Following quarterback Jake Delhomme's meltdown Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, he reached David Carr levels of unpopularity in Panther nation. Fans and pundits alike are screaming for Delhomme's head.
Following a controversial contract extension in the offseason, it seems that Head Coach John Fox and General Manager Marty Hurney might be going down with the ship with this one. While it's possible that the Panthers could cut him in a capless 2010 and not take a penalty, it's looking more and more like Delhomme's contract is an albatross.
Looking back, however, it is unclear to me when the Panthers would have upgraded the position, and with whom. In this midrash I am trying to remain realistic. Therefore I don't see a reason for the Panthers to actually draft Matt Cassel (never played in college) or Matt Schaub (played in a spread zone blocking scheme all through high school, college, and now the pros).
Furthermore, I am going to assume that no one would have realistically wanted Delhomme gone until after 2006. He took the team to the 2003 Super Bowl, led an amazing late season comeback after falling to 1-7 in 2004 amidst a cascade of injuries, and took the team to the NFC Championship game in 2005.
Lastly, I am going to avoid unrealistic moon trades just because we can dream about Peppers + Third Rounder + Dan Conner + John Fox to Indianapolis for Peyton Manning + Dwight Freeney all day.
2006 was an interesting year for the Panthers. Jake Delhomme certainly had a drop off from 2005, but he wasn't terrible by any stretch. That season seemed like a death by a thousand cuts.
The Keyshawn Johnson experiment was a disaster. He was a cancer in the locker room and didn't perform on the field. His miscue in the final moments against Philadelphia cost them the game in the end zone. A bizarre lateral play by Chris Gamble in the Minnesota game cost them that contest. A busted play against Cincinnati in the final moments led to a Delhomme interception. The team was never able to find their stride and finished a game out of the playoffs.
I don't believe the quarterback position was a more pressing need following that season than linebacker. Furthermore, I doubt any Panther fans would do anything (draft, trade) that would take Jon Beason out of a Carolina uniform. In the 2007 draft, the best drafted quarterback was Tyler Thigpen.
As far as free agents go, the best quarterback of the class was Kerry Collins. Collins was originally drafted by the Panthers with their first ever pick in 1995. However, he fell out of favor stemming from his alcoholism, rampant racism, and basically quitting on the team. While he's obviously matured, it would be a hard pill to swallow.
Through two-and-a-half games, against weaker competition granted, Jake looked better than he ever had. He was throwing the ball away, making better reads, spreading his passes around, etc. His technique looked better. Maybe he had been pressed in training camp by David Carr.
Now let us analyze the 2008 draft. Most Panther fans would be happy with Matt Ryan at quarterback, but that is unrealistic.
Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff has said numerous times they were dead set on Ryan with the third overall. Bill Parcells has said numerous times that they were dead set on Jake Long with the first overall pick.
Maybe you can fleece St. Louis for the second overall pick and beat Atlanta to the punch, but that would have been incredibly costly, and would have prevented the Panthers from drafting tackle Jeff Otah and running back Jonathan Stewart. That leaves us with Joe Flacco.
Flacco was considered a massive project coming out of Delaware. The Panthers passed on Flacco to draft Jonathan Stewart who was crucial to their 2008 NFC South crown. Flacco performed admirably in his rookie year, and has seemingly developed under the tutelage of Head Coach John Harbaugh (brother of quarterback Jim Harbaugh) and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (a former quarterbacks coach), two things the Panthers certainly wouldn't have been able to offer him.
On top of that, Flacco almost certainly doesn't start in 2008. He would have had a year to sit on the bench and develop, though it is difficult to say how he would do without Cameron and Harbaugh.
I think this is the only defensible move. However, if the Panthers do this, do they still send their 2009 first rounder to Philadelphia to draft Jeff Otah? I doubt the Panthers make the playoffs last year without him anchoring the right side of the line. In retrospect though, I would be much happier with Flacco and Otah than I am with Stewart and Otah.
There was not a viable upgrade to Jake Delhomme. The Panthers did not have the firepower to acquire Cutler or Cassel or realistically move up to draft Stafford or Sanchez.
To this writer, it appears that Jake was the best option every single year. Even with the drafting of Flacco, they would not have started him over Delhomme in 2008, and it's debatable whether he would have been starting yesterday.
The Panthers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yesterday, during a post game radio interview, Hurney described it as "...the worst case scenario."
Maybe it is.