 52.5% complete rate, 1,158 yards, 5.2 ypa, 3 TDs, 9 INTs)
Oh, Pickles. We hardly knew ye.
It's hard to place all of the blame of the 2010 season on Jimmy Clausen. In the offseason, the Panthers had given a first and third rounder tender (but no long term deal) to Matt Moore, but Moore never struck anyone as a surefire franchise quarterback. So it wasn't all that surprising that Carolina might be probing for quarterbacks during the 2010 Draft. The only problem was that Carolina had no first round pick, leaving the team to anxiously watch as Clausen slipped out of the first round altogether. This development was a bit surprising. Clausen had been one of the most highly touted high school quarterbacks in California history, and had learned under offensive mastermind Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. He completed nearly 70% of his passes his junior season with the Fighting Irish and threw only four interceptions. Clausen's arm strength was questionable, but his accuracy was outstanding, and more than one draft analyst predicted that Clausen would be a top-10 pick and potential star (Mel Kiper ranked Clausen as the fourth-best player in the draft). But Kiper's ESPN cohort Todd McShay raised eyebrows when he accused Clausen of being a lousy teammate, and Clausen's personality -- he infamously showed up to his College Football Hall of Fame commitment announcement in a stretch Hummer, wearing his high school title rings -- apparently rankled some team executives.
But Hurney was visibly excited when Clausen slipped to the Panthers in the second round, and later revealed that he had considered trading up for the quarterback. But Clausen's career never exactly took off in Carolina. He was spotty in the preseason, with a tendency to drive balls into the ground. Owner Jerry Richardson questioned Clausen's conditioning. And Clausen began developing a reputation as an aloof teammate who never fit in the locker room.
Clausen replaced Moore a few games into the 2010 season, and there's nothing charitable to say about his performance. Clausen led the worst offense in the NFL to a record of 1-9 as a starter, managing only three -- three! -- touchdown passes, forcing the Panthers to resort to running a Wildcat offense to limit Clausen's time on the field. Steve Smith openly criticized his play, and eventually Fox was forced to return to Moore. And after 2010, Clausen was never again activated for a game, and the NFL quickly left the vacant-eyed quarterback in its wake.
Clausen will always be a cringe-worthy part of Panthers history, but it's not all his fault. 2010 was a disgrace, and Clausen was pushed into an impossible situation far too early in his tenure. He's still young enough to continue his career elsewhere, but one has to wonder if 2010 -- a horrible memory for Panthers fans -- might have inflicted irreparable damage on Clausen's career. But there's something to be said for Clausen: his performance in 2010 convinced the organization that they still needed a quarterback, and his performance also helped deliver the no. 1 overall pick that led to Cam Newton. Otherwise, Carolina might have struggled through three more years of Alex Smith-esque "is this the guy?" controversy.
One last note on Clausen: try to find one post-game story from 2010 in which he doesn't say that he's working "to get better each and every day." Just try. Poor kid just can't help himself.
8. Kerry Collins (1995-1998, 66 QB Rating, 51.8% complete rate, 8,306 yards, 47 TDs, 54 INTs)
Well, I had to put him somewhere.
Collins will forever be a divisive figure in Carolina. The team's first ever draft pick, the rocket-armed Collins came from Joe Paterno's explosive Penn State offense, and in his second season in Carolina he led the team to the NFC Championship. In 1996, Collins was a Pro Bowler. But the relationship between Collins and the Panthers was never entirely healthy. Later in his career, Collins would tell Giants GM Ernie Accorsi that he had long dreamed of playing for one of the NFL's signature franchises, but instead ended up wearing the "funny looking uniform" of an expansion team. Reports of Collins' carousing at Charlotte bars became something of local legend, and he would later enter treatment for alcohol abuse. In 1998, after beginning the season 0-4, Collins walked into the office of Head Coach Dom Capers and stated that he was unhappy and didn't want to play anymore.
