4 ways the Carolina Panthers can avoid disaster in 2023 free agency

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Scott Fitterer
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Scott Fitterer /
2 of 5
Carolina Panthers
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) Derek Carr /

Carolina Panthers must not risk money on a veteran QB

Players at the most important position in football command big paydays. Even if they are not quite franchise quarterbacks.

Not having someone capable in that position can seriously hurt a team. The San Francisco 49ers were victims of this in the NFC championship game due to injuries and the Carolina Panthers have suffered through poor production under center for the past few seasons.

The biggest takeaway from Dave Tepper and Scott Fitterer’s quarterback acquisitions during the Matt Rhule era is that none of the players brought in were worth what Carolina gave up. And none of them were good enough to be the team’s leader.

Teddy Bridgewater signed in free agency at three years, $63 million. Despite his respectable performance in 2020, he was not good enough.

Sam Darnold was a reclamation project via trade and his fifth-year option got picked up before he played a snap in Carolina. While he has been solid sometimes, the former USC star is not the long-term answer.

And lastly, there’s Baker Mayfield, who struggled mightily for the Panthers in 2022 and was cut mid-season. Carolina had to part with a sixth-round selection for good measure.

The best thing Fitterer can do with the quarterback situation is to re-sign one of P.J. Walker or Darnold to a team-friendly deal to pair with Matt Corral before entering the draft. That would allow Carolina to fully commit to drafting a first-round quarterback.

The last time they did that was with Cam Newton, who is arguably the best player in franchise history.

Even though 2018 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson is likely to be traded, the reward does not outweigh the price Carolina would have to pay in order to acquire him. Signing someone like Jimmy Garappolo would mean the Panthers would again give up valuable cap space on an aging, non-elite quarterback.

The recently released Derek Carr is a free agent, but the Panthers probably need to pay him a good chunk of money to entice the former Las Vegas Raider to sign over other suitors. And it is uncertain if he really pushes the needle forward.

Fitterer has to commit to drafting and developing one of the top prospects in this year’s class in combination with signing a sturdy and inexpensive backup. That would save money, allow him to fill other holes on the roster, and finally give Carolina a consistent presence in a position that has been a revolving door since 2018.