Bad Investment In Coach, And No Investment In QB, Sinks Dave Tepper’s Carolina Panthers

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Carolina Panthers owner Dave Tepper is usually a lot better with his money. But sports can make smart people do impetuous things. 

Tepper didn’t become worth an estimated $16 billion by being stupid in business. His work in the finance world is one of the great stories of self-made wealth. He is, by all rights, a genius in that field. And while Tepper started his NFL career as a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, his well-earned hubris caused him to make a significant mistake when he hired coach Matt Rhule and gave him a seven-year, $62 million contract. 

It’s not so much that Rhule was a bad coach; the Panthers were 11-27 during his tenure. Instead, it was that they had no direction. Specifically, they don’t have any better sense of what they are going to be in the future after all that time. 


That’s because Tepper and Rhule didn’t have a clear plan about finding and developing a quarterback. Over the course of three seasons, Rhule’s season-opening starters were Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. Aside from that crew, the team briefly brought back former franchise quarterback Cam Newton for a brief stretch last season. 

If you want to know why Rhule had a 1-27 record in games in which the Panthers allowed 17 points or more, constantly trying to make something out of a retread is the main reason. 

Moreover, since Tepper bought the Panthers in May 2018, the Panthers have made almost no investment in the position. In the 2019 draft, they took Will Grier in the third round. That has been the only attempt to find a young passer, even though the opportunities have been there. 

In 2020, Rhule’s first season, Carolina had the No. 7 overall pick. Joe Burrow went No. 1 overall and was generally unavailable in trade and Washington wanted defensive end Chase Young at No. 2. However, Tua Tagavailoa went with the No. 5 overall pick and then Justin Herbert went at No. 6 without Carolina making even a reasonable effort to trade up to the No. 3 or No. 4 spots. 

Worse, the Panthers also passed on multiple chances to draft Jalen Hurts, who went No. 53 overall in the second round to Philadelphia. Carolina had the No. 38 pick. Moreover, it had Rhule coming into the NFL from the college ranks, where he presumably had the kind of connections to get the best information on those quarterbacks. 

If the Panthers had any of those three quarterbacks, Rhule might still be their head coach. Certainly, the Panthers would have some type of hope to build around.  

Likewise, Carolina had a shot to draft either Justin Fields or Mac Jones in 2021. While their talent is more debatable than Tagavailoa, Herbert or Hurts, the fact is that either of them would be better than the driftless effort that Darnold provided last season and the questionable performance they have gotten so far from Mayfield. 

The bottom line is that Rhule is out of a job and Tepper is out $62 million without having so much as a decent prayer about the future at quarterback. 

Frankly, that’s a seriously bad investment. 

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.

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