NEW QUARTERBACK? Panthers acquire former Jets first-rounder Sam Darnold and are set to trade 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater

By Richard Walker

The @panthers twitter announcement of Monday’s trade for Sam Darnold

One of the worst-kept secrets in the NFL this offseason has been that the Carolina Panthers were seeking a new starting quarterback for the upcoming 2021 season.

On Monday, the franchise thinks it has found its man after sending three draft picks to the New York Jets for 23-year-old Sam Darnold.

Darnold is expected to become the Panthers’ 21st starting quarterback in the team’s 28-year history after Carolina sent a sixth-round draft pick (No. 226 overall) in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft and second- and fourth-round draft picks in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Jets.

New Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer had glowing praise for what adding Darnold to his team might mean for Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady in a zoom news conference Monday afternoon.

“I think in this offense, with Joe Brady, Matt Rhule and all the weapons around him, I think he (Darnold) can take the next step,” Fitterer said.

Darnold comes to Carolina in the final year of a four-year, #30.25 million rookie contract he signed with the Jets before the 2018 season. The Panthers will inherit a fifth-year option for $18.9 million for Darnold if they want to retain him beyond this season.

Darnold will become the sixth first-round draft pick to start at quarterback for the Panthers – and third in three years. Previous first round quarterbacks picks to start for the Panthers have been Kerry Collins (No. 5 overall Panthers 1995), David Carr (No. 1 overall Houston Texans 2002), Vinny Testaverde (No. 1 overall Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1987), Cam Newton (No. 1 overall Panthers 2011) and 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32 overall Minnesota Vikings 2014).

Reports already indicate the team will now look to trade Bridgewater before the upcoming season – and Fitterer hardly refuted those reports.

“There are things that we have to work through obviously,” Fitterer said. “We’re going to talk to Teddy’s agent and find the right place whether it is here or wherever it may be, we will figure things out.”

Bridgewater was signed to a three-year, $63 million contract in March 2020.

Ever since the 2020 season ended with a 5-11 overall record – and 4-11 with Bridgewater as starting quarterback – the Panthers have been linked to trade rumors involving the position.

Carolina reportedly pursued Matt Stafford before the Detroit Lions traded him to the Los Angeles Rams, had interest in the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson after he requested a trade out of Houston and were also linked to trade rumors involving San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Jets reportedly want to draft a quarterback with their upcoming No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft and have been gauging interest in Darnold around the league.

Some NFL observers thinks Darnold, who turns 24 in June, will benefit from a new team.

The Panthers hope they can be that team for a quarterback with a 13-25 record as a starter with 8,077 yards, 45 touchdowns, 39 interceptions, a 78.6 passing rating and 59.8 completion percentage in his 38 career games.

Darnold has missed games due to injury or illness in each of his three NFL seasons – three games with a foot injury in 2018, three games to mononucleosis in 2019 and four games to a shoulder injury last season.

During his time with the Jets, one of his top receiving targets was current Carolina Panthers receiver Robby Anderson.

Anderson caught 88 passes for 1,341 yads and 11 touchdowns from Darnold in the 2018 and 2019 seasons before signing a free agent contract with the Panthers before last season.

Since the Panthers had frequently been linked to a quarterback in mock drafts for the upcoming NFL Draft, the team now can focus on other needs or choose the proverbial “best available player” rather than pursue a quarterback with their No. 8 overall first round draft pick.

Carolina also has selections No. 39 (second round), No. 73 (third round), No. 113 (fourth round), No. 151 (fifth round), No. 193 (sixth round) and No. 222 (sixth round) in the draft slated for April 29-May 1.