- Sam Darnold threw another three interceptions for the Carolina Panthers in Week 9
- The fourth-year quarterback has struggled with turnovers since a 3-0 start
- The Panthers need to end this experiment immediately and sit Darnold for good
Don’t let the Carolina Panthers’ 4-5 record deceive you for a moment. Things have gone from surprisingly good to horrifically awful in a matter of weeks for first-year Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold.
The two-time NFC champions have lost four of five since Darnold, an offseason acquisition from the New York Jets, suddenly looked like the player who once went third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. As things only continue to get worse, the Panthers need to step up and end this disastrous experiment.
Sam Darnold threw another three interceptions in the Carolina Panthers’ latest loss
Life is funny sometimes. Darnold opened the season with three straight victories and three touchdowns against a single interception. Social media collectively mocked the Jets for giving up on a young quarterback who appeared to have cracked the code on how to succeed in the NFL.
Little did we all know that the Jets actually made the right move in parting ways with a broken quarterback. Darnold has come back to earth in a significant way, throwing 10 interceptions against four touchdowns in his last six games, and he’s only completed 60% of his passes once since Week 5.
If October represented coming back down to earth, November looks like someone falling through the planet’s core. Darnold threw three interceptions in a 24-6 home loss to Mac Jones and the New England Patriots.
Rather than ever allow backup P.J. Walker to try rallying the team in a pivotal matchup, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule left Darnold in for the entire game. That cannot happen again in Week 10.
The Panthers need to end the Darnold experiment right now
There comes a time where we all need to grow up. Eventually, a team needs to move on from letting a young quarterback take his hits and work through a rough performance. That works for rookies like Trevor Lawrence and, depending on the situation, a second-year quarterback.
In his fourth NFL season and with 47 career starts under his belt, the 24-year-old Darnold doesn’t fall into that category anymore. What we’ve seen over the past month is who he is as an NFL player: a turnover-heavy quarterback who still regularly makes terrible decisions and keeps his team from winning games. If the Panthers don’t bench Darnold indefinitely and give Walker the starting nod, the team’s remaining playoff aspirations will end sooner than they can see the USC product throw another interception.
Not all of the blame is on Darnold, especially given All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey’s hamstring injury. At what point, though, do the Panthers say enough is enough? A 4-5 Panthers team could easily be 6-3 if they had competent quarterback play.
If you don’t believe us, keep in mind that Darnold threw three interceptions in a three-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and completed 41% of his passes in an overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Both of those games were at home. You have to think that a capable quarterback — Deshaun Watson or Teddy Bridgewater, anyone? — would have given the Panthers a far better chance.
Darnold deceived us, and he’s still the biggest winner here. Carolina foolishly picked up his fifth-year option and guaranteed him an $18.9 salary for 2022.
Oh, and speaking of money, here’s one for you. The Charlotte Observer estimated Darnold, who is making over $23.6 million in total cash between this season and next, is earning roughly $1.6 million per interception. We should all be so lucky.
The Panthers are on track to play quarterback musical chairs once again next spring
Why the Panthers picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option before he even played a down for them, especially with how much he’ll receive in guaranteed money, is beyond us. No backup quarterback is worth $19 million, and few backup quarterbacks are even worth $9 million.
So what will the Panthers do from here? If the season ended today, they’d pick 13th in the 2022 NFL Draft, which might not be high enough to select Ole Miss star quarterback Matt Corral or Liberty’s Malik Willis. However, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett or Nevada’s Carson Strong, two fast-risers in the draft process, could both still be available.
Trade-wise, it’s too early to know what will happen with Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson. In Rodgers’ case, he could become a free agent, but the Panthers might not appeal enough to him at this stage in his career. There have been no credible updates of late about Russell Wilson’s long-term future with the Seattle Seahawks.
Right now, the Panthers would likely be looking at the likes of Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Nick Foles being top free-agent options, and none of those guys should exactly move the wire for the Panthers.
Alright, Panthers fans, we’ll leave you with this. If you had to choose between watching Cam Newton or Sam Darnold play quarterback, which team’s bandwagon would you join?