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Of course it’s a gamble for the Panthers to trade for Sam Darnold

The Panthers are swimming in a sea of not-sure-things, Darnold is in that sea and that’s OK.

Denver Broncos v New York Jets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

David Tepper had all but bought a billboard on the moon to advertise his interest in making a move at quarterback in the 2021 offseason. This was quite a year to do that, as a potentially historic number of quarterbacks are primed to be selected in the top five to ten of the upcoming draft and a number of veteran options were, or appeared to be available. However, with the eighth pick in the draft, the Carolina Panthers were never going to have their pick of the litter this year. Of course trading for Sam Darnold is a gamble. Any move they made at quarterback this year was always going to be.

After famously offering at least that number eight pick for a 33-year old Matt Stafford, they ultimately pulled the trigger on a 23-year old quarterback at a much lower price. Darnold is still considered to have upside, but that’s about the only positive thing you can say about him in the NFL. He has a couple of highlights to his name and an association with a coach who has a reputation for depressing talent.

There is absolutely no way to tell right now if Darnold is the quarterback that everybody saw the last three years or if he was laboring under the curse of the New York Jets. Will re-uniting with Robby Anderson have any effect? Does escaping Adam Gase work for every player? We’ll find out soon enough.

It will be easy to judge this trade a success if Darnold magically transforms himself into a franchise quarterback. In that case, the Panthers will have to lament the near-immediate loss of his new fairy godmother, Joe Brady, but that’s business. They will have otherwise caught lightning in a bottle and be happy for it. It is much harder to pin down what will make this trade a failure.

We most certainly shouldn’t judge it by the cost. The 2021 sixth round pick and 2022 fourth are essentially irrelevant. The 2022 second is the biggest asset the team surrendered and that, honestly, isn’t much at all. It should weigh even less, on an emotional level, to Panthers fans. I like to look at it this way: the Panthers are taking the risk of not drafting Amini Silatolu for the chance of acquiring their future at quarterback. Sure, there has been a lot of turnover in the braintrust over the last few years, but I’ll believe in more successful drafting when I see it on a consistent basis.

The worst case is probably that the Panthers and Darnold improve each others situations mildly, but not impressively. He could keep the franchise mired in mediocrity for one to two more years, depending on Tepper’s patience. That’s not exciting, but isn’t exactly bad given that is where this team is right now. It also won’t stop the Panthers from finding his replacement. If the Panthers could have rocked the boat harder this year, I’m willing to bet they would have. I doubt that Tepper, Scott Fitterer, or Matt Rhule would have blinked at mortgaging their future, in terms of multiple future first round picks, for the right quarterback. That quarterback wasn’t available this year.

Instead, they took the highest upside move on the table that had the smallest cost. With Scott Fitterer’s “in on every deal” mentality and Tepper’s wallet, this move won’t prevent the Panthers from targeting any other player. Darnold will either pan out or be tossed to the wayside, as Teddy Bridgewater is soon to be, to clear room for a bolder move just as soon as the next opportunity arises.