Stability at quarterback has been arduous to seek out since David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers in 2018. In the three seasons since, the staff’s scenario at quarterback has been a trending subject of dialog on a big scale.
For the first two years, it was centered on Cam Newton and his well being.
Last yr was about releasing and then changing the franchise quarterback. Now in 2021, the objective stays to discover a long-term possibility that may assist produce “sustained’ success that the organization, and Tepper specifically, is looking for.
Those four years were also marked by decision-makers moving in and out of the building. The new owner came in and then fired the head coach, Ron Rivera, less than two years later. After hiring a new coach, Matt Rhule, the general manager, Marty Hurney, was fired a year after Rivera. The newest face, GM Scott Fitterer, was brought in last month. Now the new leaders have some big moves to make.
The Panthers have holes all over the field, from offensive and defensive line to tight end and cornerback. Those needs have to be addressed, especially the lines, for any quarterback to come in to help lead a team to success. But there’s no denying finding a quarterback for the long-term is a key element in the NFL. It’s the reason why so many teams are in the hunt for one this offseason. Deshaun Watson’s surprise potential availability simply shifts the landscape for finding one.
For now, the future remains uncertain with moving parts around the league still to come. Before moving full-speed ahead to one of the most “pivotal offseasons” in franchise historical past, as head coach Matt Rhule stated, let’s take a step again to the selections that led to this spot.
Moving on from Cam Newton
The resolution to launch Newton was not one made in a single day.
After a shoulder damage restricted his efficiency in the second half of the 2018 season, he had a second surgical procedure on his proper shoulder in January 2019. That was adopted by enjoying solely two video games that fall on account of a Lisfranc damage. He missed extra video games in 2019 than he had in each different season of his profession mixed.
With a brand new head coach and system being put into place, and Newton’s damage historical past, the Panthers moved on from the quarterback who had one yr remaining on his deal. It was all a part of the contemporary begin underneath Tepper after he purchased the staff from Jerry Richardson, bringing in his personal individuals from the enterprise aspect to the teaching workers. Building sustained success means restructuring a staff round a brand new youthful quarterback.
Newton began 15 video games for the Patriots in 2020, however visibly struggled at instances to get the ball down discipline, ending with eight landing passes — the fewest in his profession exterior of the 2019 season — 10 interceptions and 12 dashing touchdowns. Scheduled to grow to be a free agent when the league yr begins in March, his future is unsure. No, a return to Carolina isn’t occurring..
There’s no telling precisely how he would have performed on the Panthers’ offense in a completely totally different scheme, however the accidents have been an element and Carolina probably nonetheless would have been able of on the lookout for a brand new quarterback this offseason.
“Cam Newton is a great quarterback and can play in any system,” Rhule stated in April. “I just think in a year like this especially, where we’re all kind of (having a virtual offseason. I think … Teddy’s a guy that’s been in this offense, knows this offense, has great familiarity with Joe. It just makes sense to us,” Rhule stated. “… It’s not a comparison to me as much as it is just sort of this was an opportunity for us and we took it.”
Signing Teddy Bridgewater
When Bridgewater was signed to a three-year, $63 million deal final offseason, there was all the time an actual chance that Carolina would nonetheless want to deal with the quarterback place in 2021, even when he had put collectively a extra constant efficiency. Drafting somebody to study underneath him this upcoming season, just like what the Kansas City Chiefs did with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes in 2017, was on the desk primarily based on how his contract is structured. While the Panthers would have $20 million in lifeless cap if Bridgewater is launched in 2021, that quantity decreases to $5 million in 2022, per Spotrac.
He was introduced in partly as a result of in a diminished offseason on account of the COVID-19 pandemic with a model new teaching workers, his familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Brady from the 2018 season with the New Orleans Saints was considered as an upside, as Rhule alluded to. But he was additionally somebody the teaching workers advocated for signing pondering he’d be a very good match for the staff.
Cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper, previously the recruiting coordinator at Baylor underneath Rhule and whom the head coach values the opinion of, talked about Bridgewaer earlier than the teaching workers even made the transition to the NFL.
“(Evan Cooper) was the one that always talked about Teddy, like, ‘Hey if you ever go to NFL, this is who we should get,’ just knowing him and his football character and his character,” Rhule stated this fall. “Then we saw him at the Sugar Bowl while he was practicing (with the Saints). I had a chance to visit with him and talk to him a little bit.”
Once employed in Charlotte, Rhule and his workers put collectively tapes of what they have been on the lookout for in gamers to match their schemes. When it got here to the quarterback place, a wide range of examples of Bridgewater have been used for instance what the offensive workers was on the lookout for.
“A lot of clips were Teddy in terms of pocket movement and different things that Joe (was looking for). So that kind of translated into ‘Hey, this guy would be a great fit for the system, the guy would be a great fit for us,’ ” Rhule stated. “When the time came, we made a run at him.”
In his first season beginning 10-plus video games since 2015, Bridgewater had a yr that about matched what he had carried out in his profession, finishing a career-high 69.1% of his passes and throwing 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He was additionally 0-8 stat in game-winning or game-tying conditions, however solely a portion of that falls on the quarterback.
Just a yr after the signing, the Panthers are together with Bridgewater in commerce proposals (see Matthew Stafford) and no public help has been given from Tepper, Rhule or new basic supervisor Scott Fitterer for Bridgewater being the Week 1 starter in 2021.
But that doesn’t imply he gained’t be.
Former Panthers basic supervisor Marty Hurney was the solely basic supervisor in attendance at Justin Herbert’s Pro Day at Oregon simply earlier than issues shut down. Herbert was ultimately picked one spot above the Panthers at No. 6 by the Los Angeles Chargers and named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“We spent a lot of time studying (Herbert) with thoughts of maybe drafting him, right? So we put a lot of time into him last year, so we studied him a lot,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow stated in September.
There are all the time what-ifs. The Panthers acquired a stable defensive sort out in Derrick Brown with the seventh total choose and stuffed a necessity on the defensive position. Going after Herbert would have required giving up draft picks, one thing that the Panthers may have been questioned for in the first yr underneath Rhule. Bridgewater was additionally already on board at this level, somebody who the teaching workers fought for and supported.
If Herbert continues to have seasons like his rookie yr, it should stay an fascinating chance again to, particularly if Carolina struggles in any respect to seek out any stability at quarterback, however the Panthers centered in on addressing the defensive aspect of the ball, which now has a stable basis.
With Fitterer employed, he’ll help in placing Rhule’s imaginative and prescient of what this staff ought to seem like to work with Tepper’s perspective concerned as nicely. Winning constantly stays the objective.
Tepper is very desirous about bringing Watson to Carolina, as The Observer has reported over the final month. That sentence a yr in the past would have been stunning, which is one other lesson that predicting something too far into the future in the NFL is a waste of time. The quarterback dominoes persevering with to fall, together with Carson Wentz heading to Indianapolis, are proof of that. It’s one thing to control, however first the Houston Texans should conform to commerce Watson or interact in dialog about doing so, which they’ve stated they gained’t do.
Taking a quarterback in the draft is in fact on the desk. Bridgewater being the starter in 2021 can be a chance; his $23 million cap hit makes a commerce for him much less probably, regardless of Carolina’s needs. The Panthers’ teaching workers and scouts have met over the previous week or so with Fitterer, who has stated the staff will probably be “in on every deal.”
Rumors will proceed to swirl each which means, however being all-in on discovering “the” man, took place earlier than Watson’s needs to get out turned extra public.
“It’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win. That’s the most important position on the field,” Tepper stated in December. “Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls. And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”