How bad must things get for Carolina Panthers to install Sam Darnold?

(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold
(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

How bad must things get for the Carolina Panthers in Week 11 at the Baltimore Ravens to install quarterback Sam Darnold under center?

Baker Mayfield will start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers in Week 11 after P.J. Walker suffered an ankle complication. This good fortune is something the signal-caller must take advantage of in pursuit of shifting the narrative that he no longer has what it takes to be an NFL-caliber starting option under center.

Mayfield caught the eye in the second half of Carolina’s demoralizing loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. This is obviously a stern test at the Baltimore Ravens, but it’s also his final opportunity to finish the campaign strongly with things not going according to plan after a high-profile trade from the Cleveland Browns.

If Mayfield fluffs his lines once again, interim head coach Steve Wilks has the option of introducing Sam Darnold for the first time this season. The former USC standout is healthy after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the preseason, but his production in 2021 doesn’t leave much hope for improvements no matter how things get.

Carolina Panthers could get Sam Darnold reps in Week 11

Wilks indicated he’d be willing to get Darnold some opportunities if the situation dictates. A statement that undoubtedly piled further pressure on Mayfield to deliver the goods at M&T Bank Stadium.

"“If it happens, just giving him (Baker Mayfield) warning that I’m not pulling you. I just want to be able to get Sam (Darnold) some opportunities. Because the first time that he goes in there (potentially to start), I don’t want it to be the first time (he’s played this season). I want to be able to get him acclimated a little bit to the speed of the game. I’m interested in winning the game. Whatever it takes to win the game. It’s not pay $250, and you get to play. We’ll see exactly how it goes this week.”"

The Panthers are not expected to win their upcoming contest in Week 11. They are heavy underdogs at the Ravens and if things get out of hand, then Wilks could give Darnold some garbage time reps at the expense of Mayfield after so long away from the gridiron.

Darnold’s been praised for coping well with an ever-changing situation earlier this summer. Although getting paid a fully guaranteed $18.85 million probably softened the blow of Mayfield and Matt Corral coming on board.

If Wilks does put Darnold in due to poor form or the result getting away from Carolina, it’s yet another damning indictment of how things are currently unfolding at football’s most important position. Something that has to change at the earliest possible opportunity with a draft prospect such as Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

The No. 3 overall selection in 2018 is facing an uncertain future once his rookie contract concludes next spring. So this represents a good audition for Darnold to convince another NFL franchise to take him on – albeit in a potential backup role initially.

Darnold seeing the field won’t occur if Mayfield performs well enough to keep this game close. But there’s no guarantee of that either based on what transpired over the opening five weeks.

Fortunately for the Panthers, all this will be over in just a few short weeks.

Matt Rhule’s failed trades and suspect free-agent gambles just didn’t pay off. So a fresh start with Wilks or someone else as head coach is the best solution for this once-proud organization.

What that means for Darnold, Mayfield, or Walker is debatable. But neither player has done enough to warrant a stay beyond the current campaign.

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