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Carolina Panthers Free Agent Snapshot: Sam Darnold

Should the Carolina Panthers be interested in bringing back free agent quarterback Sam Darnold, or should they let him sign somewhere else?
Sam Darnold Free Agent

The Carolina Panthers are going to have a busy offseason. From finding a head coach to securing the quarterback position and preparing for the 2023 NFL Draft, General Manager Scott Fitterer will have a lot on his hands in the coming months. One of the most important issues will be determining what to do with free agent quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold might not be the long-term answer under center, but he showed some signs of life and could be a decent stopgap at the right price.

Should the Panthers Bring Back Free Agent Quarterback Sam Darnold?

Why They Should

Sam Darnold might not be a franchise quarterback, and he’s definitely not a superstar, but he could very well be the best realistic option for this team. The Panthers quarterback situation is not looking good heading into 2023, as Matt Corral is currently the only passer on the roster. Corral, of course, missed the entirety of his rookie season due to injury, so nobody knows how he’d fare against NFL competition.

Perhaps Corral can surprise, but the Panthers need someone with a safer floor on the roster. Free agency is the best way to obtain a bridge quarterback and, of the players likely to be available, the best options are Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Baker Mayfield, Teddy Bridgewater, and Andy Dalton. Brissett actually played really well in 2022 and could be a worthwhile signing for the right price, but all of the other names come with their own issues. Garoppolo simply cannot stay healthy, Mayfield and Bridgewater are retreads, and Dalton is a lateral move at best.

When factoring in projected contracts and familiarity with the players on the roster, there is a real case to be made that Sam Darnold is the best option for the short-term. The Panthers hold the ninth pick in the draft, and they should select a quarterback. That being said, because there are so many other quarterback-needy teams ahead of them, there is a real chance that whichever quarterback they end up selecting won’t be ready for NFL action in Week 1. Darnold is good enough to keep the team competitive while a rookie like Anthony Richardson learns from the sideline.

Why They Shouldn’t

Quarterback is the most important position in football by a considerable margin. If you don’t have a top option, then you really don’t have a chance to compete. After five years in the league, it’s clear that Sam Darnold isn’t anything more than a top 30-40 quarterback in the league. Put simply, you can’t consistently win games with someone like that under center.

As mentioned earlier, Darnold shouldn’t break the bank in free agency, so the team will likely be able to afford to bring him back without dramatically impacting their salary cap. However, if Darnold’s presence prevents the team from going after a starting-caliber quarterback, then they need to get rid of Darnold. For example, if the Raiders cut Derek Carr, the Panthers should go after him, regardless of Darnold’s roster status.

On top of that, the Panthers are hiring a new head coach, which means that Darnold likely will not have the advantage of being familiar with the playbook. If anyone other than Steve Wilks is hired, then Darnold will be right back at Square 1 with the rest of the offense. Sure, he’ll have the advantage of playing with D.J. Moore and company, but that can only go so far.

The Verdict on Free Agent Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold isn’t the ideal answer for any team, but he might just be the best option for the Carolina Panthers in the short term. He won’t break the bank, he can keep the team afloat, and he has chemistry with the receivers on the roster. Assuming someone like Lamar Jackson or Derek Carr doesn’t become available, then the Panthers might as well use Darnold as a one-year stopgap.

However, even if Darnold is the best option right now, the Panthers shouldn’t stop looking for an upgrade. Because they hold the ninth pick in the draft, it’s safe to assume that one of C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Will Levis, or Anthony Richardson will be available, even if they have to trade up. There is nothing more important to a rebuild than finding a franchise quarterback, so the Panthers need to go up and get their guy if at all possible. Darnold can enter the season as the starter if the rookie isn’t ready, but he will have a short leash.

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