Where Do Carolina Panthers Turn At QB After Losing Deshaun Watson Sweepstakes?

The Carolina Panthers entered the 2021 offseason with a dilemma at quarterback, and the situation is still dire heading into 2022. General manager Scott Fitterer and the front office made a strong push for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but now they must pivot to other options.

Carolina took a gamble on Sam Darnold in 2021. While he looked good for the first few weeks in his new destination, his performance turned out to be fool’s gold. He’s not the answer. If the Panthers want to return to relevancy, they must properly address the position this time.

Whether they find the answer via trade, free agency, or the draft, this is a pivotal time for the Panthers.

The Panthers are out of the running for Deshaun Watson

Panthers QB Sam Darnold warms up before a game; Texans QB Deshaun Watson participates in pregame warmups
Sam Darnold of the Carolina Panthers on the field before facing the Atlanta Falcons | David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans warms up before game against the Tennessee Titans | Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The race to land Deshaun Watson has officially narrowed. The Carolina Panthers threw their hat in the ring to acquire the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. However, they’ll have to go in a different direction now.

According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, Watson’s camp or the Texans informed the Panthers that they were out of the running. The Cleveland Browns are also no longer in contention.

The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints are the two remaining teams. Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract, so he has say in where Houston trades him.

Regardless of which team the Clemson product decided to sign with, he appears to be heading to the NFC South. As a result, Carolina will likely be facing him twice a year, serving as a reminder of a potential missed opportunity.

Carolina needs to upgrade at QB because Sam Darnold isn’t the answer

The Carolina Panthers don’t have time to lick their wounds after losing the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. They must return to the drawing board because starting the 2022 NFL season with Sam Darnold under center is not ideal.

Carolina acquired Darnold from the New York Jets before the 2021 season in exchange for three draft picks. The 2018 No. 3 overall pick assumed the Week 1 starting quarterback job.

Darnold appeared to be thriving in his new home, with a few solid performances to begin the year. From Weeks 1 through 4, he threw for 1,189 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions while completing 67.8% of his passes. Darnold’s production took a significant dip over the next several weeks.

The fourth-year signal-caller missed five games due to a shoulder injury, but it’s uncertain if he even gave the Panthers the best chance to win. Carolina turned to Cam Newton and P.J. Walker in the interim, and neither player could grab ahold of the job.

There’s a significant void at the quarterback position in Carolina. The front office has thrown some darts, but none of them have stuck.

Potential targets via trade, free agency or the NFL Draft

The coming days and weeks could be interesting to watch for the Carolina Panthers. David Tepper, Scott Fitterer, and Matt Rhule are on the hunt for a franchise-altering quarterback. Unfortunately, the pickings are starting to get slimmer by the day.

Deshaun Watson is out of the picture. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and Carson Wentz are off the market. So, where do the Panthers turn now?

The free-agent market is pretty thin right now, with Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Ryan Fitzpatrick the only viable options available.

Jimmy Garoppolo could be a trade target. However, the team might not be willing to pay the San Francisco 49ers quarterback what he commands. Baker Mayfield has requested a trade, but will the Cleveland Browns play ball?

As for the 2022 NFL Draft, the Panthers have the No. 6 overall pick. They could opt to take a high-upside guy like Malik Willis or trade back later in the round.

It’s unclear what the front office has up its sleeve, but it better have something, or it could be another rough year.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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