Sam Darnold’s future is uncertain, once again.
Less than a month after trading for the former NY Jets’ QB, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said Friday the team would make a decision on Darnold’s fifth-year option for the 2022 season after the NFL Draft.
At least the former Southern Cal prospect will know quickly if he is part of Carolina’s long-term plans without playing a single down for his newest team. It’s possible the Panthers could snag a quarterback in the first round to compete for the starting job.
If they do, it’s unlikely Darnold’s option would be picked up before the May 3 deadline.
“There’s actually several (quarterbacks) that we’re excited about,” Fitterer said about the draft prospects. “But we’re not going to get into exactly who.”
The Panthers now have time to reevaluate their post-draft situation with Darnold’s future hanging in the balance. But it’s still hard to believe they would give up three draft picks and not to have him part of their plans past next season.
Although, this possible “smokescreen” sounds like a negotiation effort from Fitterer and Co. hoping to inflate trade value for eighth overall pick. If not, they could take one of the top offensive lineman or a big threat receiver to help Darnold’s efforts, which is the most fathomable scenario going into next week’s draft.
With Darnold on the roster, taking another quarterback isn’t Carolina’s primary need. But selling the possibility they’re interested in Justin Fields, Mac Jones or Trey Lance (and if they’re available) might change things considerably. It could also allow them to trade down in the first round and stock up on multiple picks.
“We’re very open to moving back. It just depends on how the first seven picks go,” Fitterer said.
After they traded for Darnold, Fitterer said they planned to exercise the $18.5 million contract option. So, this move signals either the team has reconsidered their stance, or they’re trying to create leverage for a bidding war.