It's nearly impossible to judge Collins' legacy fairly. For his first couple of seasons, Collins was a solid player and his replica jerseys became the go-to item for a burgeoning Panthers fanbase. But Collins never quite connected with that fanbase (or, reportedly, with his teammates) and his quitting on the team in 1998 would cement an unsavory legend. Collins would experience a resurgence with the Giants, and spent time with the Raiders, Titans, and Colts. He currently sits at 12th all time on the passing yards leaders board.
Third Tier: The Solid Stopgaps
These are the guys signed to stop the bleeding who managed to do it. More or less.
7. Vinny Testaverde (2007; 65.8 QB Rating, 54.7% complete rate, 952 yards, 5 TDs, 6 INTs)
The Panthers signed yet another former No. 1 overall pick after Carr's injury, and Vinny Testaverde became the third quarterback to attempt to staunch the dumpster fire of the 2007 season. And for a 44 year-old guy in his 21st season, Testaverde performed about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. The team kept losing, but in slightly less nauseating fashion, and Testaverde's placeholder role allowed the team to next wade into the uncertain era of Starting Quarterback Matt Moore. If nothing else, Testaverde sure looked better than Brian St. Pierre.
6. Chris Weinke (2001-06, 61.4 QB Rating, 54.3 complete rate, 3,800 yards, 14 TDs, 26 INTs)
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner out of Florida State when he was drafted by the Panthers in 2001, Weinke wasn't expected to become an immediate contributor. However, when George Seifert released Steve Beuerlein, and when anointed starter Jeff Lewis buckled under the pressure of the preseason, Weinke was the man left standing. And so Weinke's legacy in Carolina is inextricably linked to the 2001 season, which produced the worst record in team history (1-15) and marked the end of the Seifert era and the beginning of the Fox resurgence. The lone bright spot of Weinke's season was a 423-yard performance against the New York Giants, which set a team record. Otherwise, it was...well, you can read the stats right above.
Weinke was, like Clausen, pushed into starting service too early, and he never had the pure physical skills or athleticism to excel as an NFL quarterback. But unlike Clausen, Weinke wasn't lacking for poise, and his value as a locker room presence earned him several more years as a backup. Weinke later became the director of the IMG Madden Football Academy, where he would go on to tutor a prospect named Cam Newton.
5. Rodney Peete (2002-04, 76.6 QB Rating, 58.2% complete rate, 2,652 yards, 15 TDs, 14 INTs)
Peete was on his fourth team by the time he signed with the Panthers in 2002, and the University of Southern California alum had enjoyed a solid but unremarkable career as a backup with the capacity to start when needed. And he provided John Fox with something the coach craved -- a veteran presence who could understand a playbook and provide Fox with something extraordinarily valuable for a new head coach: time. With his first draft pick as head coach, Fox eschewed quarterback prospect Joey Harrington for defensive end Julius Peppers, and so began the former Giants defensive coordinator's quest to reshape Carolina's defense into his mold. Offense could come later.
And Peete performed remarkably well as a bend-don't-break quarterback in 2002, leading the team to a 7-9 record despite compiling pedestrian passing numbers. With quarterbacks like Peete, however, the question is always how long they can stay entrenched. Peete entered 2003 as the starter, but lasted less than a game. Soon Peete would surrender his position to Jake Delhomme. But for his time in Carolina, Peete was precisely what the team needed: unspectacular stability.
Second Tier: The Eternal Tease
4. Matt Moore (2007-10, 58.4 QB Rating, 57.9% complete rate, 2,640 yards, 16 TDs, 17 INTs)
It's still hard to figure out Matt Moore. I'm not sure the Panthers ever figured him out. An undrafted free agent out of Oregon State, Moore was signed by the Dallas Cowboys, but the Panthers snatched him up when the Cowboys released him in an attempt to sneak him onto the practice squad. Near the end of the 2007 season, Moore was pressed into service and his performance was intriguing enough to earn him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month honors for December. He didn't play a snap due to a broken fibula in 2008, but in 2009 Moore was once again a spot starter after an injury to Jake Delhomme. And Moore, at times, dazzled. He led the Panthers to an upset over the Vikings with a 299-yard, three touchdown performance, and tossed three more touchdowns in a 41-9 drubbing of the Giants a week later. In only five games in 2009, Moore had won four, and had thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception. For a while, it seemed like Moore might be a second coming of Delhomme -- a savvy unrestricted free agent who could win games with some good ol' moxie.
