Earlier this month, the Carolina Panthers made their move by trading for New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. Carolina threw their name in the hat for Matthew Stafford and was also interested in Deshaun Watson prior to all the allegations being brought against him became public.
By trading for Darnold, it seemed initially that the Panthers would build their future around him and eventually trade or release Teddy Bridgewater. However, that might not exactly be the case. Carolina has been continuing to closely study each quarterback in the draft including Ohio State's Justin Fields. According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Panthers OC Joe Brady and QB coach Sean Ryan are in attendance for Fields' 2nd Pro Day.
Following the trade for Darnold, Panthers GM Scott Fitterer told reporters that the move doesn't change their plans for the draft.
"This doesn't take us out of anything in the draft. This doesn't take us out of taking a quarterback, it doesn't take us out of taking any position. What we wanted to do going into this draft, through free agency, and through this trade with Sam was to just get rid of all the needs that we have and get to a place where our roster was in a good spot where we can take the best available player at No. 8. We could always move up and we can always move back. This just puts us in a position to make the right football move for this team going forward."
In a similar tone, head coach Matt Rhule also spoke about the impact of the trade and what it means in regards to the No. 8 overall pick.
"I think it frees us up to pick the best player available, fill potential needs. Anytime you can get someone who is 23, 24-years old who was the 3rd pick in the draft just a few years ago and we're not giving up an early pick this year, so I think it puts us in a real good position. We drafted well last year and to be quite honest, we need another really strong draft. At the 8th position, we'll be flexible. We'll look to take the best player available and we'll continue to look at quarterbacks. I've continued to be impressed going out and watching some of these guys throw so we'll look at anything and everything. We're not locked into anything."
The real question is: does it make sense to still take a quarterback? Giving up three draft picks, although not a huge haul, are still three draft picks at the end of the day. You don't just give that kind of draft capital for a guy you hope can be the answer and maybe be a backup to the guy you draft in the first round. That's a type of move that shows you have confidence in the player that you're trading for.
Could this just be the Panthers bluffing to get teams from behind them to trade up into Carolina's spot? Possibly. Then again, if Brady, Rhule, and Fitterer truly fall in love with Fields maybe they do draft him and let he and Darnold compete. It's all a game of unknowns right now and one that we likely won't know the answer to until draft night.
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