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It’s been a couple of years now since Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper came to the understanding that any NFL team, and his in particular, needs an elite quarterback to succeed.
“I think when you get to quarterbacks and NFL, in general, you always want to try to figure out: do you have the best that’s in the position of this right now?” Tepper told reporters in December 2020 after firing general manager Marty Hurney.
“It’s an ongoing process and it’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win. That’s the most important position on the field. … Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to the playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls. And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”
That makes sense. Except the Panthers have been doing a lot of evaluating and evaluating and evaluating every year, and never yet landing the right guy.
And to everyone’s frustration — including Tepper’s, although he hasn’t articulated it because he’s not spoken publicly of late — the search continues.
So the latest is the Panthers are among the teams considering a trade with the Cleveland Browns for Baker Mayfield. And OutKick has learned they have also seriously weighed a trade with San Francisco for Jimmy Garoppolo.
And multiple NFL people believe they’re also weighing using their No. 6 overall pick — or perhaps lower if they can swing a trade down — in the coming NFL draft to select either Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh or Malik Willis of Liberty University.
So the Panthers seem to be all over the place.
And that’s part of their problem in this search for an elite QB: they’ve been all over the place and still failed to find one.
Consider that Carolina has the dubious distinction of not being wanted by three of the finest veteran quarterback talents that have been available the past two offseasons. Last year, per Lions GM Brad Holmes, the Panthers were among the teams trying to trade for Matt Stafford. And according to reporting done by ESPN and others, the Panthers initially made the best offer for the then-Detroit quarterback.
And a source recently told OutKick the Panthers would have seriously considered improving that already high offer. But Stafford wanted to go to a more competitive team and ended up with the Los Angeles Rams — a wise decision considering Stafford and the Rams won the Super Bowl in their first season together.
This offseason, the Panthers would have wanted to land Russell Wilson in trade. But Carolina was not among his preferred teams, so they weren’t even in the conversation. And they wanted to trade for Deshaun Watson. But Watson chose the Cleveland Browns.
The Panthers also passed on Jordan Love and Jalen Hurts in the 2020 draft and on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the 2021 draft. And while none of those four have proven they’re elite, they haven’t disproven it either.
The Panthers did, however, acquire some quarterbacks that have proven not to be good enough.
They signed Teddy Bridgewater to be their starter in 2020 and got rid of him after one season.
They traded for Sam Darnold in 2021 and are obviously looking to upgrade after one season.
And after cutting Cam Newton in March 2020, they re-signed him in November 2021 with no resulting success.
If the Panthers pass on — or as has been their recent history, get passed over for — either Mayfield or Garoppolo, the draft is their most logical option.
That would mean Darnold would likely go into training camp as the presumptive starter for the 2022 season, and the draft pick — either Pickett or Willis — could learn throughout camp as he eventually competes for the starting spot.
Darnold, by the way, is scheduled to be a free agent in 2023. So unless lightning suddenly strikes him or the Panthers find a gem in the draft, that search for the elusive elite quarterback Tepper wants so badly will continue.
More evaluating ahead.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero