Grading the Carolina Panthers first five moves of 2023 free agency

(Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports) Vonn Bell
(Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports) Vonn Bell /
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Carolina Panthers
(Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

Carolina Panthers didn’t re-sign Sam Darnold

  • One-year deal: San Francisco 49ers

When Sam Darnold made a better go of things under center in 2022, there was talk of a potential extension from the Carolina Panthers. The quarterback did well with less on his shoulders behind a strong running game, but the flaws that blighted the No. 3 overall selection in 2018 throughout his career came to the fore when the team needed him most down the stretch.

This is exactly what Darnold is. He can move, has the arm strength to make every throw, and is productive under center when insulated – but unlikely to take a game over and win it on his own.

That’s fine at this stage. But with the Panthers making their daring move up to No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s highly doubtful their rookie of choice will be sitting on the sidelines right out of the gate.

Darnold was on the outside looking in and this trade will go down as one of the worst in franchise history. However, the former USC stud is heading back to the California sunshine and will link up with some familiar faces after reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal to join the San Francisco 49ers.

Grade: B+

The quarterback reunites with Christian McCaffrey and probably got a good recommendation from Steve Wilks for good measure. This is a tremendous spot for Darnold and the Panthers can now move forward with their new rookie – so it’s a win-win for all parties.