Thanks But We'll Pass

The offense of the Carolina Panthers will be in the hands of an NFL underdog. The story of the Carolina Panthers quarterback battle will seem predictable. It should not be. Imagine it is the offseason in 2023. If you were the General Manager of the Carolina Panthers and your Pro Bowl quarterback was to enter the office to negotiate a contract extension. Which would you prefer your quarterback say to you:

ü "Before I came here, your team was only winning five games a year for three years in a row. I’m the number one overall pick in the prime of my career. I turned your team into a contender. It’s payday. If you want me, my price is higher."

ü "I appreciate this team and this coaching staff for believing in me. Thanks for finally getting an offensive line. I truly appreciate everything everyone has done to challenge me without quitting on me. How do we work a deal so we can be the champions I envision this team to be for the long term?"

I am not certain of the best method to use to compare the Carolina Panthers quarterbacks this preseason. Neither one has been good in their career for a long enough period of time. A "Try Not To Laugh" challenge would probably be as valid as a traditional competition. Then again, this whole preseason might be a "try not to laugh" challenge.

Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield are difficult to compare. Their challenges were different from each other. Baker had more success because he was on a better team and never had the career handicap of Quarterback killer Adam Gase coaching him. In the last twenty years, the story of the two teams that drafted each quarterback mimics the careers of their quarterbacks. Jets quarterbacks were never good since then. The only exception would be Brett Favre but that was after his dismal year with the Jets. But he’s Brett Favre and even he could only get them a 9-7. Browns quarterbacks might give a player a year or two of overrated success. Those are the best quarterbacks from them. Baker Mayfield seems at this point in his career to copy the trend of one-hit wonders.

But there is a lot to like about these two quarterbacks that does not have much room in national discussion. Baker is a high-energy thrill maker with a reputation of having a pushy attitude. He was mistreated by a football team that went in the wrong direction after COVID was finished emptying NFL stadiums. 32 NFL teams decided he was not worth a third-round pick. Baker refuses to be forgotten or worse, remembered as a one-hit wonder. Darnold is a polite guy who rarely seems to blame others when things don’t go his way. Darnold never complained about two-minute drills or putting himself in a lousy situation. He didn’t bark at teammates on the sidelines. He just does his job and when things don’t go well, he is learning a new way of building his success story with the same enthusiasm as a year ago.

But the story could become even more interesting than that. Behind the front-runners are the three backups that each have their own intriguing situation. PJ Walker was a star in an alternative professional league. So was Sam Mills. He never really had a great chance to prove himself. But his two starts do leave the man undefeated. Walker is hit-and-run so far. But he seems like he could be hit-and-miss. The Panthers only expressed confidence in him by resigning him after the 2021 season.

Matt Corral has a scrappy story himself that matches a reputation (or probably should exceed) Baker Mayfield’s. Corral punched Wayne Gretzky’s kid apparently. So that’s cool I guess? He’s open about his Christian conversion and his alcoholic past. Who doesn’t like a little redemption? He’s the American Redream already and his NFL career is just beginning. His quick-release is something we hope translates into "You should not have overlooked me". But the fact the Panthers spent three middle-round picks on him is overshadowed by the fact that the Panthers risked much less for Tom Brady a Cleveland Browns replaceable.

Now, one thing has to be definite. The Panthers better not walk into January wondering who the quarterback of 2023 is going to be. If the team will have a future, they will need to make a solid investment. In the past, the team has missed opportunities to develop the future because they made the "smart" or "safe" pick. This has almost led to disaster a few key moments. In 1998, the Panthers chose to give Kerry Collins a chance to redeem his career unchallenged. Steve Beuerlein sat on the sidelines for way way way too long while the team drowned into a 1-7 first half of the season. In 2003, the team chose to go forward with Rodney Peete while Jake Delhomme sat on the bench in the first half of the season opener. When it came time to find a replacement for Delhomme, the team didn’t feel the need to groom Matt Moore or anyone else into a successor. They opened the door for David Carr. He got injured (again). Matt Moore showed a little spark at the end of the season. But the Panthers failed to take him seriously until 2009 when it was too late for him to be able to help save the coach’s job. Even then, they drafted Bowl Cut Jimmy in the second round due to their own lack of faith in the team’s ability to develop a quality player.

In 2015, the Panthers went with the safe pick as they chose Cam Newton to be the team’s quarterback instead of literally anyone else and how did that go? They only averaged one win per week during most of the regular season.

One of the not-so-secret facts about the Carolina Panthers is that the team is not trying to build from the quarterback to the rest of the team. Instead, the focus and money are in other positions. This could be a sort of secret weapon. But adding Baker Mayfield would ruin any real chance of a surprise attack. Eyes are on the Carolina Panthers as he drew some media attention that the Panthers probably somewhat wanted to avoid. Still, the deal was way too delicious to miss this.

The Carolina Panthers are almost ready. But among the questions remaining on the team, the quarterback controversy is the most attention-getting story. This is both a major opportunity and a major career-threat for these quarterbacks (except for maybe Corral on the threat side).

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