Breaking down cap implications if Panthers cut or trade Sam Darnold

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

What are the salary-cap implications that could emerge if the Carolina Panthers decided to cut or perhaps trade Sam Darnold before the 2022 season? 

It’s not like Sam Darnold has been having a bad training camp as he looks to salvage his career. But the arrival of Baker Mayfield has given the Carolina Panthers a new lease of life and he is now the red-hot favorite to start in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.

The Panthers were forced into action this offseason after Darnold flattered to deceive following his trade from the New York Jets. He was unable to build on a positive start and the same flaws crept into his game that has cast a significant shadow over the player’s time in the league so far.

If Mayfield does become the starter as expected based on the trade and how well he’s performed in camp, then Carolina has a difficult decision to make where Darnold is concerned. This is down in no small part to the team picking up his fifth-year option before he’d participated in a single practice.

In hindsight, this was a grave error of judgment. Even though the Panthers felt it was worth the risk as they’d be getting a bargain if Darnold thrived in a different environment.

General manager Scott Fitterer stated there was a good chance Carolina would be taking three quarterbacks onto their roster in 2022 after spending a third-round selection on Matt Corral. But if the Panthers want to provide the Ole Miss product with the best possible opportunity to take charge long-term, it would be wise if they made him their primary backup.

Carolina Panthers are facing a huge financial payout with Sam Darnold

Of course, finding a trade partner for Darnold will be difficult. Fitterer stated that there has been no interest in the signal-caller this offseason despite his uncertain status, which is probably expected considering his poor film.

Another team might come calling before Week 1. But they will not be parting ways with too much and certainly not taking on Darnold’s fully guaranteed $18.85 million.

In this scenario, Carolina would likely eat a substantial portion of this salary. Something they also had to do last year when the team shipped Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos for a sixth-round selection and a $17 million dead-cap figure.

It’s not ideal. But it would give the Panthers a late-round pick in return however unlikely it might be.

Perhaps the more realistic scenario, if the Panthers decide to remove Darnold completely from the equation, is to find out a way to release the player. Paying the $18.85 million in one lump sum leaves Carolina with little wiggle room to make further moves, so the aim would likely be to split this up over two or maybe three years and spread out the payment.

Again, this is far from ideal. But it’s the situation Carolina brought on itself by making the trade for Darnold and guaranteeing so much money before a competitive snap with the franchise.

Darnold’s chances of immediately starting elsewhere are non-existent. Should the Panthers move forward with Mayfield and Corral, then the No. 3 overall selection in 2018 must regroup from a backup capacity and try to start from scratch elsewhere.

This will be difficult. And a scenario could emerge where Darnold never sees an NFL field again.

The whole situation is a mess. A microcosm of how things have unfolded at the most important position in football under Carolina’s current regime.

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