That offseason, Delhomme was released, and the Panthers tendered Moore at a first-and-third level and announced that he would become the new starter. But the honeymoon didn't last long. Moore trudged through an awful preseason, and after throwing four interceptions to start the first two games of the 2010 season, he was pulled for Clausen. Moore would return later that horrible season to spell Clausen, but wound up on injured reserve after a hit from Sedrick Ellis in Week 9.
Moore ended up a member of the Dolphins, where he performed decently in spot duty, and in 2013 Moore spurned opportunities to compete for a starting job elsewhere to return to the Dolphins as Ryan Tannehill's backup. There's nothing wrong with cashing in while holding a clipboard, but it took the Panthers three years to figure out that Moore apparently preferred that role to starting.
First Tier: The Franchise Players
While you might disagree with the rankings of everyone below, the top three QBs in Panthers history are pretty easy to figure.
3. Steve Beuerlein (1996-2000; 87.7 QB Rating, 60.4% complete rate, 12,690 yards, 86 TDs, 50 INTs)
Beuerlein demolished record books at Notre Dame, but was a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1987 and spent years attempting to make his mark in the NFL. In stints with Los Angeles, Dallas, and Arizona, Beuerlein squabbled with coaches and management despite carrying a strong reputation among teammates. His relationship with Buddy Ryan in Arizona was infamously contentious, with receiver Ricky Proehl describing their battles as "the worst situation I've ever been around." Ryan exposed Beuerline to the 1995 Expansion Draft, and he was selected first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he clashed with Coach Tom Coughlin. But in 1996, the free agent found a home in Carolina as Collins's backup. For two season, Beuerlein flourished in this role, until Collins permanently drank his way out of Carolina in 1998. Beuerlein assumed the starter's role and played well during an otherwise stormy 1998 season, and remained the starter in 1999 under new head coach George Seifert. And in 1999, Beuerlein exploded in his first full season as a starter, throwing for a league-high 4,436 yards and making his first (and only) Pro Bowl. He was unable to mask the team's defensive deficiencies, however, and there would be no playoff berth. In 2000, he returned as the unquestioned starter and threw for 3,730 yards, but his lack of mobility led to 62 sacks -- then the second-worst sack total for a quarterback in NFL history. And that offseason, Seifert -- in one of the most unpopular personnel moves in team history -- released Beuerlein and temporarily handed the team over to Jeff Lewis. We all know how that went.
Beuerlein has forged his own place in Panthers lore as the man who arguably became the team's first "professional" quarterback -- a prototypical pocket passer with a Marino-esque release and an unflappably All-American countenance. He lacked Collins' abrasive personality and theatrics and quickly became a favorite of fans and owner Jerry Richardson. Despite one Pro Bowl nod and no playoff appearances, Beuerlein wins the third spot on this list easily.
2. Cam Newton (2011-present; 86.4 QB Rating, 59.8% complete rate, 11,299 yards, 64 TDs, 42 INTs)
And I didn't even list his rushing numbers.
Newton wasn't a consensus choice in the 2011 NFL Draft -- the stories of his questionable activities at Florida and Auburn were legion. There was Nolan Nawrocki's infamous scouting report about the quarterback's leadership deficiencies and "fake smile." There was draft analyst Mike Mayock alleging that Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert was the superior prospect. But the Panthers' due diligence paid off, and in his first season, Newton was an absolute revelation. A cannon-armed quarterback with a 4.59 40-yard dash in the body of a defensive end, Newton is good for at least one "oh my God!" play a game and set five NFL rookie records. In three years, Newton has made two Pro Bowls and taken the Panthers to a 12-4 record and a division championship. Yes, his game can be nitpicked -- he tends to sail passes -- but he's shown remarkable decision-making and ball control, and his physical abilities are nearly unmatchable.
So it's not all that surprising for new GM Dave Gettleman to proclaim Newton a franchise quarterback. But his legacy in Carolina is still developing. I tend to agree with the complaint that Newton can appear too self-consciously polished, too concerned with projecting an image. Newton's appearance on Jordan Gross's podcast last offseason was surprisingly awkward -- Gross was, at numerous times, compelled to tell Newton to "just be himself," and Newton seemed somewhat uncomfortable trying to do so. And there's no doubting that Newton is cocky, but let's be fair: imagine yourself as a good-looking, 6' 5" athletic specimen who becomes the star quarterback in high school. You get recruited to Florida. Doesn't work out, so you transfer to junior college, win nearly every game you start, and win the national championship. You transfer to Auburn. You win every game you play, in the SEC, and win the national championship. You win the Heisman trophy. You get drafted first overall into the NFL, and despite no offseason instruction, you win the starting job. You set a handful of NFL records and make the Pro Bowl.
That would make me a little pleased with myself. How about you?
Newton is spectacular, and the sky is his limit. But that doesn't make him number one on this list.
1. Jake Delhomme (2003-09; 82.6 QB Rating, 59.2% complete rate, 19,258 yards, 120 TDs, 89 INTs)
Yes, the best quarterback in Panthers franchise history is Jake Delhomme, and if you don't agree with that, well...I don't know what to tell you, because you're wrong.
It's not just the numbers that Delhomme compiled -- by nature of his length of service in Carolina, they are as-yet unassailable by Cam -- but what the man meant for the franchise. An undrafted free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette, he found his way to Carolina in 2003 after stints with the New Orleans Saints and NFL Europe. Delhomme put together a decent training camp, but it was the 2003 season opener against Jacksonville that birthed his legacy. Trailing 17-0, coach John Fox pulled Rodney Peete and sent in Delhomme, who ran to the huddle and reportedly screamed "get your [expletive] heads up!" Delhomme rallied the Panthers to victory with 16 seconds remaining, entrenched himself as the starter, and led the most exciting season in Panthers history. The Cardiac Cats spent that season trademarking come-from-behind victories and blazed their way to an unthinkable Super Bowl appearance, where Delhomme played beautifully, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers have had several different geological shifts in their identity since 1995, but 2003 represents the shift to modern-era Panthers, the team that finally established itself as a power franchise in the Southeast (finally clearing away some of the lingering Redskins fandom) and started finding itself on Sports Illustrated covers. The Panthers mattered, and Delhomme -- with his easygoing, self-deprecating personality and Cajun stutter -- was the heart of it.
Delhomme was 53-37 as a starter, a Pro Bowler, and he owns 14 team records. He reigned over an era during which the Panthers were consistent playoff threats, and his coaches and teammates loved him. Delhomme was an integral part of building the legend of another Panther -- Steve Smith -- and the criticism that it was Smith who padded Delhomme's stats is blunted by the fact that, in 2004, Delhomme's primary receiver was Muhsin Muhammed, who notched a career year with 1,400 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
It wasn't until 2008 that Delhomme's star began to fall, and rapidly. He led the team to a 12-4 record, but played the worst game of his career in a Divisional Round matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. Delhomme threw five interceptions in the loss, but the Panthers -- anxious to keep the band together -- nevertheless signed him to a lucrative extension in the offseason. But it was never the same. Delhomme threw four interceptions in the 2009 season opener against the Eagles, and his career was downhill from there. Despite a 5-3 record in the playoffs, Delhomme became shorthand for a bungling, multi-interception quarterback. But the body of work is undeniable: Delhomme was a cheap free-agent signing who blossomed into the greatest quarterback in the history of the franchise.