Despite their strong finish to the season, the Carolina Panthers are heading into yet another offseason with subpar quarterbacks. The most important part of any rebuild is finding a franchise passer, so let’s take a look at the current state of the Panthers quarterback situation and see how they can improve in 2023.
Carolina Panthers Quarterbacks Situation Entering The Offseason
On the Roster: Matt Corral
The only quarterback currently under contract is a third-round pick that didn’t play a single snap as a rookie. That’s not ideal. Now, to be fair to Corral, the Mississippi product missed the entire season thanks to a preseason injury, which is a shame as he definitely would have found his way onto the field had he stayed healthy.
As a third-round pick, Corral’s contract and salary cap hit are both minimal, so there is no financial burden to carrying him on the team. There is, however, some concern as to whether or not he’s good enough to justify a roster spot. Corral was the fourth quarterback selected in what was supposed to be a weak draft class, and his college tape isn’t exactly littered with high-level plays. As discussed in Corral’s draft profile, the rookie played in a remarkably easy system, so it’s hard to know exactly how good he could be in the right environment.
Ultimately, the Panthers should keep Corral around and see what he can do with a full offseason. However, they shouldn’t expect anything more than backup-level play.
The Free Agents: Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker
While both Darnold and Walker had their moments last year, neither player should be a part of the long-term plans in Carolina. Walker appeared in six games last year, completing 59.4% of his passes for 731 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. While those numbers aren’t anything special on their own, he also delivered the unquestioned best throw of the Panthers season.
— NFL (@NFL) January 9, 2023
Darnold took over later in the season and actually looked pretty good early on. In his first five starts, the quarterback completed 61.6% of his passes for 1,100 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception while adding another two scores on the ground. Unfortunately, he ended his season on a low note, completing just five of his 15 pass attempts for 43 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in the season finale against the New Orleans Saints.
Even though both guys had their moments of competency, it’s highly unlikely either player develops into anything more than a serviceable bridge quarterback. Both players have had ample opportunities to prove themselves prior to 2022 and never made the most of their opportunity.
Considering the current state of the Panthers quarterback depth chart, Carolina should be willing to bring one of these two back if the price is right. However, with that in mind, the franchise should not view either player as anything more than an emergency starter. A one-year, incentive-laden contract would make sense for either player.
The Outside Options
The Panthers had one of the worst quarterback situations in football last year, and they should to improve the room heading into 2023. Unless the Panthers trade for Derek Carr, they’ll likely have to address the quarterback position through a mix of free agency and the NFL Draft.
Right now, the best free agent quarterbacks hitting the market are (in no particular order) Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Daniel Jones, Lamar Jackson, and Geno Smith. It’s safe to assume that Jones, Jackson, and Smith will remain with their current teams, either via extension or the franchise tag, and it’s highly unlikely that Brady would want to spend the final years of his career on a team in the midst of a rebuild. This leaves Jimmy Garoppolo as the best free agent available.
Garoppolo, while no superstar, is certainly an adequate starter and would likely be an upgrade on both Darnold and Walker. If the price is right, Garoppolo would be a fine quarterback to take the Week 1 starting job and keep the seat warm for whichever quarterback the Panthers select in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Thanks to their 7-10 record, the Panthers currently have the ninth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. While that makes it all but impossible for them to grab the draft’s top passer, they should be able to get one of the better quarterback prospects. In a perfect world, they’ll be able to grab one of C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, or Will Levis. However, if those three players go off the board early, then perhaps the Panthers could trade back and select a high-upside prospect like Anthony Richardson.
Richardson is a freak athlete with an unbelievable ceiling, but he is incredibly raw and will likely need a season or two to figure things out at the NFL level. Garoppolo, Darnold, or Walker could hold down the fort in the short-term while the new head coach works on creating an environment where Richardson can thrive.