Carolina Panthers’ Massive $23 Million Gamble is Already Coming Back to Haunt Them

The Carolina Panthers began the season with a shocking 3-0 record and were the talk of the NFL for a short amount of time. Sam Darnold was dealing. Christian McCaffrey was back to his old self, and DJ Moore was a true top-tier wide receiving option.

Fast forward to the end of October, and things are looking bleak for Matt Rhule’s team. Suddenly, the Panthers have dropped four straight and are fresh off a 25-3 embarrassment to Daniel Jones and the New York Giants that ultimately resulted in Darnold being benched for PJ Walker.

It is not looking good in Carolina, and their massive gamble is already rearing its ugly head.

The ups and downs of Sam Darnold could come back to haunt the Panthers

Carolina traded for Sam Darnold after the New York Jets decided to end the experiment on the former No. 3 overall draft pick. Through the first few weeks, Darnold played well. The former USC star tallied 12 touchdowns combined — including five on the ground — through the game against the Dallas Cowboys.

He has thrown just two scores in his past three games, and five interceptions as the Panthers’ struggles have been under the limelight more than ever.

Against the Giants, Darnold went 16-of-25 for 111 yards with no scores and a touchdown. Two weeks prior against the lowly Philadelphia Eagles, he had 177 yards with one score and three interceptions in a brutal showing. He now has seven touchdowns and eight interceptions on the year and is trending in the wrong direction. Sure,

Darnold is just one issue, but the team’s investment in the offseason is the concern here.

Carolina invested millions and millions in Darnold

Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold in October.
Sam Darnold of the Carolina Panthers | Al Bello/Getty Images

After the Panthers acquired Darnold from the Jets, they sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos after signing him to a three-year deal worth $63 million. That experiment was put to bed, and they brought in Darnold in hopes of finding some decent quarterback play.

However, Darnold’s contract isn’t pretty, and now Carolina is on the hook for just north of $23 million (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk).

Darnold will earn $4.774 million in 2021, the last year of his four-year rookie deal. Under the terms of the 2020 CBA, his 2022 fifth-year option salary of $18.858 million becomes fully guaranteed when exercised. That’s a two-year commitment of $23.632 million to Darnold over two years.

Sam Darnold’s contract numbers

That is a massive sum of money tied to Darnold, and if he keeps playing like this, the Panthers might be in a world of regret. He will be eligible for free agency in 2023, but it wouldn’t be a shock if Carolina calls it a loss and lets him go after this season, especially at this rate.

Yikes.

What a disappointment that would be. The fact that Rhule elected to insert Walker into the game against the Giants is telling.

Darnold is still the starting quarterback going forward, apparently

Despite Darnold’s awful string of performances, he will remain the starter going forward, as Rhule emphasized.

Perhaps this is something they have to do, especially after dropping a huge chunk of cash to bring him in as the man. Or maybe Rhule has that much confidence in Darnold to turn it around.

First it was Bridgewater, now it is Darnold. The Panthers’ recent streak of quarterbacks is not the best, but there is still a glimmer of hope that Darnold can turn it around and find a way to right the ship of this Carolina team.

If not, the Panthers might look back on the 2021 offseason as one of the biggest swings and misses in recent history.

Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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