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Alaina Getzenberg: Sam Darnold trade could leave Panthers without a QB answer for another year

Alaina Getzenberg, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

Having two young and cheap quarterbacks on the roster wouldn't be the worst thing, but how can you start to build around Darnold in a way the Jets didn't by drafting a quarterback at No. 8?

Signing Bridgewater last season helped the Panthers to be good enough to win a few games, but not bad enough to land the top quarterbacks in this year's draft. It didn't work.

Now, they've opted for Darnold, which gives them a guaranteed new player with potential at quarterback.

The deal started really being finalized at Ohio State's pro day Tuesday when Fitterer and Jets general manager Joe Douglas discussed the situation on the football field while Justin Fields threw in front of them. By then, the teams had collected all the data they needed on the quarterbacks in the draft and other trade targets, and both sides could move forward.

Can Darnold succeed with the Panthers?

The ramifications of the Panthers' on-field product this season is one of the more interesting aspects of this situation. The team is taking a chance on a player who's been among the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL, especially last season.

But, who is to blame for Darnold's performance? Is it bad coaching under former Jets head coach Adam Gase? A lack of weapons to connect with? The pressure of playing in a big city like New York? Just the low quality of the team around him in general?

The bigger question, then, is whether Brady and Rhule can help Darnold return to being the quarterback he was at USC, with the success that led to him to being the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

"I think he moves well in the pocket. He's not a runner, like you would picture, but he's a person that can slide and climb in the pocket," Fitterer said. "I think he sees the field, he can push the ball downfield. When he does take off, he does have speed as a runner. I think he can make throws at all levels, I've seen that going back to college. You can see glimpses of that in the NFL," Fitterer said.

 

"I think in our offense, with Joe Brady, with Christian (McCaffrey), with DJ (Moore), with Robby (Anderson), and now Dan Arnold, this receiving tight end, I really like what he can bring to us, and the ability to push the ball downfield, all those things are really exciting."

In 2020, Darnold had his worst statistical season and looked out of sorts at times. He averaged just 184 yards per game, thew 11 interceptions to nine touchdowns and was sacked 35 times, the most of his career despite playing in one fewer game than he had each of the two previous seasons.

A major flaw in Bridgewater's performance last year was end-of-game situations. He bore some of the blame for the team's 0-8 record in games with the ball in his hands and a chance to win or tie.

Darnold hasn't fared much better. In his career, Darnold has completed 52.2% of his passes in fourth-quarter situations within one score, and he's thrown two touchdowns to six interceptions.

He will have the opportunity to get the ball out more quickly in Brady's offense and move around, which may benefit him. Similar to the Jets, however, the Panthers' offensive line is a major work in progress, which is part of what made the early draft picks this year so valuable.

Maybe this will be the change of scenery he needs.

But if Darnold continues to perform as he has thus far in his NFL career, this trade will be the latest in a series of moving pieces at quarterback for the Panthers.

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