"He's only 23 years old. A lot of these quarterbacks don't mature, hit their prime till like 24, 25, 26. If this is a player that we can hit on at this price, and if he is our quarterback for the future, it's definitely worth the gamble," Fitterer said.
If Darnold doesn't work out, the Panthers will have to reset at the quarterback position sooner rather than later, and they still won't have a long-term answer to build around. If he does fit, the team will have to pay him a lot beginning in 2023, as opposed to the cheaper price for a longer period of time that a rookie presents.
The team either doesn't have a quarterback, or it's stuck debating whether he played well enough to warrant a bigger, long-term deal.
Three consecutive offseasons of searching for an answer at quarterback doesn't help build a successful roster, especially when the team expects to have a better record, and therefore a worse draft pick, in 2022. No top rookie quarterbacks will be available for a cheap price then, either.
From the start of the offseason, the Panthers' level of interest in quarterbacks they believed would be available to them at No. 8 overall, or that were worth trading began to reveal itself.
The first big domino to fall was Matthew Stafford, whom the Detroit Lions traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Carolina was very much in on trying to make a similar trade.
The Panthers then turned a significant portion of the attention to Houston's Deshaun Watson, who had requested a trade from the Texans. Interest in Watson was significant, however recent allegations of sexual assault have made that situation complex. The Texans also offered early resistance to trade talks, and the cost to bring him in to begin with was going to be significant. Is Watson completely off the table? Maybe not, but that wasn't happening any time soon.
Then there's the draft situation.
More than a week ago, the San Francisco 49ers made a trade with the Miami Dolphins to move from the No. 12 pick up to No. 3, ostensibly to pick a quarterback. The cost of moving up to select a top quarterback was high and now the odds of the Panthers selecting one in the draft are reduced. Holding on to picks in the first three rounds this year was important.