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Monday Morning Thoughts: Panthers Must Weigh Risk vs Reward

The Panthers have some tough decisions to make over the next week or so.

After jumping out to a 3-0 start, the Panthers made a couple of trades to strengthen the cornerback room with the additions of C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore. At the time, the feeling was that the Panthers would be in contention to make the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, even compete for the NFC South division title. 

Fast forward one month and now the Panthers have dropped four straight games, stumbling to the bottom of the division. Quarterback Sam Darnold has looked like the Sam Darnold that was with the Jets which does not bode well for Carolina's postseason hopes. He's turned the ball over eight times in the four losses and has completed just 33 of 66 passes in the last two games for 318 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

As the weeks go by, it's hard to continue to make the case that Darnold can still be the team's long-term answer at quarterback. With the team reeling and the trade deadline looming (November 2nd), the Panthers could enter the mix for Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson. 

Last week, Texans insider John McClain reported that a trade between the Texans and Dolphins could be complete by the end of this past week. Obviously, that trade has not gone through just yet which means the door is open for a team like the Panthers to come in and outbid Miami for Watson. 

There are a handful of reasons why the Panthers may want to keep their name out of the Watson sweepstakes. For one, no one seems to have a true sense of whether or not Watson would be eligible to play. He has been a healthy scratch every week this season for Houston but if traded, could the NFL step in and place him on the exempt list? No one really knows what would happen. It's a weird situation. 

Secondly, the off-the-field stuff has to be figured out. If the 22 accusations against him come out to be true, you're back to square one and don't have much draft capital. Then again, I doubt any team will trade for Watson without doing their due diligence on the matter. 

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Lastly, the Panthers can't force it. What I mean by that is if this team is not ready to win now, making a blockbuster deal for a quarterback won't solve all of this team's issues. This team is extremely young. It's going to take some time for this roster to grow and learn how to win. Sometimes it's okay to be patient and that's what the Panthers have to consider versus being aggressive and trying to go for it all now. If Fitterer goes after Watson, it's going to take quite a bit to acquire him. The word is it will take at least three first round picks and a player or two. Carolina already traded a 2nd and 4th round to the Jets as part of the Sam Darnold trade and dealt their 3rd round pick to Jacksonville in exchange for CB C.J. Henderson. If they were to give up three ones for Watson that means at minimum, it essentially took six picks and then some to get to Watson. 

As it stands, Carolina currently has a 1st, a 4th (via HOU), a 5th (via JAX), another 5th, a 6th, another 6th (via LV), and a 7th (via TEN through MIA). If you wipe out the first round pick in 2022, the Panthers wouldn't pick until the 4th round unless they traded up. That's not a whole lot of draft capital to continue to build this team. Getting the quarterback position right is a huge step in the right direction but taking shortcuts to do it could put the team in a bad spot. I understand it's a completely different situation but just look at the Kansas City Chiefs for example. They have the most talented dude in the league at quarterback but sit at 3-4 because they don't have a defense nor an offensive line to protect him. 

Depth is an issue for half the teams in the NFL but the half that doesn't have that problem are competing for a spot in the playoffs. If that's where Carolina wants to be, they are going to need picks. It's a difficult decision that Scott Fitterer is going to have to make but as we know, he is "in on every deal".

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