5 Carolina Panthers players unlikely to return in 2023

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Baker Mayfield
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Baker Mayfield /
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Carolina Panthers
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

Sam Darnold – Carolina Panthers QB

There are sure to be huge changes coming to the quarterback position once again in 2023. No longer can the Carolina Panthers rely on underperforming veteran gambles, which became a feature of Matt Rhule’s disastrous three years as head coach and was a primary factor behind his eventual firing.

Perhaps the most disappointing of all was Sam Darnold. Carolina gave up three draft selections – including a high-end second-rounder – to the New York Jets in the hope he could turn things around, but it came apart quickly after a promising opening to the 2021 campaign and the Panthers went in another direction by acquiring Baker Mayfield from the Cleveland Browns.

Picking up Darnold’s fifth-year option with a fully guaranteed $18.85 million was a travesty. It made the signal-caller untradable and restricted the Panthers financially to further complicate matters during a crucial stage of Rhule’s master plan.

Thankfully, this comes to an end in 2023.

Darnold has been on the outside looking in due to injury so far this season. But he’s set to back up Mayfield in Week 11 at the Baltimore Ravens and interim head coach Steve Wilks indicated a willingness to get the former USC star back under center if things don’t go according to plan.

Regardless of what transpires between now and the season’s end, the Panthers must draft their quarterback of the future and build around a rookie contract. This is a scenario that will likely see Darnold looking for alternative employment.