- The Carolina Panthers appeared to have ended their pursuit of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, at least for now
- The Panthers are now stuck with no long-term answer at quarterback and an injury-plagued Christian McCaffrey at running back
- Carolina should never have tried building its team around McCaffrey when the Cam Newton era ended
Actually, given how poorly received this year’s game was, maybe you should stick to imagining Watson throwing touchdowns to D.J. Moore in your mind.
Barring an extremely late and unexpected move at this season’s trade deadline, it appears the two-time NFC champions will not acquire the three-time Pro Bowler. As Carolina fans soak in that news, they also need to accept how foolish the Panthers were in trying to build the team around running back Christian McCaffrey when the Cam Newton era ended.
The Carolina Panthers are still searching for a franchise quarterback, and it seemingly won’t be Deshaun Watson
Teams like the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a championship-or-bust mode right now. Watson, who has not played this season amid legal issues involving alleged misconduct, is in Miami Dolphins-or-nowhere mode.
As of publication, Watson reportedly told the Texans, the team that drafted him in 2017, he would only waive his no-trade clause if it meant playing for the Dolphins. That leaves the Panthers, a team that entered November at 4-4, on the outside looking in.
Carolina was among the teams repeatedly linked to Watson over the last few months, and for a good reason. The Panthers haven’t had a legitimate franchise quarterback since Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, suffered a Lisfranc injury in September 2019.
How have things gone since that point? Kyle Allen tried holding his own in 13 starts during the 2019 campaign, but 17 touchdowns against 16 interceptions didn’t help his case. The Washington Football Team acquired him for a fifth-round pick in March 2020.
The Teddy Bridgewater experiment ended after one year, and he’s now on a middling Denver Broncos team. After an impressive first month, Sam Darnold has come back to earth and is currently in concussion protocol.
Although Darnold is under contract for the 2022 season, our gut tells us the Panthers will, once again, be in the market for a quarterback. As of publication, the Panthers would have the 19th overall pick in next year’s NFL draft, which will probably be too low to select either Ole Miss star Matt Corral or Liberty standout Malik Willis.
In hindsight, the Panthers never should have tried building the team around Christian McCaffrey
Once upon a time, as recently as 2019, Christian McCaffrey managed to stay on the field. In fact, he provided such great durability that the Panthers gave him a four-year, $64 million extension in April 2020, only months after he finished a 1,387-rushing yard, 1,005-receiving yard campaign.
In that time, the Panthers made two long-term and somewhat understandable moves. Not only did the team part ways with Newton, but the Panthers seemingly decided they preferred to build the team around McCaffrey. During that period, the Panthers also signed Bridgewater, an extremely competent game-manager but not someone you’d confuse with a quarterback who single-handedly carries teams to victories.
The problem wasn’t signing Bridgewater or even trading for Darnold. Instead, the Panthers went wrong in thinking a running back, even as dangerous as McCaffrey, could put the team on his back and keep the franchise in constant playoff contention.
The truth of the matter is very few, if any, running backs are capable of such a feat. Tennessee Titans star running back Derrick Henry at least has a reliable quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Adrian Peterson’s deepest playoff run with the Minnesota Vikings came in 2009, when 40-year-old Brett Favre played at a Pro Bowl level before losing the NFC Championship Game.
Bridgewater completed 69.1% of his passes for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions last year. Maybe a second year with head coach Matt Rhule and wunderkind offensive coordinator Joe Brady would have done him and the Panthers wonders. Not that we’ll ever know.
The Panthers are now stuck with no quarterback and an injury-plagued running back
In hindsight, the Panthers should have either given Bridgewater more time or drafted a quarterback in either of the last two years. Unless the Panthers somehow wind up with Watson or Packers star Aaron Rodgers, they’re apace to either start Darnold, a rookie quarterback, or a random veteran next year. That isn’t exactly ideal for a team that, by that time, will likely have gone four seasons without reaching the playoffs.
As for McCaffrey, he’s rushed for 426 yards and six touchdowns since the start of the 2020 season. He’s battled numerous injuries in that span and is still under contract through the end of the 2024 campaign.
Sure, the Panthers entered November with a 4-4 record, but they’re on track to go nowhere this season and find themselves in the same situation next year. They have no long-term plan at quarterback and a highly-paid running back who can’t stay on the field.
Well, Panthers fans, at least you can keep using the technique of positive visualization to imagine Watson winning a Super Bowl.