Did Carolina Panthers officially fumble the bag with Justin Fields?

(Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports) Justin Fields
(Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports) Justin Fields /

Did Justin Fields’ encouraging development and record-breaking performance in Week 9 officially confirm significant regret for the Carolina Panthers?

Failing to secure a long-term answer at the quarterback spot is one of the primary reasons why Matt Rhule’s stint with the Carolina Panthers was a massive failure. A series of disastrous personnel moves for underperforming veterans ended up being the catalyst behind the previous head coach’s demise, which is something that has to change to emerge from irrelevancy sooner rather than later.

Among the decisions led by Rhule was spurning the opportunity to select a first-round quarterback from the college ranks throughout his tenure. The Panthers were reportedly considering a daring move up in 2020 to select Justin Herbert before opting to move forward with Teddy Bridgewater, with then-general manager Marty Hurney apparently pushing hard after becoming enamored with the Oregon standout.

Carolina Panthers should regret passing on Justin Fields

Bridgewater lasted one season. Despite this, Rhule and the Panthers ignored quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, giving up three selections for Sam Darnold rather than taking Justin Fields at No. 8 overall.

Cornerback was a real need at the time and Rhule was clearly tied emotionally to Darnold and reportedly fought hard to get his way when others such as general manager Scott Fitterer and team owner David Tepper were less convinced. However, a historic performance from Fields in Week 9 brought this particular decision under scrutiny once again.

Fields is bringing his game along encouragingly this season. The Chicago Bears have a decent head coach in Matt Eberflus, but talent at the skill positions is sorely lacking even after trading for Chase Claypool and the less said about their offensive line, the better.

In spite of this, Fields is showing why he was worthy of a top 10 selection. The Ohio State product’s poise in the pocket is growing with every passing week and his supreme running ability makes him a significant dual-threat that opposing defenses must specifically gameplan for moving forward.

It’s not perfect. Nor should it be at this stage of Fields’ career.

But there is now legitimate hope that the Bears have their franchise quarterback at long last.

As for the Panthers, they are back to square one.

Jaycee Horn is a good player – someone that could be among the league’s best shutdown coverage corners. But no player shifts the needle like a productive quarterback and that’s why there is so much growing regret about Fields.

One could make the argument that given Rhule’s inability to evaluate and develop quarterback talent, it’s unlikely that Fields would have thrived in Carolina. His stubbornness was always going to get in the way once the Panthers drafted Darnold, who is back from injured/reserve but unlikely to be around beyond 2022.

Having Fields right now would provide hope. Something the Panthers and their long-suffering fanbase haven’t enjoyed since Cam Newton took the NFL by storm.

It’s that simple, really.

Things might all work out in the end. Carolina is set to possess a top-three selection in 2023, which could put them in a position to select someone like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. These two are the clear standouts from next year’s class and with a new head coach coming into the fold, passing on either would be another critical mistake.

This doesn’t help the Panthers right now with another losing season almost confirmed. And if Fields makes additional strides in the coming years, then this could end up being a “fumble the bag” scenario on an epic scale.

Only time will tell.

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