As I’m sure most of you are already aware, the Carolina Panthers sent a sixth round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, along with second and fourth rounders next year, to the New York Jets for former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold. If you believe everything you hear on the internet, Darnold is somewhere between an absolute bust that no offensive guru could possibly save and a star in the making whose only flaw was playing for the Jets. Regardless of which outcome happens, the Panthers still have the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. On many mock drafts, there happens to be one of the top five quarterbacks still available with that pick. And the Panthers should absolutely take that quarterback.
The most likely outcome in the Sam Darnold era in Carolina is that Darnold is a good-but-not-great option at the quarterback position. A guy who could get hot in the playoffs to help a talented team make a deep playoff run, but not a guy who’ll take you to the promised land all by his lonesome. Darnold will likely not win league MVP in 2021, which is fine. He’ll also likely not be an absolute dumpster fire. In the event that he’s ... solid, the Panthers will still be without a franchise quarterback. Enter pick No. 8. In some mock drafts one of Trey Lance or Justin Fields is still on the board when the Panthers are on the clock. In this scenario, with Darnold playing ... solid, the Panthers would be in position to let Lance/Fields grow at his own pace his rookie year. The last four league MVPs all sat for several weeks before getting their first starts in the NFL. Having Darnold in the fold would allow for an Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes situation. The Chiefs let Mahomes learn from Smith for almost a full season before putting him under center for good. Then, that offseason, the Chiefs flipped Alex Smith to Washington for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third round pick. Depending on Darnold’s play, the Panthers could do something similar.
Even if Darnold is absolutely horrendous, keep in mind the fact that even Kyle Allen was traded for a draft pick (thanks, Ron!). On top of that, if Darnold is bad, the team will likely lose many, many games. That would actually be better, in a way. If the team ends up at the top of next year’s draft, they can hand the reins to Lance/Fields and use that top five-ish pick on the best playmaker or best lineman to help support the young quarterback. The absolute worst-case (and least likely) scenario for the Panthers picking a quarterback at No. 8 is that Darnold plays out of his mind and wins MVP. Then the Panthers have to decide who they keep long term: the then-25-year-old reigning MVP or the kid they just drafted in the top 10. Sounds like a terrible situation to be in.
Look, the Panthers recently got out of a very serious quarterback relationship. We had a guy who was “the one,” someone we all pictured growing old with. Life got all flipped sideways, and now that guy is gone. We dated a guy who was safe for our rebound relationship. Turns out that guy wasn’t what we were looking for. Then our true love had some hiccups. His new relationship got off to a rocky start, and for a fleeting second, we had visions of him running back into our waiting arms. Unfortunately, he went back to his new relationship to work on that. Now we’re left in the cold once again, but there are options. We shouldn’t dismiss a potential love just because a new pretty face is in our lives. If a quarterback pops up on the Panthers Tinder feed, they should absolutely swipe right. Unless it’s Mac Jones. Never swipe right on Mac Jones.